Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Happiness is Not A Fish That You Can Catch

One of the last things my mother said to me was You're not as happy as you pretend to be.

It really made me think.

I remember when I was 3 years old, my mother had a weekly ritual called Craft Night. Half a dozen ladies (I call them ladies, though I realize in this moment that my mother would have been younger than I am at the time) would congregate at someone's house to do some needlework and gossip. Today this is called a stitch-n-bitch, but in the more prurient days of the early 80s, Craft Night it was. Every so often it would be my mother's turn to host. I remember she would buy fancy little cheeses, and serve chips and dip in a ceramic sombrero she had glazed herself.

Before the ladies started ringing the bell, I would be tucked into bed, supposedly fast asleep though I was not. In the summer months, nothing would excite me more than the sound of a chip truck's bell and our screen door slamming as someone chased down the street with money in hand. On those nights I would be lured down the stairs in my Rainbow Brite nightgown, where I sat in my tiny rocking chair and did cross-stitch (the plastic "needle" was the size of a crayon; the holes into which I would stitch my craft were big enough to fit my wrists).

I suppose it was inevitable that such a group of women could not stay friendly forever. One particular Craft Night, while one of the ladies was moaning about her impending divorce, she pointed the needle at my mother and wondered aloud why it was that she never "aired her dirty laundry."

Words were exchanged; my mother never talked to them again. The Craft Ladies broke up, allegiances were made and then broken, the rift never repaired.

And here we were 20 years later, and my mother was basically accusing me of the very same thing. I do not air my dirty laundry.

Well, at least not to my mother. My mother already tells me that I am "filled with hatred and negativity" which, perhaps I just watch too much Gilmore Girls, is not a very nice thing to say to your daughter. Especially your daughter who dances in her kitchen like it's a national sport, declares it a good day when seedless green grapes are on sale, and finds joy in the liner notes of her CD collection.

Filled with hatred and negativity? Does my mother even know me at all?

But I do know my mother. And I know that she is constantly looking for cracks in the foundation. Maybe because her foundation was smashed to smithereens, she has to find evidence of fissures in others' as well. So I admit that I was guarded with her. I didn't send her monthly bulletins of every fight I'd had with Jason. I didn't know they were necessary.

I don't think I pretend to have the perfect marriage. I don't even believe they exist.

Do Jason and I fight?



When my mother and father would fight, my father would be loud and violent, and my mother would shut down. Even when angry with her children, she would always use the silent treatment. I remember once when my father stormed out of the house, my mother locked herself in the bedroom. Time went by. I knocked and she didn't answer. I was maybe 7 at the time. The baby was crying. I worried about dinner - I wasn't even allowed to use the stove. I don't know if she was in there several hours or 20 minutes, but it felt like eternity. I felt abandoned. And when she did finally come out, I felt angry.

I have resolved to live my life at a louder decibel than she did. When I'm upset, people know it. I'm not afraid of my emotions. They get expressed, and sometimes quite loudly. In fact, if my mother really wanted to keep tabs on my fight record, all she'd have to do is keep her windows open. Jason gets yelled at, and is learning to yell back. And it feels good. It feels good to have everything out in the open. Generally, our fights get resolved in 5 minutes; 10 for the really tough issues. This is probably why people think we're so goddamned happy - we don't waste time being unhappy. Life is too short. Sure, we could grumble for 4 days, then hold grudges for another 10. But that's not the way I choose to live.

My mother disapproves, of course. Any time I voice my opinion I am "filled with hatred and negativity." It's exhausting to live in a fishbowl, knowing that your family is watching, and hoping that you'll fall.

Will I fall?

I don't know. But if happiness is a fish, I can tell you this:

Jason and I are in the stream, jeans rolled up to our knees, net stretched between us, and we're trying like hell to catch him.

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