The October People, Chapter Seven: The Encounter
“…But he rides his road,
Passing the skinless elder skeletons
Who smile, and maybe he will keep on going
Until the grey unbearable she of the world
Shall raise her eyes, and recognize, and grin
At her eternal amateur’s approach,
All guts and no glass, to meet her gaze head on…”
“A Predecessor of Perseus”
At the end of June I called Erica and told her I thought we should forgo our annual August meeting this year and get together another time; there was something that I was going to discuss with her grandparents that might prove ‘tense’. She seemed incurious and asked no questions as to what I would be discussing that might be ‘tense’.
Not long after that I got another letter from Jacob. In it he mentioned he’d heard I wasn’t going to be visiting them at the campground, and hoped we’d all get together another time.
“Now how the hell did he know that?” I wondered.
As the time to discuss my decision with my parents grew nearer, I found myself unexpectedly having second thoughts about the idea. A silent debate raged within my mind.
“Am I really intending to disown my whole family? To cut myself off from my roots? They may not be much, they may all be insane, but they’re all the family I have! They treat me like a retarded dog…But they’re my family! They’re all I’ve ever known!”
“Have you lost your mind!? What family!!? Have you forgotten all you’ve seen? That’s a ‘Family of Freaks!!...You’ve lost your nerve, that’s what this is all about!!”
And that part of me was right. I couldn’t believe it when I finally recognized that my doubts were a rationalization to cover my fear of doing this.
Fear? Impossible! I had so long ago conquered any fears that I was known as “Fearless Frank”, “All Balls”, the one afraid of nothing and no one, the one who would charge Hell with a bucket of water. Once I saw through that, it only increased my resolve. I was going to go through with this come Hell or high water. As much as it hurt to think of not having any family ever again, or was afraid of doing this for whatever reason; I was not going back to being blind and stupid, whatever the cost. Besides; the truth was that I already didn’t have, never had, a real family anyway.
After that, the more I thought about it, the more confident I became. I figured I should be able to accomplish this smoothly; as long as I dealt with them rationally and refused to get drawn into arguments. This shouldn’t be a problem.
On the day they were to arrive I drove over to the campground to await them. I hadn’t heard anything from any of them for a few weeks now; ever since I made it clear I was not going to believe insane stories. I had to call the campground to find out when they were coming.
As in every other year I brought the usual firewood, a cake, scotch for my father, food, and books. I figured that it would signal that I wasn’t looking to engage in ‘unpleasant confrontations’, just to settle something like adults. I settled down to wait with a book.
It was a good thing I brought it, because they arrived a couple of hours later than normal. For my mother to alter her routine like this was as noteworthy as seeing the sun rise in the west. By the expressions I saw through the windshield when they pulled in it was evident that they had hoped I wouldn’t be here, and were dismayed that I was.
Puzzled, I wondered why they’d think I wouldn’t be here; I always was.
“We’re still okay?...Me an you?...Right?” were the first words out of her mouth as she hesitantly stepped out of the car and cautiously moved out from behind the safety of the door. My father quickly disappeared behind the camper, never looking at me, not saying a word.
“Odd way to begin a conversation.” I thought to myself. “Yes.” I told her casually, “But some things are going to change…”
That simple statement elicited a striking performance. She instantly raised her head and howled long and loud. No words; just a long, drawn out wail accompanied by a sort of shuffling dance of aimless meanderings in little circles as she gazed sightlessly skyward, her arms hanging slackly at her sides.
“This is new.” I thought. I looked over at my father. He was busily unhooking the camper as if what she was doing was a perfectly normal occurrence. He never even glanced at her or me. The thought then first occurred to me that I might just have possibly stepped through the “Looking Glass”.
She stopped howling and sat down on the picnic table’s bench. I went over to help my father push the camper into position. When he asked her if this was where she wanted it, she acted despondent.
“It don’t matta now.” she moaned inconsolably. When it suddenly dawned on her that he was going to take her literally she sprang to her feet and began barking orders, making us move it again and again until she was satisfied that the Feng Shui Gods of the campground wouldn’t be offended.
He then went about industriously setting everything up as if she and I weren’t there. He still had neither looked at me nor spoke a word to me.
“But we’re still awright?” she began again abruptly, insistent.
“Yes, but some things are going to change.” I repeated patiently.
She set her mouth firmly, her eyes narrowed. She looked agitated, impatient. “Let’s tawk.” she said tightly, with an expression that said she was going to straighten me out.
