The room began to close 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, but 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.
I 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, but it doesn’t stop her. Her eyes, piercingly blue, bore into my forehead, mining my mind for the reasoning that prolongs the ongoing predicament. It is the matter that seemingly 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, and 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.
A voice in my mind, sounding as if it’s just taken a hit from a helium-filled balloon, squeals at me: That’s not what she means.
I laugh to myself, entertained: “Girl interrupted.” Say something else…
She’s not referring to procreating or dying or even “eat or be eaten.” She means circulation as in, “Are you ready to get back into circulation yet?”
Oh yeah. “Girl reactivated.”
The topic is the one that translates to me getting a paying job, rather than continuing to “run away from reality,” with my so-called “writing interests.”
I suppose, from her perspective, four years is a long time for her daughter “to run away from reality.” It is a novel pursuit, which thus far has yielded fruit the size of a water meal. However, in these four years she has failed to realize that I’ve poured my heart, soul and angst into this self-proposed commitment. Accordingly, I’ve also 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, and my father sits beside my mother. My brother is off in the kitchen, cutting 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. It lingers, splattering the coffee table with fowl juice, tainting the sherry and the nibbles, while extinguishing the flickering light of the assorted votive candles. This “circle of life” subject deflates the holiday mood; all falls flat.
I gaze back at her, with a hint of incredulousness in my expression saying: Why can’t you support my endeavor? Why can’t you just be a nice mother?
She, of course, does not pick up on this. She has never picked up on it, despite the countless amounts of times I’ve attempted to impress my feelings upon her.
Why should I expect anything different this Christmas Day?
Although he’s sitting beside me, I don’t defer to Dennis for his unwavering sympathy, support or opinion. I keep this subject between my mother and I, leaving open the possibility and space for us to “hash it out,” so-to-speak.
The “hashing it out” (a confrontation of sorts) does not happen. As usual, any real invitation to speak candidly, openly… ends up shunned upon.
There’s no avoiding her intention. She moves the subject right along and puts the question in a more specific form, saying: “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 within begs to rise up and show itself—my insides, out. The scorched and glistening spongy tissue springs from my throat and slops to the floor next to the coffee table. I stare at the battered evidence, my guts, and choose to defend myself (something I haven’t dared to do since I was a teenager).
My face is deadpan, void of the four-year compounded emotion relating to my writing efforts (best described as trying to squeeze blood from a stone intermittently). I assert into the space, some distance over my scorched and glistening core—my guts—and say, “I’d like to become a successful writer.”
My mother’s expression remains unmoved, quite serious and probing.
I refrain from glancing at Dennis and keep the perimeter open and clear for fire. I hope for confrontation—for a once-in-a-lifetime candid discussion.
Dad shakes himself out of dozing at the subject matter and 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 school or high school.”
But Dad, I don’t want to be a teacher.
Not quite to my advantage, my mother’s ears fall deaf on the suggestion, and the 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. I cross my eyes silly—my forehead cramps. The funky play of light brings me into a world of my own, prompting ironic clarity.
The helium inner voice comes on the wind again—she is from a different time and a different playing field. She knows not what it means, what drives and feeds one’s magnetism for risk, leaving the known for the unknown.
The voice becomes stronger, and sloughs off the high pitch. She is the catalyst to our creative expression, you see, the thing that sates us—our 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 their rightful place. In a trance-like state I say, “Wait till my manuscript hits the big screen.”
My parents are stunned and wide-eyed. I can just make out their expressions in my periphery.
Nothing more is said on the matter.
This essay was published in Elephant Journal with the title She, Mother. Me, Daughter, January 17, 2015.
Lisa loves all creatures great and small. She is the author of the forthcoming memoir “Calamity Becomes Her,” which will be published by Atmosphere Press in early 2021, and is at work on the sequel. Her essays have appeared in Horse Network, Manifest-Station, Ariana’s HuffPost, Elephant Journal and several literary journals. She lives near Boston, where she writes, bikes, hikes, rides horses and edits technology blogs for the CTO of Hitachi Vantara. You can contact her at email@example.com and follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.