What Barbara Didn’t Say
Nerves? Are you going to start complaining like Mother does? Are you going to sigh loudly if you notice my broken nail? My socks? Why does my stomach hurt when I hear the word nerves? Is the middle the wrong place to start on purpose? Is it giving up?
I’m bad because I’ve given up on being a girl when I’m only 15 and have my whole life ahead of me but you always say I give up when you talk about me always I give up and what does that even mean It doesn’t mean that you’ll leave me alone I’m always going to hear more about it you’re always sitting in the kitchen in your “sunny alcove” with the peach walls and the high, tippy chairs and the striped cushions that no one else can fit into even Connie has to pull out a chair and block the flow to talk to you there while you sip things with perfect nails.
Was sending me here giving up? Will you hate me if I succeed here because it’s a bad and dopey place. How can dopey be your favorite swear work the word that you use to dismiss and belittle? It’s such a foolish word such a childish and self-revealing word and I don’t want to see you naked like that a spiteful, parochial, baby little word.
But this house is sub-par. I’ve never been in one so ramshackle and, let’s face it, low class. Like the Dress For Success book you gave me. With the revolving door in the introduction and I know you never read the introduction you never read anything through you pick and pass and leave a mess on your plate but we have to be neat and reflect well like we’re only mirrors and people who read introductions are dopey which is parochial again how can you not want to know how things go how can you give me a book saying here’s how things are and then not want me to read it analytically saying oh Analyze! do you know how dopey Analyze! sounds I give you the book for the information and you read the introduction and don’t think about the way you look at all don’t think about the way people Key in on your Presentation of yourself.
And in the introduction if talks about the revolving door about the experiment with one person inside the building and one coming through the door, pausing, then going back out and the first person stops someone and asks what they saw can you describe were they tall or dark and no one was any good at describing but when they were asked “what income level” they could guess pretty well.
And they said it was because of the clothes, of the presentation if you like that word but I wonder if that’s true. Could it be that they couldn’t pick up specifics if they weren’t paying attention but they could pick up generalities.
Maybe the income level isn’t the most important thing. Maybe if they had asked other general questions they would have gotten accurate answers, too. Would they have gotten a good correlation for : can this person dance? is this person happy? Does he own a dog? Do they have kids?
And what other experiments could be done to pick out whether it was income that was important or generality. Were those experiments done and we just don’t know because nobody wrote a self-help book about them.
And just because people notice income level doesn’t mean they’re nicer to you the higher your level is. But you went off on a tear and were grumbling and throwing your hands and pacing and wounded and why do you do this to me?
Well why do you do it? And this is clearly not our income level and is that why you always smirk about Aunt Sheila?
But why is it filled with resentment when you say her name. Aunt Sheila she thinks she’s better than us staying in California after the divorce do you think that she’s living in style you and grandfather – never grandpa – you and grandfather and it’s just as well that she stays in California we wouldn’t want to have to put up with her ways. And Aunt Myrtle coming over with the letter and of course Connie can’t go. And the blushes and the anger with no one saying and the heads together.
And then I have a ticket and new suitcases to pack and it’s not like I’m on a team or have a boyfriend they have classes in California too. And here I am. And we’re starting in the middle. And the middle is the kitchen and standing there would make Mother scream. That isn’t a metaphor. She would scream and scream until someone cradled her shoulders and led her away and told her she’d never have to come back, never have to deal with that ever again and it isn’t that rewarding bad behavior? How can screaming and giving up be a good thing? Even if she doesn’t have her whole life in front of her? And why does that make me smile? Am I bad for chuckling inside at the thought of my Mother being closer to death than I am? Is that natural? Is it pathetic? Is it dopey? No. Only dopey people say things are dopey.
Damn that’s a dopey chair. No it isn’t only dopey people say dopey. What should I say? Cheap? Inappropriate? What wouldn’t say more about me than about the chair? The paint is chipped and flaking. It was a garish orange, a color from a couple of decades ago, before it faded, and it faded unevenly. I want to think thoughts about sunlight and pigment interacting chemically and it’s good to know that but I only know that it happens, I don’t know any specifics, but I have my whole life in front of me and do I want to use it learning about that or other things.
It looks like a Dreamsicle™ with a split seat. The split is a gash, a crevice. The padding has been pulled and worn away from it so it happened a long time ago. And there’s no dust on it so she uses it a lot and I’m just like Sherlock Holmes (who do I think I am) which makes me smile (which I have to hide).
She doesn’t walk well. I know I’m supposed to be helping here. I should ask how sick she is. But maybe she doesn’t want anyone to know (to talk about it) maybe it’s my job to draw her out. Did they know? They didn’t tell me. I thought Aunt Myrtle said hospital. Maybe she’ll say later.
That looks like a display case. We have one tucked to the side of the front hall. There are enough amusing gifts in it to imply that the trophies aren’t the reason for it. Dad likes words like imply. He always listens to Mother when she says imply.
I almost can’t see through the glass. It needs a polish. What’s in there? It’s not like the china hutch with the amusing salt shakers to imply that the china isn’t on display because it’s expensive.
Oh, it pulls down like a hoosier, although I bet it’s not as trendy/antique and it isn’t set up at the entry to the kitchen with its doors and cupboards open and items tastefully arrayed.