“Fine. Let’s talk. That’s one thing this family has never done: And that’s talk.”
“We tawk alla time!” she snapped, lunging her head out toward me, biting off the words.
“Not openly and honestly.” I insisted earnestly. “We only talk around things. We never say what we’re really thinking and feeling.”
To my dismay she abruptly burst into another of those skyward wails.
This wasn’t going at all like I had planned. I looked around. Thank God; all the other campsites were deserted. As if nothing was happening, my father never paused pulling stuff out of the camper.
As she kept turning circles wailing, I saw her secretively glance down, looking for someplace to sit. Locating the bench, she maneuvered her way there and sat down heavily, all the while howling.
I looked closely at her eyes: The wail did not reach there.
“Ahhhhh.” I thought. “Games.” I remembered how she had treated Melissa.
“Shush!” I told her. “Stop it. You’re not a 6 year old.”
“Yes I am!” she howled, looking totally distraught.
That stunned me for a moment because she really looked like she believed it. Even more bizarre, she suddenly even looked like a 6 year old 78-year old. All the while my father never missed a step in his chores, never glancing at us.
“What’s gonna change!?” she demanded suddenly, all traces of the previous performance instantly gone, eyes dry as sand.
“For one thing,“ I began “I’m not going to play the game any longer…” I got no further.
“Dere are no games! I neva play games!” she sprang in, spitting the words out.
“Stop it!” I retorted indignantly incredulous. “You are the consummate game player!”
That sat her bolt upright in shock. She made movements like a fish silently gulping several times, then got up without a word and headed for the nearby bathrooms.
While she was gone, I went over and began helping dig stuff out of the camper. My father still wouldn’t look at me. All this time he’d stayed silent and out of sight.
“Ya know, ya hurt ya mutha’s feelins very badly.” No pause in his movements, not a glance at me.
“It’s true. She is the consummate game-player.”
“She’s the most honest woman I know.” he replied with barely concealed heat.
“Oh, stop it! You of all people should know better! Look at this “Crying Game’: You disagree with her and off she goes, supposedly to cry, until she gets her own way!” I was getting really tired of talking to his back
“It’s a ‘Woman’s Thing’” he muttered, still not facing me.
“It’s not a ‘Woman’s thing’”!...It’s some women’s ‘Thing’”.
She was on her way back from the bathrooms already. One glance was enough to see she hadn’t been crying, but planning. She moved strongly; grim and determined. From this point on her demeanor was transformed: The ‘poor little old lady’ was never seen again. It was now a matter of putting down a rebellion ruthlessly.
As soon as she entered the campsite, still walking toward me, she began the attack.
“What games!?” she demanded fiercely.
“Define your terms. Avoid any confusion because of different connotations of the word ‘game’.” I thought.
”What I mean by ‘games’, is the way all of us accept a role and adopt a way of interacting with the others that may not be in our best interests; it could be damaging to us.” I began, hoping I was being lucid. “These roles tend to reinforce status within the group.”
A blank stare faced me.
“Okay. For instance: Your pretense that we are all treated equally, or my pretense, or pretending, not to notice all the dumping on me and Melissa...”
“Who was dumpin on ya!?” she snapped, eyes flaring, “Who was dumpin on ya!?”
“Nobody dumped on ya!” he added, now drawn in, moving closer, looking at me for the first time...and with hatred.
I noticed that they had chosen not to address my implied contention that we were not all equals; they chose the second example. Their aggressiveness only stiffened my neck. Immediately I began to list specific examples; by name and date.
This is always a mistake to do with someone like my mother, because an example is always attacked on the accuracy of details rather than on the substance. You wind up arguing about what color shirt someone was wearing at the time instead of what they did. And if you make a mistake on a detail, that was sufficient for her to invalidate your entire assertion.
With each example she was becoming angrier and angrier and he took his cue from her. Not once that entire afternoon did they ever express any concern for Melissa or I. Not once did I see anything even remotely resembling affection. They were being confronted by a hated enemy and they finally dropped their masks.
I told them bluntly and calmly of the hostility we were treated to at Ann’s wake.
“…It was shameful, and completely inappropriate, even if you loathed us.” I told them, keeping my bearing reserved.
They flew up, instantly defending Jacob with righteous vigor.
“Whoa. I didn’t mention Jake, did I? Why bring him up when he hadn’t even been mentioned? Because he was the one most guilty of fomenting all this? Is that why?”
I told them about how Jake’s in-laws treated us.
