Saturday, January 24, 2015

Freedom of Movement

My car was in my cousin's shop (my cousin is my mother's cousin). My cousin and his father had had this business my entire life. That, plus the knowledge that in this family if you screw up you become a byword forever made me confident in my cousin's abilities, since it was easier to do a good job than face the wrath of my 87-year-old mostly-blind-and-deaf 95-pound great aunt. Trust me.

There was still the matter of me getting to the commuter rail to get to my assignment, which had a week left. My father was driving the four-plus miles to my uncle's before dawn, driving me to the station that's all of a mile from his house, then picking me up in the evening. My dad is retired and is up at 4am. He also has zero hobbies, so I wasn't putting a crimp in his style and in fact was probably giving him something to do, but that didn't change the fact that I hated being so completely dependent, and inconveniencing him, although he never complained. I was, of course, immensely grateful, but I hated this situation. For the first time in twenty years my living situation was nowhere near workable public transportation, a shared-car service, or decent biking options, although I'd taken my bike out one evening to go to clay class, and the sense of freedom had been intoxicating.

Another issue is the dynamic between my father and me. Since he stopped drinking, things have improved dramatically, but some essentials remain. 

Among these is his expectation that everyone in the world is out to screw him, accompanied by his generally crude commentary on society. So as we ride the longest four miles on the planet, I hear comments about ragheads and Japs. It's an old conflict of ours, and I wonder whether he does it just to provoke me, but that would entail him actually paying attention to me, which has never been the case. So I've become an expert on redirecting conversation by asking him about his siblings, of which there are many, and their kids, of which there are a very many.

The other button I have to jump on when it gets pushed is more complicated. When I was growing up, my dad spent his time at work, and the rest of his time at bars. My mother went to bingo games. My parents effectively bowed out of active parenting. (Once, when I was twelve and at a friend's house, two bullies waited outside to beat me up; I called my mother to come get me and bring me home. We lived less than 10 minutes away by car, but she refused to come get me, claiming she'd started dinner. I begged, but to no avail. I waited for 45 minutes and then snuck home through backyards and side streets.) 

When they moved us five miles to the house in which I now live with my uncle, I was stranded. My mother refused to drive me anywhere because it inconvenienced her very busy stay-at-home soap-opera watching, so it fell to friends' parents to take pity on me and drive me the five-plus miles home after dark rather than make me walk over a mile to a crime-infested downtown bus station to wait for the hourly bus. Knowing your parents didn't give a rat's ass was one thing; to have other people see it was humiliating.

So when my father talks to me about my home city, it's as if his indifference and lack of attention extends to not noticing his indifference and lack of attention. It's as if it never occurred to him to question his and my mother's lack of involvement or investment.  He mentions streets and locales as though I visit them every week, as though I actually had some kind of life growing up here. Fighting the urge to be nasty, I took a different tack one evening:

"Do you know I've never been to the commons?"


"I mean, I've driven by them, but I've never been to them."

"You've never been to the commons?"

"Well, I didn't have a car as a teenager, and none of my friends did, so we were pretty much confined to our neighborhoods and the route to school, and the beach. I'm completely ignorant about 99% of this city."

Then there's the fact that I moved away for good - hallelujah-- thirty years ago, which they still haven't seemed to grasp, perhaps in part because in all that time they have visited an actual place where I've lived all of three times. Not that I'm unhappy about that, considering the alternative. As one grows up, one discovers the many upsides to parental distance, not the least of which is a guilt-free release from obligation.

Some parents might be concerned that they know so little about their kid, or recognize the isolation they describe. Those parents are not my parents.

So the trip time was doubled as we drove at my father's signature 15 mph while I resisted the urge to scream at him to for god's sake PICK IT UP, and I developed my Grownup Conversations with Dysfunctional Parent skills. And afterward my mother would call to probe and pry and mis-relay information that she hoarded for power.

In short, this whole situation was forcing me to deal with my parents in a way that I'd planned to avoid in order to stay sane when I  moved back and was in transition. (I will say, though, that the 5-mile inconvenience now works in my favor, as my parents never come up here aside from planned card-game nights, when I disappear.)

During all of this, my cousin did not call me. My dad assured me he had my number, but it turned out that he had my uncle's home phone number, which was useless since I was at work all day.

One evening, my dad picked me up and said my cousin couldn't find a part, that he'd done a search everywhere.

"Did he look online?" I asked, forcing my voice to stay measured.

"He checked some people he uses."

"Did he do an online search, and why didn't he call me?" I asked, my voice rising.

"Don't get mad at me; I'm just the messenger."

"I'm not mad at you, Dad, I'm just frustrated because it's been a week, and if someone had just spoken directly to me as I asked a number of times, I could have sorted this out, and I don't understand how someone who has a business doesn't use the internet."

I got home, and my mother called.

"He did a search on all the places that body-shops use," she said, making sure to use the word "search" as though she understood what I meant, which she didn't, because God forbid I know something she doesn't. "He can't find the housing, so he can't put the light in. So we're picking it up tomorrow, and you need to decide what you're going to do. What are you going to do?"


"I guess I'll have to give that some thought," I said, unwilling to let her hear the panic in my voice, which would only heighten the pleasure this drama was giving her.

I got off the phone and Googled "year/make/model passenger-side headlight housing." 

First on the list. $11.52, shipped in 1-2 days.

I called my mother back and told her I was printing something out for dad to give to the cousin. On the printout I wrote my cell phone and CALL ME on it. (He never did, BTW.)

What I did not do was scream at a  single person that had they just for once, for ONCE, given me an inch of credit and simply fucking LISTENED to me instead of assuming that they knew all there is to know despite every indication to the contrary, this would have been resolved much earlier. And so I no longer pitied my father his morning pre-dawn taxi service.

My cousin called the number, the part came in, he did a great job of fixing the car, and I'm back on the road. And all I have to do is download an attachment from email for my uncle and he's telling people I'm a tech genius.

Little victories.

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