The word family can either cause the average person to break out in a huge smile while feeling those warm and tingly reminders of all things safe and supportive. Or it could have the adverse affect, causing you to break out in a cold sweat, before you leap over the nearest high bush, and take off sprinting down the street to escape having to deal with them.
I wasn’t sure which one I would be walking into when I agreed to accompany my male friend to a birthday party at his family’s home this past weekend.
I second guessed myself just as soon as he said, ‘Great! You can meet everybody!’ Oh, those complicated implications of making such an appearance.
See, I usually decline any invitation to get closer to people (in general), and especially anything even remotely considered traditional integration, as entirely off limits when it comes to me and male prospects. I’m mindful of moving things along too fast, because I’m ethical and don’t want to send the wrong message, even if a man is eager because he’s excited about the potential ‘us’ and wants to do the right thing.
I decline invitations often, but not his, and he wasn’t even supposed to be here, but I wanted to catch up with him and I needed an escape from the insanity of my life so here we are.
I spend a lot of time alone, writing and web designing, and when he asked, I accepted, and busied myself with the task of showering and dressing. I had no other plans, and no real reason to decline his invitation, so I said yes, which I should do more often, maybe, but I digress.
*Wonder Woman spin in place transformation*
I’m now dressed and sure things won’t move along in a swift enough fashion for me to safely skip breakfast so that I can fill up on charred meat later on. I am guiltily looking forward to charred meat, and maybe even a spoonful of potato salad. I have fond thoughts of lemonade.
I’m extremely anemic by genetics, and my eating habits are something my friends and family know of, and in order to help people help me be healthy, I ask that they remind me to eat, or otherwise I’ll forget. I don’t know if my eating disorder has caused me to forget what hunger feels like, or if my bipolar disorder causes me to become so distracted that I don’t notice hunger.
Either way, a sharp drop in my iron and I’m light headed, dizzy, and fussy, with no further intervention, I’ll pass out, and then go into cardiac arrest.
So yeah, I should eat before I leave the house.
I prepared a huge fruit salad and grabbed two forks and present him with one. We sit by the window to keep an eye out for his brother’s car to arrive. So I’ll be meeting the family even sooner than I had planned….. Great!?
“You look nice, Bess”
I look down at my pink patchwork halter dress and decide on flip flops and a few accessories to go with my outfit.
I fiddle and fill my purse with ‘stuff’ to make me feel safe, because ‘just in case’ is a huge thing to prepare for. I stuff a notebook, pen, and charger into my bag before asking if its okay to bring my laptop, which is actually just an electronic purse and my virtual escape hatch. I didn’t want to be rude, but I was told that it was okay for me to bring it, so I did and I was so glad.
Handshakes in the car, an introduction to the steady girlfriend and the little person in a car seat who greeted me by whacking me with a sippy cup, and we’re off. I buckle up and stare out the window lost in my thoughts. We pull off the highway into a quaint neighborhood with houses that look lush and expensive. I like this area of New Jersey but instantly feel out of place away from my high rise buildings, aggressive commuter movement, and other familiar urban decay.
We stop in front of a house with a huge tree centered around a paved walkway. There are various flowers, plants, and several wind chimes hanging from the small center piece tree. There are stools, and plants, and fairies dancing among the brush.
There is life here.
In my mind, the yard acted as a welcome mat made of nature, serene and subtle. I wanted to plant myself in the garden and stare at bugs and butterflies, but instead I offer to carry in little people, groceries, or whatever dead bodies may be in the trunk.
My help was declined as people fell out of the door of the house to greet us. The men carried and assisted with toddlers and objects, my only job was to stay out the way and observe. Slightly overwhelmed by the activity, I focus on smiling and acknowledging every smile and hand offered to me.
An open door waited for me to enter.
Cletus had disappeared, but I was beckoned in by the others.
One step inside was all I had to muster and once I had done so, I clearly walked into Santa’s workshop, a place of which I was quite familiar. Like stepping back in time.
“This is Mama”
“This is Tracy”
Several heads turned in response but only one woman stepped forth to answer the call. Youthful, tan, and fit wearing a cropped stomach exposing top and leggings, she made her way around the people’s gaze and over to me. She didn’t even break her stride when she reached out to give me a hug and a kiss; I felt comfort, warmth and light from her immediately.
“Is there anything I can do to help out in here?”
With my laptop and other distractions now removed from my person and placed safely out the way, I washed my hands, tied my hair into a bun upon my head and waited for a reply.