“Dey always do dat!”
“They always act that way toward everyone? What delightful people they must be. Charming.”
I told them of how the kids acted toward us.
“Dat’s cause dey don’t know ya!!” they yelled in unison, surging back onto their feet.
“No. Unfamiliar people cause children to react with either curiosity or disinterest. Not hostility. And you have just admitted to me that you were aware of how we were treated there by making excuses for it. This was learned behavior, taught behavior. …Melissa and I have given this a lot of thought. How could this be? We did nothing to deserve that. Those kids had formed an opinion of us from their parents. Parents who were talking freely against us amongst themselves. Talk like that could not have gone on unless it was condoned and encouraged…by you two, their parents.”
I kept my eyes locked on theirs the whole time. I saw no outrage or hurt. Nor did they deny it. Instead they ignored what I’d said. Their eyes never lost their angry hatred during the moment’s silence before heatedly demanding other examples of “being dumped on”.
“So Ann always referred to herself as the ‘Good One’, eh?” I demanded from my mother. “As you only have 2 daughter-in-laws, what did that make Melissa? Eh? ‘The Bad One’?”
“Dat was ya fatha an da othas!!” she yelled frantically, throwing them all in. She looked caught and unnerved by the frankness. “Dat was dere joke!”
I pointed out to her, none too gently, that when we went to ‘her’ florist’s, it was she who was about to have ‘The Good One’ put on that ribbon.
“I don’t rememba…Dere was so much goin on.”
“I do remember.”
I took them back in time, and then worked forward; listing stinging, humiliating incident after incident. I intended to lay it all out. This had a long history, constant in its intent, and I wanted them to understand it had not passed unnoticed. They had confused civility and the desire to belong with stupidity.
They accused me of “neva being dere.” I told them look at the photo albums.
“...For 16 years I got down there several times a year. But you all made it so uncomfortable, you all were so unwelcoming when I did come, that I began to cut the number back, and back, and back. And then you blame me for never being there?”
I pointed my finger at them. “Remember how I always called when you were gathered together to wish you all a happy holiday when I couldn’t get down there? I stopped that too and started calling you a day before the holiday. Know why? Because whenever I called when the gang was all there, all I heard in the background was mocking and insults.”
I was on a roll now, and kept going. Flustered, they reflexively blurted out excuses as I ticked off still more incidents rapid-fire.
“Dat was Ann! She said dat!”
“Dat wasn’t at our house! We was at Jake’s!”
On and on it went. No denials, just attacks on details or throwing someone else in. Despite the fact that their lame excuses confirmed everything I was saying, I couldn’t get an admission out of them.
And I was beginning to vaguely sense something. As this continued, their initial panicky behavior eased and they began to seem somehow relieved. It was as if I hadn’t done something, or brought up something they were really worried I would. As if all this that I was hitting them with was, maybe annoying, but not dangerous.
He went back to unpacking, no longer looking at me. She settled into her ‘spot’ on the bench with her back against the camper and began issuing a steady, confident stream of rebuttals to whatever I brought up.
“Dat neva happened dat way.”
“Dat wasn’t me, dat was dem…”
“I don’t rememba dat.”
Behind it all lay the inference that I was not quite right in the head; delusional.
“I don know what ya tawkin about.” she intoned, looking bored. “We always treated ya all equally…”
“Oh, drop that!” I broke in. “I ain’t buyin that game anymore! All treated equally? You must be joking!...Okay; look at this: Kathy feeds you a bunch of fantasies, and you believe her! I tell you the truth, with concrete evidence…and you dismiss it!”
I inadvertently had hit a hot spot. She cut loose a vehement torrent so fast she was almost sputtering trying to move her mouth fast enough to keep up.
“Kathy’s a good girl!! Who neva did nuttin wrong!!...Except dat one time…When she was young…” She went on to viciously castigate Maury as a wife-beating monster.
She seemed to have forgotten I already heard a series of “Maury the Monster” stories. These now were expanded, enriched versions of the originals. More lies. More games.
“Until only a month ago, he was a beloved son-in-law who could do no wrong. Now he’s a monster?” I pointed out to them. “You knew all this before and said nothing about it?”
Once again, both of them were up on their feet, almost hopping up and down. At the top of their lungs they insisted that he had always been a monster, but they never said anything because they were scared of him.
“Do you seriously expect me to believe you were scared of that little man?” I snorted in derision. “Stop it!”
“He yelled at us!”
“Uh…10 years ago.”
