On Sunday I went to tea for my birthday. It was really nice and I got much more atrociously stuffed than I did in San Francisco recently.
My family isn’t particularly long-lived, but a lot of this could have to do with things like fried food, trailer parks, and basically any kind of shit that you could imagine from Raising Arizona that happened to end up on the cutting room floor. I’ve tipped over the other side of 35 and so it feels like I am on the hinge of my life. I am certainly having my midlife crisis now. It’s going really well. I promise I will write about it when statutes of limitations expire.
I will tell you that I’ve been smoking for the past few months, like a moron. I always had a “reason” before, no matter how specious, but I can’t really justify it lately. It was always court stress, or moving, or general homicidal notions. Now, nothing is really wrong and I am still smoking. I smoked like a chimney in California and I tried to pull my favorite smoking buddy there out into the street with me and she declined.
“I switched to an e-cigarette,” she said.
“Ah.” This was disappointing and also kind of a relief. It’s hard not to be happy that someone you like quit smoking, right?
“I had gum surgery,” she said.
“Yes. And my husband said, ‘After you have surgery, why don’t you just quit smoking?’ So I have this e-cigarette but I never really want it because I know it’s there.”
I thought about this for a long time like I always do. It takes me a million years to think about anything. Sometimes it takes me a whole week to get mad about something. It’s just how it is. I know how it is to have something in your hip pocket that feels better for just knowing that it’s there.
I heard what she said, like it rang a bell then, that kept ringing. I knew my birthday was coming up. What if I had my birthday, and it was the second half of my life, and I never smoked again? I can’t break the chain.
Lately I have been thinking about mothers, also. If you’re lucky sometimes you have a second mother, like a friend’s mother, who is really nice to you. Who knows how they feel about you, really. Maybe you’re not really special, just another ratty kid coming around to hoover up peanut butter.
I’ve been thinking about my best friend’s mother, Pat, who was around the age I am now when I really started to notice her as a person. She had four daughters and she was always moving, always working. She seemed beaten down, but so did most of the mothers I knew. I was distrustful of peppy mothers; I thought they must be hiding their real feelings about life and their children.
Pat was older than my mother, but everyone’s mother was older than my mother, the child bride. Pat had married quite young, or so we thought. Later we learned that my friend’s oldest sister belonged to another man, one who had left Pat. Her husband, my friend’s father, was a gruff dick, like all the other fathers we knew. He ran the house in an authoritarian manner, with “Yes, sir” and “No, sir,” and church for me on Sunday if I spent the night on Saturday.
We were scandalized to find a snapshot of Pat with her dark hair fried into a shocking blonde. We stared at it, this tiny window into Pat’s past, before she had kids. We knew that her husband would never allow anything as frivolous as blonde hair now. Pat took the photo from us, wordlessly, and stuck it in a book and slid the book into a high shelf, out of our reach. We knew better than to ask her about it.
I was allowed into places in their house that other kids were not, since I was there so much. Once my friend had to ask Pat permission for something, and I saw her in a rare moment of rest, laying on her bed in dim light.
“Yes,” she said to my friend, in the same tone of voice that I use on my girls now when I want Just One Goddam Moment of Peace for God’s Sake but Hello Yes Daughter What Is It? Terse but resigned.
I crept in behind my friend, taking in the sight of Pat in repose, seeing the jewelry on her dresser, and smelling her perfume, which I only ever recall smelling in her bedroom. Also unlike my mother, who left a wake of Obsession behind her and a myriad of other terrible 80s perfumes that slapped you in the face as she arrived.
Pat was wearing a tank top with no bra and sweatpants. I remember being fascinated by the sight of her breasts, which had slipped with time and four daughters. Gravity was pulling them down into her armpits. I had never seen that much of a body of a woman in her 30s, who had children, and was not bone thin. I think of her now when I look at my own body, which is changing, and yet I dislike less than I used to, when it was more perfect.
“I’ll never be that old,” I thought.
I took an old silk shirt out of my closet yesterday that I probably haven’t worn for three or four years. I slipped it over my head and I saw…something…a spider? Too late. It was over my head. I jumped around and shook my shirt until it fell out. A spider corpse, who knows how old. Somehow it seemed fitting.