Monday, April 27, 2009

My new cutting

I watch my mother walking up the stairs, the final set because she’s afraid of the elevator in my building and I can’t believe how stiff her whole upper body looks, like one straight line I guess that’s the posture you’re supposed to have and I kind of feel that way around her, like my body won’t relax, there’s not enough room to breathe. Later, we’re sitting on a random corner or actually I’m sitting on some shiny silver fire hydrant-type thing and my mother’s standing we’re taking a break because I need to eat something and she asks me how much it would cost to buy a one-bedroom condo in San Francisco, oh no I figure she’s bringing up this fantasy of buying me an apartment a fantasy that was never part of anything I wanted until she started talking about it. As long as I don’t believe it’s an actual offer, it’s okay.

I say $400,000 is about the minimum for a one-bedroom, and she says but that would be somewhere awful, right? No, she doesn’t say awful -- what word does she use? I say no, it might be small, but there are probably places now for $400,000 that are pretty nice. And she says but a place like mine, that would be over a million, right? And I say yeah, probably something like that, and she says oh, then that would be too much. And I realize she’s actually talking about buying a condo for herself, moving to San Francisco because she says DC is too conservative and I can certainly testify to that, but wait did she really just talk about moving to San Francisco? At least she says: it’s just a pipe dream.

And then I realize she keeps asking me if I think people are friendlier in San Francisco -- no, not really -- what do you think? She says I haven’t found that -- maybe it’s something from the past. And I hadn’t thought about that -- I mean of course it’s the West Coast mythology but maybe there was some truth when San Francisco was actually a counterculture town. But now I realize she wants to know if people are friendlier, because since my father died my mother has found herself in this new realm of trying to make friends and she doesn’t exactly know how.

Later, we’re walking to the restaurant and my mother says you have a lot of knowledge, do you know that? I guess so. She says: you really have a lot of knowledge. I say what makes you think about that now? She says that’s a good question, it’s just something I’ve noticed -- you could do a lot of things. Oh, no -- she’s going to start talking about job fantasies, but instead she says: do your friends know you’re smart? I guess so. She says: but do they know you’re smart? Yes, I say. She says oh, no -- that sounds ridiculous, that sounds like something my mother would say!

At dinner, I get her to try a cucumber from my pickle plate and she can’t believe that she likes it -- she says: you got me to try different foods, a pickled cucumber! But she’s eaten pickles all her life -- it’s strange the mix of sophistication and confusion that she constantly exudes. She wants to know if there’s anything else I want to talk about. This is our last dinner. After this, she goes back to her hotel and then in the morning she flies to LA to visit Allison. Of course I think: yes, I want to talk about incest. I want to talk about whether you’re ever going to acknowledge anything. I want to say that I wish you could provide the security that you offered. I want to say that our relationship could be so much stronger without all this weight crushing me.

I’ve said all of these things. I’ve said all of these things so many times. Do I want to say them again? Does it matter?

I say I don’t know, is there anything you had in mind? She says: what do you think of Barack Obama? What? Is that really what she just said? And then I’m saying there’s no hope in Barack Obama, there’s no hope in this political system there’s just no hope. And she says: what do you think would be better? The classic liberal trap, because if you don’t like what we’ve got then you have to know what you would like better. I say we need to get rid of the whole system, and then I feel like we’re having the kind of conversation that I hate listening to, if I was listening to myself right now I would think oh no!

I switch gears a little, and say the problem is that people think he’s a liberal, but he only represents the status quo. My mother says isn’t that what a liberal does? And I say yes, but that’s the problem -- a liberal is supposed to be someone from the left. I mean a basic reformist agenda would be universal single payer health care, free education, housing for everyone, an end to the requirements of citizenship -- and all of these things would be so easy to do, so easy just cut the military budget by 75% and bring back the troops from countries all over the world but it’s never going to happen and that’s why I’m not hopeful, I’m not hopeful at all because I look at Obama and sure there are a few useful gestures, and in some ways it’s like nothing could be worse than Bush, right? But then you look at the bailout and the way all the resources are going to the bankers who have destroyed the whole economy and it’s not even going to work by their standards and it’s just this hideous façade and people don’t challenge Obama or even ask questions.

My mother says I don’t think anything could be worse than McCain. Sure, that’s easy to say, and it might be true, but why are we having this conversation? And she says: I agree about health care, and education, but housing? I say: yes, housing for everyone who needs it. My mother says: I like Obama. I realize I didn’t say the part about an end to the requirements of citizenship, it’s something I added now, something to say next time I guess, next time we talk about politics instead of talking. I go to the bathroom -- I like this bathroom because the walls are marble and there’s a sound system playing jazz, I dance a little to loosen up my body.

In the lobby of my mother’s hotel, there are all these gorgeous plants -- I already know this, because I look through the windows a lot, and when we’re inside I walk over to this one succulent that kind of looks like green branches growing in all different directions I remember when they had one like this at the plant store but it was huge and something like 75 dollars. My mother says you know what you can do, and she looks back at the desk just as I’m leaning down to grab a cutting -- it’s funny that we both thought of it at the same time. She says: did you get one? And then we’re in her room, she opens the curtains so I can see the view, kind of like my view from only two blocks away because she’s on the eighth floor and we’re facing in the same direction but here we can also look towards Union Square and we’re in the midst of things it’s a different kind of downtown view. I suggested that she ask for a view and then they upgraded her, she says you’re the one who got me this view.

When she hugs me and says I love you and I say I love you, and then I step into the hall and I don’t immediately feel crushed, actually I feel okay and I walk to the top of the hill but not all the way because then I’m tired so I walk back home and put my new cutting in water.

6 comments:

kayti said...

your mother living near you? Are you joking? It would be just like the good old times in D.C.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Yes yes the good times indeed -- you'd have to come over and we could pass out at my father's office, oh wait I guess he wouldn't be moving too...

Love --
mattilda

kayti said...

Tell your mother Brian and I know your smart. She doesn't need to worry that your friends have not noticed it.

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

I'll definitely let her know that :)

Love --
mattilda

davka said...

mattilda, I'm really enjoying these posts about your mom. It's weird how readers have a writer they love a lot and we make their life into a story in our heads and then follow... like baited breath- will they talk about the incest! wait til the next episode to find out!

but life isn't like that and it's yours and real. i'm sorry about your father. i am sure that has really complicated the matter of wanting/waiting to have your experiences recognized...

mattilda bernstein sycamore said...

Davka, I'm glad to hear you enjoy these posts -- writing about my mother is definitely one of the most difficult topics for me, makes me feel the most vulnerable, often in a scary way...

Of course, now that my father is dead, I know for sure that he will never acknowledge sexually abusing me, but I'm not sure my mother will ever acknowledge sexually abusing me either (or even acknowledge my father's abuse). Still, though, there's this deep part of me that knows what it could mean...

Thanks for following, and for your support!!!

Love --
mattilda