I couldn’t help smiling.
“No one knows what Kathy went through!...Cause she didn’t say anything!! Cause she was tryin ta keep her family tagetha!!” she shrieked at me.
“The idea that Kathy could, or would, keep her mouth shut about anything does not jibe with my experience of her.”
The tirade against Maury continued white-hot. She got so worked up she was beet-red. Finally she yelled that it didn’t matter to her if Kathy had got caught cheating on him.
“But she didn’t!! He’s lyin!!...Maury made dat all up!!”
“George has talked to a 28 year old named Don at length over the phone, so he is apparently not a phantom.” I pointed out bemusedly.
“Kathy told us George was drunk!!” he yelled.
“That’s quite possible, but being drunk while talking on the phone does not mean he was hallucinating 28 year old lovers named ‘Don’”.
I saw this as an excellent opportunity to bring up another example of the illusion of ‘equality’: How they all ignored George’s cries for compassion and help. I told them about his drunk-with-pain Christmas night call to me, how he was crushed because it seemed the entire family had turned against him, even his beloved brother Jake.
I told them that he felt the shotgun was a message to him: “Do us all a favor; just kill yourself, and stop your goddamn whining…”
That was as far as I got. They exploded. There is no better word to describe it.
“His wife jest died!!” she screamed.
“He didn’t know what ta give! He gives so much, he don’t know what ta get! I got a metal detecta!!! What am I suppose ta do wit dat!!?”
“May I remind you, we were discussing George, not Jake. I’m talking about George’s pain, of his feeling like the ‘Forgotten One’, the one always ignored, the unloved one.”
They both pulled back slightly, momentarily confused.
She glared at me, hating me. “We gave him money.” she sniffed arrogantly in defense. She turned and looked imperiously at her husband. “I tol Jake ta take it offa George’s share a da will.”
I had often heard her bitterly complain that they had loaned each of their three children tens of thousands of dollars each, and that not one of them had ever repaid them. They had never loaned or given me a single red cent. Nor had I ever asked.
“We are not talking about money here either. We’re talking about someone’s pain.”
That led to another bathroom ‘Time-Out’. He disappeared into the camper. When she returned in a few minutes, she tried a different gambit. She began to lay the groundwork of her argument in the tone of one sorely tried in her patience by a dim-wit.
“You and Melissa…Ya work hard, da two a you…” she began, irritated and condescending. “Den ya come inside, an its jest da two a ya…”
“Ya know what ya trouble is!?” he interrupted, coming outside aggressively. He seemed to have known where she was going with this and suddenly remembered a well-rehearsed line among them all. “You don’t know how ta take people!!”
“This is not the North Slope of Alaska up here!” I snorted. “There’s a great many people up here. Look around sometime. Did you forget how I’ve made my living all these years? I deal with hundreds of people each weekend.”
“Ya don’t know how ta take a joke!” was his fall-back position.
“I’m fully aware of what is, and what is not a joke!” I snapped back. The heat within was boiling up, triggered by that look on his face. I moved toward him.
“Okay!” she quickly stepped between us. Evidently having decided that this wasn’t going to work right now, she made a dismissive ‘End of Conversation’ gesture with a wave of her hand. “Okay…When we come ova, we gonna have a little…tawk…da four of us.” she informed me ominously. They both turned away and began fussing.
“That is one of the things that’s going to change. There is not going to be a visit.” I said clearly. That stopped them cold in their tracks.
Amazed, I saw that this was the only thing I’d said to them in 2 hours that had really shocked them, and shocked them bad. They stood frozen in horrified...(or was it terrified?).. disbelief for a long moment.
“EVVVA!!!?” she shrilled from the back of her throat, incredulous eyes bulging out.
“Not until this all changes.”
“Christ! Hadn’t she been listening? What have I got to say to get through to her?” “Because of all the games you play. I’ve had enough of it. I’ve made my decision, and Melissa’s agreed with it.”
They stared silently at me like junkyard dogs on the other side of the fence.
“Did they get it yet?” “There will be no more visits.” I repeated slowly and firmly. “If you wish, I’ll come back here and take you out to dinner to continue this. But there will be no more visits.”
“What did I do ta Melissa!?” she abruptly demanded, ignoring my offer.
“Interesting. She knows she herself is the one to blame. But why Melissa, not me?” I sighed, regarding her thoughtfully. “Where do I start? And is it worth it?”
“For one thing: It is extremely irritating and insulting the way you constantly try to sneak taking her picture. It’s just a stupid little power game: ‘Whose Will shall prevail?...”