“Would you mind dicing up these eggs for deviled eggs?”
I accepted the bowl, fork and discombobulated eggs as an omen of sorts.
*I HATE eggs (unless I’m pregnant, which is when eggs become the thing I want in my life the MOST), but I especially dislike hard boiled eggs. I find the aroma and consistency physically disturbing, nevertheless, my best friend’s favorite thing to eat (next to crab legs) are deviled eggs. I’ve long since gotten over my aversion to them, and I can also make a dam proper deviled egg, not that I’ve ever tasted one but I’ve been told their quite amazing*
The kitchen goes quiet while everyone works on one dish or another, men move in and out the kitchen, shooed out by the women. An oldies station is playing in the background, I sway my hips to Chaka Khan and think back to my foster family when we were still a family, and how I use to envy my mother’s ability to create nearly anything you can think of using the kitchen table, things called ingredients pulled from her many cupboards, and appliances and her two chocolate hands.
More men, and with more ladies with plenty pretty brown babies in tow arrived as the afternoon progressed.
All ages, sizes and complexions were in attendance for a birthday party. There is a pool, blow up toys, juice boxes and a trampoline. There are plenty of seats, a inner deck, an outer deck, and recliners in the shade. There is a quiet living room with black and white pictures of couples, here and abroad, in graduation caps and wedding photos.
There is a piano here, and unique handmade doll’s placed around the room, another premonition to note involving my grandmother, my mother, and a particular doll that I have in possession.
Cletus thinks he’s being funny by placing a few of these pamper having individuals in my arms. He’s also making sure he brings the lovely display of genes, creativity and intellect his family line is capable of creating with the ease of a used car salesman to my attention. He’s not slick. My ovaries threaten to dial the psych ward.
I easily recall how to successfully maneuver cooing, the one arm free’d up toddler hip hold, and my world famous foot tickle when presented with these micro humans.
Adults laugh and talk, keeping many eyes on the children of everyone to make sure fun was had, and safety is enforced. No one yelled, not one parent spanked or beat a misbehaving child, I wasn’t rattled and made anxious by the sound of angry noise and out of control-ness. Children didn’t behave ill, and the adults didn’t erupt into their own alcohol induced arguments. There was liquor, so I heard, but these folks ‘don’t drink in front of the kids….’, and so those who stepped off to ‘check their email on the basement computer’ might know more about that than I would.
Jokes and laughter fill the air as things quiet down to immediate family, Cletus is refilling the ice. I’m glad to move around this group of people, talking and participating in what some folks call a family.
I must be mindful of those seeking light banter and conversation but I was extra assertive today. It’s an unfortunate reality that an intelligent woman is seen as a threat to some, and so I attempt to be extra inclusive and even more careful with my neutral centrist feel good all inclusive dissenting opinions while speaking to his friends. I don’t want to be hated within five minutes of opening my mouth
I am uncomfortable making myself smaller and more acceptable. Bite size Tracy.
I look around and wonder ‘at what cost to be included?’
Cletus joins me, his sister, another couple, and a few additions. I stay out of the conversation and just listen. It’s easier that way, and I’ll learn more by observation, but I wonder if I’m now becoming hypersensitive. I know how easy it is to turn into myself, and disengaged when I feel threatened. Isolation is my shield.
But how can I stay inside my ivory tower when I have this man next to me who is so attentive, so patient, and above all–he’s funny as F*ck!
My Cletus is Afro Cuban0, and his various random Chicano/Deep Southern/Yonk-cuz/Mexican/Cubano accents are never ending. His ability to jump in and out of impromptu reasons to use those accents are well known to me, that’s how we met online two years ago.
He’s lived in several states and held such random forms of employment that he gives my random job history a run for my money.
I could call him unstable, and I could say he’s a little quirky, but for the fact that he just felt like trying different people, places and things. Had I not had a child I may have done the exact same thing.
He thinks my eccentric habits are necessary for my artistic expression, shares my love of literature, history, politics, alternative forms of music, body art, nature, and other things dancing in my head.
We create whole dialogue and conversations out of thin air, his following mine, mine following his. We have our own build in ‘couple speak’, in our own world, even online, Bess (that’s me) and Cletus, and at the end of each, exchange, I surrender in a hail of giggles.
Maybe this isn’t so bad after all, and Mom likes me, so I hear, and she wants to know when I’ll be back.
And it’s been a long time, but I’m okay with knowing that I want to know the answer to that question also…………