birthday cake and ulcers
So I’m off to Houston to visit my mom tomorrow. Or tonight. I haven’t decided when I’m leaving. If it was up to my mother, I would have left yesterday to come and see her, but I do have a show tonight. But the A/C is out in my car, and with the weather the way it is lately, I know I’ll be sweating. I’ll probably leave in the morning.
It’s my mother’s birthday, and of course I’m coming home. I wouldn’t miss her birthday for anything.
In case I don’t get a chance to update when I get there, let me just do it now, since it is always the same every time I go. And I mean every time I go. It’s scripted, and everyone is off-book. (There’s little acting lingo for you guys, how’s that?)
I’m Coming Home
Opening Credits: pamie is driving along in her car, singing at the top of her lungs. She has the occasional cigarette, and doesn’t stop to pee. She completes the two hour drive.
Scene One: pamie walks in the front door. Dog attacks with happiness. Dad is asleep in living room chair. Mom is out at grocery store buying last-minutes stuff for dinner. No one has heard from Sister. pamie pees. Say hello to seventeen year old cat “Ginger” who now weighs four pounds.
Scene Two: Dad greets pamie, turns on History Channel. Mutes television to ask me questions, unmutes while I’m giving my answers (he cannot hear voices when the t.v. is on… my father says that he has a special kind of hearing loss. The doctor told him that he’s lost the range of women’s voices. He cannot hear our frequency. Since he lives in a house with up to three women, this is very, very, very convenient for him. “Damn these ears.”
Scene Three: Mom comes home. Hugs. We go out on the porch to have a cigarette and talk about what’s been happening.
Scene Four: Dad comes out to have a cigarette with us. We page sister to see what’s taking her so long.
Scene Five: I go and tinker on Dad’s $4000 Solitaire Machine. Dad explains to me that they don’t need online service anymore because the web is boring and they don’t know how to e-mail anyone. I shed a silent tear for the insane waste of technology, and then kiss the 20 inch monitor longingly.
Scene Six: Mom has fallen asleep in the living room waiting for Dad and I to come back from the Pentium argument. She will sleep for an hour and a half. I smoke a cigarette.
Scene Seven: I am reading a book. Cigarettes.
Scene Eight: Dad begins dinner, and wakes Mom up to have her help in the kitchen. Outside with cigarettes, I am convincing myself that I am nothing like Bridget Jones.
Scene Nine: Sister comes home, pissed and pouty that her day has been interrupted by family time. She goes into her old bedroom and plays loud music. She goes through my suitcase for clothes she wants. She starts doing the laundry that she brought from her apartment.
Scene Ten: Essential dinner ingredient missing. Mom, sister and pamie are sent to store.
Scene Eleven: The worse I look, the more old high school acquaintances I run into at the store.
“You don’t need that.”
“Mom, yes I do, you don’t know.”
“Well, I’m not buying it for you.”
“You’d buy it for pamie.”
“I buy you stuff all the time.”
“God, I hate everyone!”
“Just go wait in the goddam car and pamie and I will be out in a second.”
“Fine. Get me a pack of cigarettes.”
Get home, dad has remembered something else. Sister and I return to store. Sister refuses to go in, and blasts Tupac in the parking lot until I return with Sour Cream.
Dinner. Humiliation. Arguing. Sister is burping. Mother is mumbling and my dad can’t hear her. Lots of repeating ourselves. Sister hates whatever meal is in front of her, and Dad is telling her that she liked it last time. Sister has made a pile out of her meat and is feeding it to the dog under the table. Mother is getting up over and over again to go back into the kitchen for something else that is not on the table (napkins, salt, spoons, etc.) Cat jumps on table. Dad yells at cat. Mom says not to yell at ancient cat, she could go at any time.
Mom and I get into an argument over Tourette’s syndrome. She thinks that it is simply kids wanting attention and a good spanking would solve everything. My father chimes in saying that my generation is dissolving the core of all humanity in this country, and it all goes back to that wretched MTV. I try to have a political discussion with my father, but I end up getting so infuriated when he goes in about same-sex marriages being an insurance scam that I have to go refill my milk glass.
Cat vomits under table.
Sister has gone out with friends. She will come back to finish her laundry tomorrow. Parents and I sit around and talk and smoke, sometimes play a game of “You Don’t Know Jack.”
Dad gets tired, goes to sleep.
pamie and mom sit up very late outside smoking and talking.
Naked sleepy Bed-Head Dad comes out to yell at us that we are keeping him awake. I make the observation that he cannot hear the pitch of our voices when we stand next to him, but somehow sixty feet away and through a pane of glass we are disturbing his slumber. Dad does not find me funny, reminds me to stick with computers, goes back to sleep.
Mom and I decide to go in. We fall asleep watching Lethal Weapon 3. I wake up in the middle of the night to turn off all the lights and go to sleep in my old room (which consists of my sister’s old furniture, my old bed, and my mother’s forgotten old projects.)
I leave first thing in the morning back for Austin because I have work/rehearsal. Mom stands at door, teary-eyed and making my stomach turn in knots. “It’s never long enough,” she says, and I feel guilty that we don’t spend more time together. We make future plans to go out just the two of us that we both know will never happen, but it makes us feel better to know that plans have been made.
I drive off, tears in my eyes and Radiohead in my tape deck.
It’s like this every time. It never changes. Only the dinner meal. It’s a routine, and everyone is comfortable with it. It happens about once a month, depending on who’s birthday it is, or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day…
So, this is family living. This is being there for each other. I wouldn’t trade the late-night talks for anything. My only regret is that there’s never a time… except for the meal fiasco, where we are all in the same room. And then I think… that’s probably a good thing. Families need their space, my family more so than most.
So, tonight, when I’m packing, I know to find a couple of good books, three packs of cigarettes, and a whole bag of patience.
It’ll be good to be home.