“I neva did dat! She told me once dat she didn’t like her pitcha taken, an dat was enuf! I didn’t unnerstan, but dat was fine, I neva asked again!”
“Bullshit. You snuck photos just to have your own way.”
She shrieked her denials to the world, echoing off the hills. I reminded her of specific instances, she denied them all.
“This is easily resolved. Let’s just have a look at those photo albums, shall we?”
I knew damn well she couldn’t have resisted mounting those trophies. That suggestion had the salutary effect of shutting her up instantly. He became real busy again elsewhere.
“What else!?’ she demanded to know after a moment to re-group.
I started right at the beginning and ran right into the same obstinate stone-walling. I was tired of this. I saw no further point in trotting out more. I would change nothing by doing so. I learn slowly; but I learn. I would never get them to own up to anything; not ever.
However, as a result of their insane squirmings, I’d confirmed that I was right on all of it. Now I made the ‘End of Conversation’ gesture.
“Melissa has had enough of this ‘family’.” I told them curtly. “And she wants no part of it again; period.”
Watching their expressions, I realized this was the second time I’d somehow shocked them badly.
“She CAN”T leave da family!!!” he blurted out in absolute panic after a moment of stunned disbelief.
“She’s already done it!” I laughed in his face. “What do you mean: ‘She can’t? She doesn’t need your permission!”
It struck me as one of the most absurd things I’d ever heard. Yet it was odd. The only things that shocked them was that they were banned from coming over and that Melissa wanted nothing more to do with them. Why were those two things more important than anything else I’d hit them with? Because they were actions, not just complaints? But why would that bother them? They didn’t like me and they sure as Hell didn’t like Melissa. They only came over three times a year and didn’t like that either. So why the shock? What was the big deal?
“We may as well go home.” she told him dramatically. “Dere’s no point in stayin now.”
He obviously didn’t believe her anymore than I did, because he went right back to work setting up. She went back to work on me, taking the offense offensively. She had already accused me of misunderstanding and being unjust. Now she was telling me I was making this all up, and not because I was delusional; but because I was lying.
I do not respond well to being called a liar; never have. You’d better be prepared to back up your words if you call me a liar. I don’t lie. All this time I’d tried to keep my temper and succeeded. Until now. It was as if they’d not heard a word I’d said in over 2 hours and now I was not only being called a moron, but a liar. We began to mix it up hot and heavy. Pop turned tail and scurried into the camper
“Stop lookin at me like dat down ya nose!!” she demanded, enraged. “Ya look like a Owl! It makes me wanna slap it!!”
Childishly, I freely admit, I taunted her by deliberately exaggerating the expression.
It kept escalating. There was no more feigning, I had gotten what I had asked for: There were no more games. We both were letting each other know exactly how we felt. I roared at her and she shrieked at me.
Suddenly she stopped screaming accusations and launched into the most bizarre performance I’d ever witnessed.
Her face contorted violently, wild with Maenadic rage. Her neck stretched out like a chicken’s, the cords straining, her eyes bulging with hate. She frantically clawed at her throat and upper chest with both hands like talons. My ‘mother’ was gone; in her place was something demonic. She began screeching the weirdest inarticulate noise imaginable.
“EEEEEHHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHHH!!” It was a Banshee scream of rage, a Harpy’s screech of hate, but not a human sound. “EEEEEHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHHHH!!”
I stood there confronting her; transfixed, silent and amazed as it continued. It looked like it could be a strange sort of coronary, yet she was clearly deliberately doing it herself. It was not a reaction to a medical crisis. “What on earth was I witnessing?”
“EEEEEHHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHH! EEEEEHHHHHHHH!!”
I had never seen a sane person do anything remotely like this. I studied her intently…from a safe distance, because from the look on her face I firmly believed she wanted desperately to tear me to pieces with her teeth and claws.
She remained seated on her’ spot’ on the picnic table bench, her back against the camper. Her legs were stretched out on the seat, still crossed at the ankles. Strangely, her lower half did not partake of the frenzy; it remained motionless. But her face had gone bleached-bone-white in rage.
“EEEEEHHHHHHHH!!! EEEEEHHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHH!!” Unabated, she continued in her ferocity. Her hands were stiff claws, her arms almost a blur. Her eyes never wavered from mine, despite the snake-like weaving of her head on the out-stretched furrowed stem of a neck.
