Sunday, April 08, 2007

Where to put the kitchen table

(That's my grandmother's face, reflected in the television)

I want to wake up into a space where I can feel love for my mother or grandmother without this overwhelming sadness surrounding me, pressing against my sinuses, pushing me into something like sleep no that‘s where I want to be it’s more just feeling the walls of my body collapse. I want to be able to hug my mother and not feel like I need to hold back otherwise I might break, and if I don’t hold back then just more of that sadness. I want to sit in this house, my grandmother’s house, and appreciate all of the beauty without thinking about the violence underneath. I wish all of the violence weren’t underneath, I really do -- I want to hold myself and feel nothing else but the embrace, is that ever possible?

There are a few photos in an open album like a calendar sort of -- photos of my father, this grandmother’s son, mostly with my mother, photos of my sister and her boyfriend, one of their cats. I’m not there, and maybe I don’t belong -- maybe I’m really not part of this family.
On the refrigerator, an article from the Vassar College newspaper with a picture of my mother helping my sister up the stairs of her junior dorm, pictures of my sister’s cats, pictures of my sister, then there’s one small picture of me and my sister together with the neighbor’s dog in our parents’ front yard when I’m maybe 11 or 12 and my sister’s two years younger, she’s smiling for the camera, posing with the dog while I’m staring forlorn out of the camera’s range. That’s the only picture of me.

I wonder if that picture represents a happy moment for my grandmother.

Or wait -- more pictures in the room that’s now kind of an office, formerly my grandfather’s bedroom, some of these include me as a little kid, much younger than 11 or 12 which I guess is as old as I get in pictures in this house, maybe after that it was too clear that I didn't belong I don't know. A family portrait where my sister, my mother and I are all engaged in the same fake glowing smile. I remember we all argued and argued during that photo shoot at my grandmother's house, so much that we never did a family portrait like that again.

My mother encourages me to talk about my book tour with my grandmother, but it’s hard to tell if my grandmother’s interested. She keeps talking about relatives who are sick. It’s better when she’s showing me her paintings, I’m supposed to pick ones I want after she dies, but most of them have my sister or my father’s name on them. My father’s name means my mother gets them, I mean I’m sure we can all decide between us which ones we want -- not like any of us have much room to store them. It’s unclear to me exactly what this gesture means.

In the car on the way to my grandmother’s, my mother tells me she’s enjoyed every moment she’s spent with me and I wouldn’t have guessed that so it’s surprising to hear, but now just writing it I’m crying. There’s something about this sadness that feels productive and beautiful -- there’s another part that feels neverending, I mean so all-encompassing that I could become nothing but that sadness.

Back in DC, my mother shows me her new apartment -- it’s a fancy condo loft on one of the most extreme gentrification blocks in all of DC probably -- everything has been torn down for Whole Foods on one side and nothing but condos and new high-end rentals on the other. This block is absolutely bustling at almost any time, filled with yuppies of many different types-- gay and straight, mostly white but also black -- socializing and shopping and going to restaurants as if an entirely different neighborhood didn’t exist right there probably less than five years ago.

Cultural erasure so seamless that it almost seems exciting. My mother wants to know what I think about her new apartment, she’s worried that it’s too small -- moving from a large suburban house to a large urban one bedroom plus loft is a dramatic change. The main bathroom has two crazy round modern white sink, marble floors -- everything is top-of-the-line designer contemporary, bamboo floors, huge windows overlooking the street. It is gorgeous in the way that something like that can be gorgeous. Driving over there, I’m pointing out the neighborhoods of row houses that have been torn down to make way for condo after condo, my mother says she doesn’t agree with that kind of displacement but of course that kind of displacement is what she is so directly participating in. I can only make that point so many times, I worry that I too am participating after she keeps asking me whether I like the condo --it’s very high-end, I say. But then I’m giving her advice on where to put the kitchen table, what kind of plants to get for the small balcony.

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