the subtle cool posture that one assumes when trying to persuade
a maître de for a seat at the finest table, she lifted her
arm just high enough to reveal a wad of cash cupped in her downward
facing palm. I, with the deflated slouch of the maître de
who realized my inability to say no to the offering, raised my arm
to greet hers. My eyes darted back and forth, scanning the crowd
for witnesses. As soon as our hands met, I grabbed the cash and
quickly stuffed it into my front pocket. Without looking, I knew
that it was $145 -- five dollars for the in-flight movie, forty
dollars to take a cab home from the airport, and one hundred dollars
for general spending. My mother and I were standing at the gate
waiting for my plane to board. Nervously, we shifted our weight
from side to side like synchronized dancers who both had to go to
the bathroom very badly. The exchange made us both visibly uncomfortable
-- I, because I needed the money so much, and she, because I needed
the money so much. This ritual felt forced and embarrassed us both,
yet we still practiced it and incorporated it into our individual
budgets after every visit. It was the monetary equivalent of saying
a prayer before each family meal.
after the handoff we would awkwardly hug and promise to keep in
touch. But this time, unexpectedly, something went wrong. I tucked
the money securely into my pocket and psychologically vomited. "You
never ask to see any of my photographs. Why don't you ever ask to
see anything I do?"
mother wasn't expecting this turn of events. She was sticking to
the script, while I decided to improvise. In two sentences, I had
shattered our strictest family rule -- no public outbursts. There
wasn't any amount of pain or anger that justified the indignity
of an outward display of emotion. Dogs have attacked us on the street.
Bicyclists have run us over as we hiked. And lovers have dumped
us in restaurants. In response, we quietly wrapped the chewed sleeve
around the bite, silently reinserted the dislocated shoulder, gathered
our broken hearts, and headed to the privacy of our home where the
tears and blood flowed freely. We prefer self-conscious implosions.
Consequently, we are a bloodline filled with stomach ailments, ground-down
teeth, and heavy drinking. At the age of twenty, I was diagnosed
as a possible alcoholic with a pre-ulcer condition and finally entered
a rite of passage that confirmed that I was truly a purebred Scott.
When I returned home from the doctor, my mother patted me on the
back, handed me a bottle of Pepto Bismol, welcomed me to adulthood,
and reminded me to never tell the doctor how much I drink.
the weather, and gossip were the three topics we stuck to during
holiday meals -- the only times during which my whole family was
together. Sympathy and commiseration are deceptively taxing emotions
that stopped us from even sharing the misery of our familial ulcers.
The only person who contributed any real conversation was my oldest
brother John's wife Dana who, as a relative through marriage, was
free of the genetic handicaps that bound all our other exchanges.
Exhibiting the subtlety and restraint of a drunken sailor, she had
openly postulated that, my older brother Rob's dating problems stemmed
from his latent homosexuality, inferred that it was time for my
father to resign as head of the family, and accused me of stealing
her credit card; all in the time it took the waiter to recite the
daily specials. When she informed me that my parents had sex every
Tuesday, it was clear that Dana saw her presence in our family as
a church-endorsed, state-sanctioned mandate to introduce my family
to every topic we'd ever hoped to avoid.
mystique of the unknown originally caused me to open up to Dana
and confide in her my innermost thoughts and feelings. In turn,
Dana confided those innermost thoughts and feelings to her friends
and neighbors, and my friends and neighbors. Two weeks ago, the
guests at her Christmas party met me with the collective look of
someone watching a movie where they already knew the ending, but
were curious about the plot twists anyway. Dana's friends asked
deep and personal questions, and listened to my answers, with the
same astonishment and anticipation of someone hearing that Thanksgiving
would fall on a Thursday that year. It felt like the start of a
refreshingly banal conversation when someone asked, "What does
your mother think of your photography?" And so I answered,
"I don't know, she hasn't seen it."
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