I felt seared by the Errinic hatred and anger directed at me by those eyes. It was unbelievable.
And where was my father during this revelation of ‘motherly love’? Not a foot away, rummaging around directly behind her head in the camper. He seemed completely oblivious as he unpacked the teabags and put away the toothbrushes. For the husband of a woman who kept insisting she was at Death’s door, regardless of what the stupid doctors said, he seemed remarkably unconcerned. He had to have heard what was going on.
“EEEEEHHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHH!!”
“Don’t you think you should calm down a bit already?” I asked calmly. “You’re gonna have a heart attack.”
“EEEEEHHHHHHH!! EEEEEHHHHHHHH!!” She gave no sign she understood or even heard me. She seemed not human; impossible to communicate with, to reason with. T
hrough all those contortions her eyes never left mine. I saw pure, unalloyed hate and rage in them; as cold as a snake, and as fierce as a fiend’s.
The feeling was growing stronger in me that I had seen this before sometime.
“Those eyes…” I felt disoriented. ”... Why do I keep seeing her hair as brown, not white?... What is this?... Those eyes.”
She shut it off a dime. One instant she was transported with inhuman rage, the next she was sitting normally, not even breathing hard.
As if on cue he came out of the camper and the two of them picked up the refrain of denials and accusations again as if that bizarre interlude had never happened.
“Okay..It’s about time to wrap this up and find a way back through the Looking Glass to the ‘Clean World’.” I decided.
“For 20 years Melissa and I have tried to get along with you. For 20 years we tried to make your visits pleasant. We cooked you elaborate dinners, dropped our work, re-arranged the furniture to suit you, and tried to find safe topics to talk about. No more.”
“Whaddya mean ‘safe topics’?” she demanded. “Whaddya mean by dat?”
“We’d seen that whenever the conversation strayed to current events, religion, politics, anything, we’d always get drawn into arguments with you because our views were so different. The only way we could prevent it was to agree with you on everything, and we didn’t feel we should have to. Probably wouldn’t have worked anyway. But we tried very hard to get along…”
She had become livid as I talked, and was now well on her way to liver-colored.
“When ya love people, ya don’t have ta try! Ya jest do it!” she spat.
That was not love I saw.
“No.” I pointed my finger at her. “It takes work. And you work at it if you love someone.”
That elicited nothing other than a look of non-comprehension. She sat back abruptly. A crafty look narrowed her eyes. “You have a lot of anger in you.”
“No. I don’t.” I stated flatly.
That evoked a disbelieving, sardonically cocked eyebrow over a cold eye.
“No, you’re right.” I conceded stiffly. “I do. But I’m working on it.”
I saw no further point in continuing. I’d accomplished what I came there to do, even if it hadn’t been done as calmly and rationally as I had hoped. I turned to leave.
“Witout kissin me goodbye!?”
I couldn’t believe she said that. I thought about it for an instant. I’d won. There was no reason to press my victory further than necessary.
I walked over, leaned down, and kissed that cold, stiff cheek. I saw then that she took that as a salvaged coup.
“More games. I’m going to have to stop acting so compliantly.” Straightening up, I turned on my heel, and walked toward the truck.
“I could die!” she blurted out heatedly to my back. I turned my head to look at her.
“So could I.” I replied coldly. “Now why did I say that?”
There was a funny moment of silence as we stared at each other. I saw a cold thought flicker behind her eyes.
“Yes…You could.” she said quietly, thoughtfully.
“So?” I demanded, instantly primed, striding forward toward her. “And?...Then what?” “Why did I say that like that? Like I was demanding she come out with what she really meant or something.”
She said not another word, just looked at me, withdrawn and cold. That remote, flat gaze on me prickled a primeval alert.
On the drive home I released the pent-up tension in a long, shuddering exhalation. I felt exhilarated, free; as if I’d faced down Medusa and lived.
I wished to God I hadn’t quit smoking a week ago. A cigarette would have tasted so damn good just then.
Despite my elation, I wondered why was I so elated? Why did I feel like I’d done something extraordinary? After all, all I’d done was tell them I didn’t like the way we’d been treated and that it was unacceptable from here on out. Compared to what I’d done over the years, this should have been as much of a non-event as hanging up on a tele-marketer.
Yet I knew, though I didn’t know why, that this was very important for me to have done. Despite having seen an entirely different side to my parents than ever before, I didn’t give that a thought. Despite seeing exactly how they really felt about me, I didn’t think about that either. Only that I had crossed a Rubicon somehow.