On One Hand

November 24, 2007

Should have known

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 2:16 am

I always thought that “looking for activity partners” meant you want to find people for hiking and rock climbing together. I am now told that if you check the activity partners box in your Online profile, it means you are looking for random sex. The options are dating, long-term relationship, friends, and the one I already mentioned. I’d been advertising myself as looking for activity partners for about three years now, thinking people would message me for a gym buddy.

I should have known better. I signed up for that website when I was about 18 years old, and I guess I made my assumption when I was naiive, then stuck to it even after I became more wordly.

Speaking of known better, Thanksgiving is over, and this year is no exception to the rule that I saw my family say and do things I can barely manage to process or beleive.

The background is this: nine years ago, one of my cousins died in a car accident at age 21 at about this time of year. I was 13. Years later, after he was gone, we were at my Grandparents’ house watching old home videos. In the movie, my cousin was about 10 years old and asked his mom if he could have a piece of cake. My grandmother chimed in and told him he had to eat his dinner first.

My grandmother, who was now sitting in living the room watching the video, welled up with tears. “Oh, now I wish I would have just let him have that cake,” she said.

That all happened on my dad’s side of the family, and we watched the home video on Thanksgiving in 2005. In 2007, I am with my mom’s family; we are sitting around a makeshift Thanksgiving table made of several flimsy card tables lined up under cheap holiday tablecloth. I am across from my mother, and bring up the story.

“Remember when we watched the home videos from when Clint was a kid, and in the video Grandma told him he couldn’t have that cake…”

It took my mom a few minutes to remember what I was talking about, but when she figured it out, I continued the story.

“Remember how she cried, and said she wished she had let him have the cake?”

My mom laughed. I thought it was funny. You might have to know my grandmother to get how it was cute. She prides herself on how well she spoils her grandchildren, so it was amusing to think she took it so far as to feel guilty for saying no, just once. And my mom agreed, so she laughed too.

Actually, no, my mom wasn’t laughing. She was crying. Crying with a big bite of mashed potato in her mouth.

Fuck, I forgot you can’t bring stuff like that at the table, because the women in my family cry at everything. They cry at sad movies. They cry when they talk about their kids. They cry at commercials that feature violins and/or children doing cute things. They cried three years before when one of the kids, who is a vegetarian, recited a poem he wrote in his fifth-grade class about how the turkey doesn’t have to be afraid of him for the holiday since he doesn’t eat meat. All of the women cried at that poem. Yeah, they cry at everything. So it’s fair to say I should have known better than to bring up the video.

“Shut up,” my mom said, tears in her eyes, “shut up. Don’t laugh at me, you brought it up. You knew it would be emotional.” She covered her face with her napkin.

“She’s just touched, it’s touching,” my grandmother (different grandmother than the one I mentioned before) explained.

I was waiting for her or my aunts to burst into tears too, but in a rare act of stoicism, they didn’t.

When my cousin died, I was almost too young to appreciate what was going on. It wasn’t that I didn’t understand what death is; it was more that I was at exactly the age when boys try to have as little emotion as they can about anything. I bit my lip through the funeral while everyone else ollapsed on each others’ shoulders. I also didn’t realize how young 21 is, since I was 13 then, and in my mind my cousin was a fully grown man. And I was thinking to myself how everyone says he’s going to Heaven anyway, so if he’s in such a good place, what’s the big deal?

But my mom wasn’t a kid when Clint died, and she knew what was going on. Even though he wasn’t her son, my mom cried harder than anyone else in the family did when we filed out of the room after the funeral service, leaving the cold body lying in the open coffin behind us. Looking back at anything related to Clint’s death was tragic and emotional for her, even though the rest of us thought that the home video story was far enough removed to be fair game.

And I guess my mom wasn’t really crying about the death of my Cousin so much as she was thinking about my Grandmother, and how sweet it was of her to feel that guilt even though it’s perfectly reasonable to tell your grandson he can’t have another piece of cake. It’s perfectly reasonable. No one knew he would be dead before any of us, and even if we did know, it doesn’t mean he gets all the cake he wants. That’s bad for you.

That’s not how my grandmother saw things, or how my mother saw them, or any of us saw our family history, which wraps around itself so many times it would take a lifetime just to explain all the woven connotations of a single sentence shared between us. Each person saw the same event as a completely different story. Nothing means the same thing to two different people, they tell you that from kintergarden on, and it’s obviously true. I guess I should have known better.

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