On One Hand

February 20, 2006

Rumors

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 11:17 am
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An antecdote to explain what it’s like to come from a big Catholic-Italian extended family.

An email from my sister: ” Shawn showed Mimi your profile and saw that your orientaion in bi and now mom is all excited that you might be bi. just a little warning. you may have a few interesting questions comming your way.”

I came out to my mom when I was 17, and a week later she came out to everyone else on my behalf. Everybody in the family knows I’ve had a boyfriend, except the kids and maybe one or two of the more distant family members I rarely see.

My little cousin Shawn, who is probably 12, saw that my Myspace profile had “bi” listed as sexual orientation. For the record, I’m not into girls, I just say “bi” on that profile because I feel less stereotyped that way. It’s probably a dishonest thing say about myself, but I change my sexual orientation status on Myspace from time to time for my own amusement and then forget what I set it as because I don’t really care about Myspace. The “bi” status is more of a political statement about how I feel about labeling orientation than it is a personal statement about how I feel toward guys or girls.

My cousin told his mother, Mimi, that the profile said “bi.” He would have been shocked, because as far as he knew I was straight. His mother, knowing me as gay, got excited and called my mom, who is now excited that I might like girls after all.

The family telephone game carried the news like swirling black ink through the clear water-glass of the clan, but the rumor wire works in my favor as well. I have moles in the ranks. I didn’t hear about all this from my mom: my mother told my sister what she heard, and my sister passed the information on to me. My sister warned me, “be prepared for some interesting questions from Mom,” then explained to me what happened.

So thanks to my sister, I am prepared for my mother’s phone call.

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December 26, 2005

Nursing Home Visit

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:29 am
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A Visit with my Great Aunt Leena, 98 years old.

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November 25, 2005

The Baby

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 12:33 am
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My family has some black sheep. Technically they aren’t even part of the family, but an extended relationship between my mom’s brother and his girlfriend of many years has brought her and her three teenage children into the fold. They don’t fit in with our Irish/Italian Catholic traditions, and rarely bring anything to the frequent group gatherings, so many would just as soon have them gone. They’re bringing my uncle down, my mother contends, because he works to support them and they don’t pay their own ways. They point out that the mother is alcoholic and hasn’t had a job in years. Her kids are in trouble for stealing, for violence, for drugs. They’re all still living in a motel, and two of the three kids are jobless teenage high school dropouts.

Well, one of the teenage high school dropouts just became a teenage high school dropout father. He brought the girlfriend and her two-month-old baby to our Thanksgiving gathering to be introduced. The women in my family, who are usually the first ones gossiping and politicking and complaining about the unwelcome enclave, suddenly swarmed around the infant like some informal group-baptism, dancing and cooing and making the baby giggle for them for about half an hour.

So this kid is now a father, and I’m thinking while all this is going on that the differences between him and I are night and day. I’m a college student writing for a newspaper and have never been in any trouble in my life, while this ex-jock dropped out of high school and has been arrested and just got himself a baby with an equally young girl while having no full-time job. My impulse is to say that he’s made some pretty dumb choices compared to me. Dropping out of high school is dumb. Having unprotected sex, many contend, is also dumb, and to do so at such a young age with such little ability to take care of a child makes it worse.

And that’s pretty much how my family treated this kid – as someone who made a lot of stupid choices, and that he’s on track for obscurity and meaninglessness. But when I think of all the things I’ve accomplished up to now, including my college transcripts and newspaper articles and the part-time job and journals and endless amateur poems, I can’t be sure I’ve done anything really meaningful myself. I’ve set myself up to make a name later if I continue to work hard, but what I have now doesn’t do much good except kick off a slowly growing resume. It’s easy to ask “is what I’m doing really going to effect anything?” and not have a clear answer.

And this guy has a baby, a human being. He’s created, through a careless mistake, something that is obviously and inarguably more meaningful than all of my accomplishments together – a human life. He’s committed himself to a lot of responsibility and work, but at least he knows what he’s working for. The baby has all the potential he does so he’s basically doubled himself. When you get to the point where your “accident” is a living, breathing mind of its own, it’s hard to regret what you’ve done. It’s hard to say “he shouldn’t have fucked her,” or “she should have had an abortion.” I can’t even think like that.

