All Growed Up


The road to Tucson was a long one, and I can’t say we both arrived at its terminus unscathed. My amateur attempt at lighting a joint in the car caused a nasty burn hole in my brand new polo shirt, and my odometer would never be quite the same again. We arrived at my parents’ timeshare in Tucson around dusk. We had driven from Southern California to attend the final installment of what I was calling Wedding Week 2009: two back-to-back weddings within a week of each other. The past 13 days had been chaotic to say the least.

The first wedding was that of my second cousin, Holly. I’m not what you’d call close to this segment of my family. My grandmother’s twin sister (Holly’s grandmother) had enjoyed a very comfortable life after she married into a family who owned a construction firm based in Riverside. Not only do the members of this branch of the family tree navigate society ensconced in a bubble of privilege, they also prescribe to a particularly rigorous brand of evangelical Christianity that further distorts (in my opinion) their worldview.

In the week leading up to the wedding, there was some debate amongst my immediate family as to whether or not there this was going to be a dry wedding. That drinking is frowned upon within my family would be an understatement, so I felt slightly awkward sipping my chardonnay after the wait staff began pouring glasses of free wine immediately after the ceremony. The wedding reception would turn out to be something of a milestone.

After several glasses raised in toast to the newly wedded couple, I was running on pure liquid courage. The uneasiness and self-consciousness I had felt earlier had dissipated. I was having engaging conversations with my cousins that I hadn’t spoken to in about a decade, guffawing with my homophobic, ultra-conservative uncles, and generally not giving a fuck who was watching me on the dance-floor. As I executed a poorly-timed spin to “Boom Boom Pow”, I glanced over to see both of my parents polishing off their glasses of wine. I was raised in the Baptist church, but the values of celibacy until marriage (being homosexual, this is both impossible and impractical for me), abstention from alcohol (see above), and general obedience to God never really gained any traction with me. On the other hand, I recall several wine and champagne bottles given to my parents as Christmas and New Years gifts thrown in the garbage in the name of setting a good example for me and my brothers. As far as I knew until that night, my folks still adhered to that rule. But here we were, all of us in no condition to drive home, and not really caring either way. I realized that I was entering a phase where, after accepting that your parents are actual human beings, you begin to counter this newfound discovery by asserting yourself not only as human, but a grown-up. Emboldened by this revelation, I was anticipating having a pretty good time in Tucson at my other cousin’s wedding the following weekend which was sure to have booze flowing freely.

My brother and I exchanged greetings with my parents as we sat down to a home-away-from-home-cooked dinner, a welcome respite from a full day on the road. Later that night, I went with my mother to the grocery store to pick up something for us all to enjoy for dessert. As she began picking out toppings for ice cream sundaes, I said casually, “I’m going to go pick out some beer for me and Andrew.”

She pouted and frowned like a two-year-old being called for a bath. “Do you have to?”

I was too road-weary to put the effort required into ruining a perfectly good evening with family, but I really wanted a drink, so I sheepishly responded “No…..I don’t have to….”

She gave me the pouty two-year-old look again.

“I’m on vacation.” Maybe this whole asserting myself as an adult wasn’t such a good idea after all. I puffed up my chest and convinced myself that the tension would blow over. I placed my 12-pack on the conveyor belt at the check-out and I wondered if my mom would use a different tactic to keep me from drinking that night.

“I really don’t know how your father’s going to react to you having that. In the house,” mom said in a prophetic tone. Pfft: as if that dynamic had ever existed in our family! I don’t recall ever hearing, “Just you wait until your father gets home!” in my 18 years living with them. Nice try, mom.

At the same time, I felt overcome by her vortex of guilt. I felt a sinking sensation, my morale was about to give way under the crushing weight of mom’s time-tested methods.

“If it really means that much to you, I’ll just put it back.”

Mom wanted to make it clear that I had gotten the wrong idea. “Oh, no no! Don’t put it back! I just want you to know how I feel,” she said. As she approached the cashier, without looking at me she threw in, “And you know how I feel”.

I paid for my beer and admitted to myself that mom had triumphed. Her unique brand of passive aggression conquers all. I was absolutely petrified that I had misunderstood my brother when I asked him if he wanted anything from the store, that “Just whatever you’re having,” really referred to whatever flavor of ice cream. I knew that this was a bad judgment call on my part, and the night I defiantly brought a 12-pack of Budweiser into my parents’ home would come to be known in my family as “that night”.

I tried my best to act normal as I walked through the door. “I told him, Tom!”…..Silence. I had totally called mom’s bluff! I was home-free! I had won!

There has to come a point where you take your family dynamics, unspoken resentments and expectations, and reconcile them with your life. You either rise above them or give into them. I choose to rise above them. I may not be proud of everything I’ve done in my life, and I don’t claim to have my shit together by any stretch of the imagination, but I know who I am right now, and I refuse to sugar-coat or hide it any more.

Before heading to bed, my brother and I were polishing off the last of our beers and chatting on the balcony. We stared into the Sonoran void, puffing our cigarettes. “Way to stick to your guns on that one,” my brother said. I took another swig and smacked my lips in satisfaction.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: