The room closed in. The air got thick, dense; tension seeped into my pores. I grew smaller in stature, shrunk right there in my chair before her as if I was Alice and had just choked down a little red pill.
The topic is forthcoming, typical of family gatherings, a line of discussion of an inquisitive nature. It is terribly humiliating this line, disintegrating the little validation I feel about myself and certainly paving the way to pulverizing any validation I someday hope to feel.
She is triumphantly sitting across from me in my brother’s parlor, her hands folded over her swollen belly on this Christmas Day. My hands are not folded over my own swollen belly; my ever-shrinking Alice fingers are fumbling about, trying to maintain a grip on my ever-growing glass of sherry. I wallow in thought. It’s a terrible thing to be shrinking, I muse, and try to convey to her with an expression of pity that I’d like her to cut this sort of thing out, hand me the blue pill, return my body back to its normal inadequacy. She picks up on my expression. It doesn’t stop her. Her eyes, piercingly blue, are boring into my forehead mining my mind for the reasoning that prolongs the ongoing predicament, the matter that most likely sears her brain daily upon waking.
Words penetrate the thickness. They loom before me, big and fat and dripping with turkey gravy. She says, “Are you ready to get back into the circle of life yet?”
Here we go. I resist rolling my eyes, suck in my breath, feel the pressure against my insides. Time slows to a crawl. My lungs deflate, a slow leak like a bum tire, I maintain my front—an uneasy smile—thinking I have never departed from the circle of life. I am here, albeit dwindling to mere molecules in my chair—she, mother; me, daughter—amid a festive family holiday. In my book, that constitutes part of the arc in said circle.
In an inner voice in sync with my current stature and best depicted as first taking a hit from a balloon filled with helium, I hear: That’s not what she means.
I laugh to myself, ‘girl interrupted,’ entertained. Say something else.
She’s not referring to procreating or dying or “eat or be eaten” or even the arc of the circle as you put it. She means circulation, as in “are you ready to get back into circulation yet?”
Oh, yeah, ‘girl reactivated,’ the topic—the one that translates to getting a paying job versus my continuing to “run away from reality” with my so-called “writing interests.” Four years, I suppose from her perspective, is a long time for her daughter “to run away from reality,” a novel pursuit which thus far has yielded fruit the size of a watermeal. Four years, however, she has failed to realize that I’ve poured my heart, soul and angst into a self-proposed commitment and accordingly, sought out Reiki to induce some self-love since I am, especially when engaged in writing, constantly and colorfully harassed and torn to shreds by my inner critic.
Needless to say, my mother is my outer critic.
In the peace of the lovely colonial room, Dennis sits in a chair to my left, my father beside my mother. My brother is off in the kitchen cutting the cheese. The question relating to the humiliating fruitless topic that my mother could not resist in asking one moment longer, particularly in light of the New Year—making resolutions, picking up the pieces and starting anew, and so forth—remains there, unaddressed, splattering the coffee table with fowl juice, tainting the sherry, the nibbles; extinguishing the flickering light of the assorted votive candles. The “circle of life,” the subject, deflates the holiday mood—it falls flat. I gaze back at her with a hint of incredulousness as if to say, why can’t you support my endeavor, can’t you just be a nice mother.
She, of course, does not pick up on this, she has never picked up on the particular line the countless amounts of times I’ve attempted to impress it upon her, why would I expect anything different this Christmas Day. Despite it, the hard-pressed issue, I don’t defer to Dennis for his unwavering sympathy, support or opinion; I keep the subject between my mother and me, leaving the possibility and proper space to hash it out so-to-speak.
The hashing it out, a confrontation of sorts, the candid discussion does not happen. That’s because any real invitation to speak candidly, openly, ends up shunned upon. There’s no getting around it. She moves the subject right along and puts the question in a more specific form. She says, “What kind of job will you look for?”
My expression sours, the refrain in which Elton John sings “in the cir-cle, the cir-cle of life” begins to repeat in my head. The core of me begs to rise up, shows itself looking inside-out—the scorched and glistening spongy tissue springs from my throat and slops to the floor next to the coffee table. I stare at it, the battered evidence, my guts, and choose to defend myself, something I haven’t dared to do since I was a teenager. Deadpan, that is void of the four-year compounded emotion relating to my writing efforts best described as trying to squeeze blood from a stone intermittently overcome with a great effin’ high, I assert into the space some distance over my scorched and glistening core, my guts, “I’d like to become a successful writer.”
My mother’s expression remains unmoved, quite serious and probing. I keep my vision clear of Dennis keeping the perimeter clear for fire, the hopeful confrontation, the once-in-a-lifetime candid discussion. Dad, who shakes himself out of dozing at the subject matter, pushes his glasses further up on his nose. He interjects, “There are lots of teaching jobs out there, you could be a teacher. All my retired engineer friends teach. You could teach middle or high school.”
But Dad. I don’t want to be a teacher.
Not quite at my advantage, my mother’s ears fall deaf on the suggestion. Conversation flatlines. I focus on the flame of a burning candle situated in the middle of a marble-topped mahogany end table between my father and mother, cross my eyes silly. My forehead cramps; the funky play on light and objects brings me into a world of my own, prompts ironic clarity. Helium inner voice comes on the wind again. She is from a different time and playing field; knows not what it means, what drives and feeds your magnetism for risk, leaving the known for the unknown. The voice becomes stronger, sloughs off the high pitch. She is the catalyst to your creative expression, you see, the thing that sates you, your subversive writing.
Anew: I am rebel with a cause, confident, triumphant even, in my own right.
My scorched and glistening guts slither up the couch and climb back down my throat to its rightful place. In a trancelike state I say, “Wait till my manuscript hits the big screen.”
My parents are stunned, wide-eyed; I can make out their expressions in my periphery.
And nothing more is said on the matter.