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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Shipbuilding



Three things I wanted to do once I became a grown up:
1.  Sit at the dinner table, shirtless.
2.  Drive with a can of beer between my legs.
3.  Walk away from my mother while she was talking.

Hey, Gene Dall did it.  Why couldn't I?

I've adjusted these goals considerably.  They were impractical.  With the arrival and development of my breasts, I embraced a marginal degree of modesty, especially around food.  I gave up the drink.  Plus, my mom died.  The world changes, with or without our involvement.  Over the years, I've learned that making decisions is very important.  It helps grow self-confidence.

My parents were not what you'd call goal-oriented individuals.  They got shit done, but not with any hopeful plans or vision in place.  My father woke up, went to work, came back, ate food and passed out.  Big Mare smoked while she cooked his meals.  She also busied herself with the kind of cryptic resentment that my Dad either couldn't understand or chose to purposely ignore.

As my primary role models, their actions taught me two very important things:
     -  (From him) Don't ask questions.  They make you look stupid.
     -  (From her) Try to get someone to notice you.  Then, have them guess what you're thinking.
Of course, neither of these brilliant initiatives made any sense.  Therefore, I combined them to create my own blueprint for self-destruction.

"Ours is not to reason why.  Ours is but to do and die."
- Alfred Lord Tennyson

I read somewhere that at the dawn of time, catastrophic events made life on our planet possible.  Back then, the world was a seething cauldron of erupting volcanoes, raining meteors and hot, noxious gasses. Even as cave people, my ancestors were familiar with this level of catastrophe.  It certainly was how my folks lived, reacting to one calamitous affair after the next.

My parents endured a relatively monotonous existence, punctuated by episodes of physical injury, illness and arrests.  Panicky visits in the middle of the night, a dark figure with an arm wrapped in a bloody towel, wrecked vehicles, collect calls from jail...  Our family was a lawless, accident-prone bunch, and every one of us seemed to take turns breaking my mother's balls.

Through it all, Big Mare loved being in charge.  She enjoyed doling out advice, lending money and having her finger on the pulse of the drama.  She couldn't control her husband, but goddamnit, she could run the rest of the show with the ruthless zeal of a mob kingpin.  Innovative strategies, manipulative game plans - she was a pro at cleaning up everybody's mess.  Mom really threw herself into the task at hand.

For all of my mother's tough talk, she really would have preferred a reasonable partner.  But she chose my father and refused to see it as a mistake.  She got on with the business of her existence, and their relationship issues were never dealt with.  The neglect created a hole in my mother's heart that eventually scabbed over, but never quite healed.  It left something broken inside.  And it spread.

*******

By the time I was a teenager, I was eager to jump into the fray.  I'd watched all the action unfold from the sidelines, but I had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to be doing - in life, in the world, in anything.  I knew I wanted a boyfriend, and that he should buy me an ankle bracelet.  That was about it.

There, I made a decision.


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