Monday, May 12, 2008

Broken Brown Bags

At the moment, I have made time for some family time. Family is a funny thing, really.

Upon arrival at my aunt's house, I was given a tour through every room of her large home, while my aunt showed me all of the lovely antique furniture that she intends to give to Bro for his wedding. Of course, this is despite the fact that Bro has no need for furniture, nor any plans whatsoever to marry any time soon. I gently shared these little tidbits of information with my aunt, and then told her that I really love some of the pieces that she intends to give to Bro. Her response?

"There's no way you will ever get any of this furniture! You're not settled down and you never will be!"

With that, she reached for the antique family photos of my grandparents to ask my opinion on how she should frame them for Bro's imaginary wedding day...

In that moment, I decided that smiling and nodding was much better than breaking down into tears. In that moment, I decided that my aunt was obviously the last person on earth who could understand her own blunt power to open the incinerator door on my already deeply constructed sense of alienation from my family, let alone my life at this moment. But, of course, this is nothing new. This just the way love goes.

At the moment, I am homeless. The trunk of my car is my closet and everything I need for the next couple of weeks is divided into a collection of small brown bags, a reflection of the fact that I can never finish a burrito bowl at Chipotle. Framing this more accurately, my small brown take-out bags from Chipotle are also a reflection of the fact that I am far too financially strapped to allow myself to finish a burrito bowl from Chipotle, when I know that I can eat less for lunch and stretch a burrito bowl into two meals. To this end, my assorted collection of small brown bags with handles from Chipotle are not just a testament to my budget, or even my nomadism, but also something I wish I could hold up at my family members when they openly reflect upon how "gaunt and bony" I look at this juncture. But, of course, there is no way of explaining to them the extremely perilous financial and psychological tightrope that I am precariously perched upon at the moment. It happens that I am as far along the rope as I have to finish. There's no going back. There's no stopping. And I am trying not to focus my energies on the fact that a good wind could literally destroy me. At the moment...

"I thought you had a boyfriend," my grandmother stated rhetorically while I was making dinner for her and my mother yesterday. It was, after all, Mother's Day. "I thought you would bring him home and get married sometime soon."

"Well, Gram, it didn't work out that way, but I still have a PhD to finish," I responded cheerily while mixing up the homemade spaghetti sauce I carried through 4 States in her honor.

"That's bullshit!," she swore, as only my grandmother can swear. "You've been working on that thing for too long! You're never going to finish! That's probably why he went away!"

"Wow," I replied without looking up, as if the matter of picking out overly large bits sausage was really that intriguing.

"You know, it's not like you're getting any younger, honey..." her old voice trailed off as she left the kitchen.


The irony of my assorted brown carry out bags, of course, is that I was always criticized for being a chubby child. For years, everything I put in my mouth at a family gathering was a source of family spectacle. But now I am "too thin" for the standards of those who love me the most in this world. Of course, I want to tell them that I am literally quite hungry on most days, that the reason I am paying them a little visit right now is because I cannot afford a place to live until my house-sitting gig opens up in June, that I have missed them and actually thought it would be a healthy thing to see them...but, more than anything, none of it matters, really. When I see them, my own, abject state of financial powerlessness is fully laid bare. When I see them, I see their criticisms for not being able to care for my mother, whose own health and well-being is in yet another orbit of peril and decline. I see them shaking their heads at my choices and my dreams because these are the things that separate me from them, as if their harsh criticisms are intended to motivate me to change who I am, or suddenly un-become the women I have fought so hard to be in the first place.

I see them, and I am reminded of all of the reasons why I stay away. I am reminded that I have received far more nurturing from complete strangers, who focus on what I have to give, rather than what I lack. I see them and feel my level of spectacle engage, simply because the only way I can keep myself from being atomized by them is to disengage. In fact, it is only when I see my family that I get lost in the vertigo of touching down in a place that is at once a part of me and now only exists in the blurry, periphery of my mind. Here I get lost in the vertigo of knowing how far I have come, the great lengths of I have left to go, but also the things that I will simply never, ever overcome.

I wandered out to my car this morning to fetch one of my brown Chipotle bags, the one with my shower stuff in it. Rain must have trickled into my trunk last night and sopped up at the base of the bag. When I lifted it, my contemporary collection of shampoos and body wash from Big Lots came tumbling out on my aunt and uncle's sloping suburban drive way. For a second, I wanted to stop and engage in a moment of self-pity, simply for the sake of it. But I didn't. This would require me to care about stuff that is just...stuff. This would also require me to admit that an impromptu pity party in the middle of suburbia would not just be about the bottom of a broken brown bag...

Homeless or not, I am, after all, here to see my mother, to make the most of the time I can make for her, knowing that our time together is bluntly finite. I don't come with lottery earnings, but only the ability to hold her hand, make her dinner and keep her company for a couple of days. I am here. I have come a long way. aAnd all that I have to give is me. Me, with my thin face, brown bags, and all of my less than graceful imperfections.

It's good to be present, even if the stuff of my life is rolling down the street somewhere in deep suburbia.



Mujer Morena said...

If all you have to give is you, you're doing wonderully well. Think of those who are so completely lost (not momentarily unsettled), with no sense of self, with nothing whatsoever to ground them. You have so much to give, and all that receive of you should be grateful.

Thank you.

VJ said...

Funny and yet sad at the same time. Erma Bombeck reborn! But yeah, all the same reasons why I moved away and rarely came back. I arrive for special occasions now, and the time is very limited so as to avoid any problems. Most of them are slowly coming to the realization that due to this separation and other grown up things, I've been about the most successful of all of the lot, but it's never been easy. Plenty of it's chance, and being prepared to sacrifice for long term goals. And not whine too much about all the hard times you endured too.

Cheers & Good Luck, 'VJ'

Alan Ward said...

ToDo list:

1. Trade the car in for a larger car - or better, a small van. More space for brown bags.

2. Impermeabilize (see brown bags).

3. Paint it deep pink. The strass is optional, but may also do your ego some good.

4. Turn up the radio, wow the hell out of suburbia.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Isn't family grand? The pain they cause with their "love." You are much stronger than me...when my family starts, I tell them to stuff it. And not always quite that nicely. I've always been the "odd" one, the black sheep... and I always will be. Why? Because I simply refuse to fit into their mold of what and who they think I should be.
Then I have a mother who while she doesn't always agree with my choices, rarely tries to change who I am ... altho she'd be far happier if I'd wear some make up... "You just look sooooo beautiful with it on" and I'm perfectly content with out I look without it...and it saves me the "prep" time in the morning and the primping time all day...


Restaurant Gal said...

I am pretty sure the stuff of your life is rolling right along as it is supposed to. Thankfully, it doesn't have to live in suburbia.

Anonymous said...

Dam dude depressing post...


let the readership know if we need to put together a fund raiser or can food drive...