So my family, agreeing on some deep subconscious level with me, swarmed and coddled this infant and treated it, like they should, as a member of the family. Most likely the young couple will drift away from our family gatherings, considering how loosely connected they are, but they’ll always be welcome with us – at least while they have a baby.

I guess thinking about this helps me define in a real-world way what family is about, what society is about, and what life is about. It reminds me that sitting back and judging others’ mistakes or attributing their misfortunes to personal faults is unproductive and ineffectual. I can only be responsible for my own good and that means being willing to take over when I see others lack. What I’m looking at is a baby, with scarred and unsure teenage parents who lacked good parenting themselves, and whether or not I can help is all that I should ask.

November 8, 2005

Meeting Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 5:33 pm
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My parents are exceedingly difficult to plan dates with. I tell my mom where she can pick me up, thinking that will be enough. But no, we have to discuss all positive and negative repurcussions of meeting in the Taco Bell parking lot.

“It might be easier to get you at your apartment,” my mother tells me.

“That’s fine,” I say, “then meet me there.”

“But it’s five, so we’re in rush hour,” she realizes, “so that might not work. Can I pick you up at your old dorm from freshman year?”

“What has my dorm got to do with rush hour?” I ask. “Just meet me at my apartment, and you’ll be there five minutes later if there’s traffic. I don’t mind waiting.”

“It might take more than five minutes to get through it,” she warns.

True, I think, but not as long as it’ll take us to talk about it.

My mother called me excited that she’ll be attending a seminar on speech disabilities in a building on the CU campus. It happens to be in a room I once had a class in, and in a building I’ve had several classes in and have a class in now. I elementary school teachers are required to attend several educational talks each year, and my mother works with speech impediments so this one was right up her alley.

August 10, 2003

Angela

Filed under: Uncategorized — ononehand @ 3:20 pm
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My parents said they were going shopping, so I agreed to go along. I figured it might be the last time I get them to buy me clothes. We got to the store in the early afternoon, late summer sun lingering through the glass entryway forming slanted parallelograms on the dark carpet.

An hour later we were still there. As I stood in the aisle holding a pair of bluejeans, meandering impatiently while my mom fumbled through skirts, I saw a strange girl step toward my father.

I looked at my sister as she cocked her waist to one side, resting a fist on a curved hip.

What was her name? She seemed alien to me. The word “Angela” brings to mind an image of an eight-year-old girl sitting cross-legged on the family-room floor watching Little Mermaid for the fifth time in a row. She’s eating a self-made mixture of butter and brown sugar out of a plastic cup, and I’m wrinkling my nose at it, rudely hovering to look in the cup so I can chastise her about some nonsense. This rebellious-looking teenager wearing stretch jeans and a tight shirt didn’t seem to be the same person.

I followed as she swayed down the aisle, confident and sassy. She’s the girl who, still to this day, tapes Saturday morning cartoons so she can watch them later when she has time, and wears baggy sweatshirts to hide her body because she’s not ready for guys to like her. It’s cliche, but I’m realizing that she’s turning into a woman with a mind and soul all her own and it hasn’t occured to me before.

She and I never talk. We have an occasional exchange of “stop it,” or “change the channel.” I’ll ask “you’re wearing that?” or bark, “would you turn that down!” But I don’t really know her anymore, and I doubt she knows me either. She the stranger living in the basement, yet I’m her older brother and I could crush her with a cross word if I wanted.

I’m about to move out of the house. I’ll live away from her, and I’ll gradually release our grudge of sibling rivalry, forgetting all the petty things that she’s done – or I think she’s done – to me. Maybe we can be close someday, like we were a long time ago. My parents always say that siblings are more important than friends because they don’t come and go like friends do, and I still think that they’re full of shit in they way they deride ordinary friendship. But that doesn’t mean that Angela might not someday be a sister and a friend. I hope she grows up to be a lawyer or politician. Maybe she’ll be a teacher. An artist. A dancer. I guess I’ll just step back and watch, for now, but I can’t wait to see it.

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