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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Going to Moscow

Of all the memories I have of my childhood, none are as vivid and, at the same time, opaque and nebulous as my memories of flipping out in the living room.

When we ate at the dining room, as we did every night as a family together, it wasn't the idyllic, stereotypical family atmosphere that is portrayed in televised depictions of a bygone era. It was boisterous and loud and often profane, often happy and filled with laughter-- typically at someone else's expense. I was commonly called upon to do impersonations of people in our sphere, or tell elaborate, funny stories for the entertainment of my parents and sisters. And there were frequently arguments that sprang up like pimples or psychotic dogs due to frisky personalities and opinionated children, but these arguments were quelled relatively quickly, and usually by my mother. The dinner table might have been an exciting place, but it was meant for theatrics, not dramatics.

The living room, by contrast, was a venue where one could thump one's chest and rail against the indignities and inequities of the cruel, unforgiving world, where one could loudly assail the misfortune of having a tempestuously frustrating adolescence. I can remember many an evening, standing at the center of the room yelling at the top of my lungs in that misunderstood way that teenagers do, being hysterical about this or that, things I hated, people who had wronged me or, my favorite topic, how much I hated myself. I would pace the floor, hungrily, like a lion, in a fervent and bloody thirst for validation of my feelings, only to receive idiotic cheerleading from my father, and despairing head shakes by my mother.

In short, it was the room in our house where both growing up and regressing happened concurrently.

When they'd had enough of my rantings, my mother would inevitably retire to the basement to do laundry, and my father would commence doing stomach crunches or push-ups on the living room floor.

"WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING THAT FOR?!" I would scream, practically apoplectic.

"Mummy," he'd say, in between a crunch, "I have to exercise-- go on, I am listening."

But, really, he wasn't. And I don't necessarily blame him, either. I certainly don't blame my mother for disengaging to go downstairs to do laundry, either. I would have needed a break from me, too.

"I think about those times now," I said to my therapist yesterday, "and I think about how they must have just wanted to be like, 'Jesus-- just shut up and go have some ice-cream or something. Go masturbate. It'll all be okay.' Must have been so tempting to say."

The thing is, they couldn't tell me that, because I was too important to them, even if the psychologically purging horseshit I was spewing all over them at one particular night or another wasn't. And I really appreciate the avenue for expression they gave me in that living room, with all its attendant strange pottery and its ineffective lighting and the superbly ugly Ben Shahn painting on the wall.

When I go to their house now, the living room is filled with my nephew's baby toys. The round, glass table that had been a fixture in that room since I was born has been banished to the basement, and we sit on the overstuffed, ugly furniture and talk in even tones, about nothing at all. It's like a Chekhov play, except nobody's even pretending that they're going to Moscow.


  1. I hear what your saying but compared to my family yours was heaven. My parents wouldn't give me ice cream unless I masturbated in front of them. Worse still, when I spoke about this for the first time in therapy, the Doc laughed so hard he had to leave the room.

  2. LUXURY! I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night, half an hour before I went to bed, eat a lump of cold poison, work twenty-nine hours a day down mill, and pay the mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our Dad would kill us, and dance about on our graves singing "Hallelujah."

  3. That Beh Shahn really is something, isn't it? I get the urge to straighten it everytime we're at their house.


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