Monday, August 30, 2010

In my father's house

On Saturday afternoon I made the trek out to R__________ (stopping along the way to redeem EIGHT big garbage bags filled with almost a year's worth of bottles) to have lunch with my father and his wife

It's a little bit sad, but also a little bit good, that three hours spent in their company left me with so little of substance to say.

I was dreading this so much that my hands trembled throughout much of the encounter. I could see that my father was noticing this, which made me tremble all the more. I wondered what he would say if I told him that I still drink at night.

When he opened the door, he said what an "honor" it was that I had come. My father always expresses himself in ways that seem false to me.

Then the ritual of hugging these two people that I have seen so little of and had so little to do with and feel deeply disassociated from. As if now that my mother is gone, all of a sudden the last thirty five years never happened.

He began by saying that he'd thought I would bring one of my "friends" along. I could actually hear the quotation marks but could not understand his meaning. We'd never discussed my bringing anyone. The invitation, not to say command appearance, was for me alone.

He looked at me cheerfully. He said, "Aren't any of them housebroken enough to bring along?"

I stared dumbly at him, feeling somewhat as if I'd landed in a play by Antonin Artaud. At last he told me that by "friends," he meant the cats.

This was venturing even further into the realms of the surreal. Why would I do that? Why would I traumatize one of my kitties by tossing her or him into the car, driving for an hour along back roads to a strange house where any cat would, at best, be tolerated? Even if this had ever been discussed with me, I would have said no.

I was given a nice lunch of fried haddock, baked potatoes with cheese and a HUGE bowl of raspberries and ice cream for desert (when I saw it, I never dreamed that it was all intended for me!).

Dad talked at great length, as he always does. I've come to realize that he fancies himself a raconteur, but his method of storytelling is to spare no detail, however small. Once in a while he would ask about me, only to pick up on something that I'd said and start all over again.

From time to time, his wife would enter the monologue, often to take issue with what he was saying. She is a kind enough woman, but her English is not the best, and her speech is heavily accented, so I often have a hard time understanding her..

At one point dad announced to the room that he had to go to the bathroom, and disappeared upstairs. My father's wife used this time to lecture me about my sister. She told about her father going underground during the Vietnam war and how angry she was at him for leaving her, as the oldest, to take care of the family. One day her grandmother scolded her, saying that no matter what he had done, he was her father and she could never make another one. My father's wife wanted to apply this to me and my sister. She said, "It not matter what she say or do, she your sister, she your family, you cannot make another."

She repeated this over and over again, to the point where I wanted to say "I GET it already!"

But I do not agree. In fact, most of my favorite books and films are about new families that create themselves in the absence of a blood family. Even THE WIZARD OF OZ is all about the creation of a family. People are creating their own families all the time, especially when blood families become intolerable or dysfunctional, as mine has been all of my life.

It's in my own work, too, in nearly all of my stories. The novel that I ended up posting online (you can find it here) is clearly about the creation of a family.

It went on. Around quarter to three I got up and carried in the four bags of things that I'd brought with me. One of the bags was VHS that I thought would interest them. The rest were all things from the kitchen, food that I will never eat, spices that I will never use. There was bramble jam from England, bottles of mustard and ketchup, jars of pickles that had never been opened, several bottles of salad dressing, peanut butter, canned pineapple, pesto, and something called "artichoke appetizer."

My father's wife has a thing about not throwing away food, stemming from her struggles as a young woman in Vietnam. We shall see if any of that lot challenges her resolve!

Before I left they arranged for another visit. My father wants me to buy a new (used) car. He wants to go car shopping with me.

I can't afford a new car, and anyway, I would almost rather go to Afghanistan.

I broke all speed records driving home, not understanding why. It isn't until now, typing this, that I realize how relieved I was to have the lunch at my father's house behind me.

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