Well it’s a good thing that the front folds up or she’d never have a writing area. Every horizontal surface in this house has things stacked on it. I’m being mean. I should stop. I bet that’s why she folds up the chair, too.
I should stop. She’s been kind, I think. Maybe. Am I supposed to clean this entire place. Is it right to think “this entire place” when it’s so small. And dopey. Shut up Mother. Am I supposed to help her get well.
Who is Bobby? Will I have to watch his (her?) kids when they come over. Will they ignore me and misbehave and get their fingers pinched again? Will they say it was my fault oh I give up or will they shrug and say “boys” or will they ignore it and drink iced coffee out of tall glass cups?
No. there are no glass cups in the kitchen just ceramic mugs and some of those thick ceramic/glass ones that diners use.
Oh my. Is she really geeking out over etymology? I can play with that. And she said I’m perceptive. And I’m blushing. I’m enjoying this. If I’m not careful, I’ll embrace the dopey and wouldn’t that be giving up on things or at least mother and father wouldn’t put up with that But sea wrack is dried seaweed and I’ve never seen seaweed and I thought that I might if I came to California but Stockton is “The Sunrise Seaport” it’s as far as you can get inland with a cargo ship, though the Deep Water Ship Channel through the Delta with 1000 miles of waterways that I’m probably not going to see either if I’m looking after an aunt and I miss my computer. How will I google anything here it’s like having my hands tied behind my back.
Does she have decent books? OMG: irony alert! I would SO IM this. “You really need a computer.” I’ll be so alone without one.
Oh, mac boxes are cute. I’ve heard you can get on the internet with one, but it only gets text and I’d mess it up and be embarrassed. I’d be a dopey failed geek. So she needs to get a newer model. I won’t push now but she needs it.
And she has a sense of humor about herself. (Of course as messed-up as she is, she’d have to have one) Shut up. Give her credit. A lot of messed up people are messed up about themselves – defensive – no perspective – doesn’t messed up hit the sense of perspective first. (Short term memory is the first to go (Terminous))
She’s been kind, but she’s nervous. Nerves can do strange things.
Ooooo! An aquarium is such a neat idea. Just like the screen saver. I wonder if there are actual fish that look like the screen saver fish – ones that would fit into a box that small. I wonder who Peter is? Is he related to Bobby? Is he one of Bobby’s kids. Are the kids grown? Could he make the aquarium or is this just a cool idea that no one will ever do anything about?
Sounds like he’s grown and could do it. Oh, no. He’s married to someone like Mother. Someone who knows exactly how everything is supposed to be exactly with no argument. That is so sad. Maybe he likes it, but that’s sad, too. It was such a neat idea.
Aunt Sheila doesn’t approve of exactly how everything should be. (That’s great – me and dopey Aunt Sheila together and tucked out of sight.) That’s relaxing. My stomach is uncurling.
Yeah, everyone says be assertive until you are and then you’re evil or dopey for not agreeing with them.
I’d like to write a thesis. Or at least read one. I bet those people are all calm and supportive as they help each other build big thoughts.
Hmmm. Papers. That’s easy. You can see the difference quickly, too. Looks like something’s been done. A false sense of accomplishment like making 10 million neopoints or getting to level 70 on WoW. I can get behind that. (Father hates the phrase almost as much as he hates the word Dad. Dad, dad, dad.)
“I’m here to help with the behind thing.”
No. Dad, that’s not an unladylike sarcastic reference to anyone’s ass. Ass, ass. ass.
Did she say something about a bill? I didn’t see any bills in the papers. Ah, she doesn’t know why I’m here either. That’s (depressing) a good thing. I guess. We’re both trying to figure it out. But she’s concerned for me. I like that. I just miss my computer. Maybe she’d get me one if I needed to study with it.
She used a big word and then stopped. I don’t believe it! I do that all the time. Everyone hates it and oh, she’s checking to see if I’m upset by it. And it was a lovely word.
“Ramifications. Branchings.” I could get poetic about good geeky words like this.
But what if that makes her angry. She could be embarrassed about being geeky.
No, she’s smiling. She knew my words, too. This is a warm stomach sunrise around the campfire warming your hands and bottom.
More shelves. Well, I can help with that. And if you keep taking naps, I can find those fractal books and read them.
OK. I can do this. I like books and organizing things. You may not like the way I organize things, but you haven’t gone off on me yet so maybe I’ll try it.
“Sure. The things are all under the kitchen sink, right?”
Books on cleaning. More irony. The area under the kitchen sink was large, but crammed with cleaning supplies. Four kinds of spray cleaner at least. Brillo and SOS and Scotch plastic pads and those funky copper coil things that look like lathe turnings with the bit set too deep. But it isn’t all chaos. It’s grouped and there were a few built-in cubbies. One held a stack of washcloths. [She grabbed a bunch and picked out a furniture oil that she was familiar with, although in pump form rather than pour. That was probably more efficient to apply anyway.
As she began pulling books, Sheila sorted papers, pulling off a spoon dried to a few of them. Soon after, though, she struggled to her feet. Should I jump to help her up? But she handled it with no disappointment and waddled off. Something about a wastebasket and possibilities. She thinks about why she does things. Is that perceptive?
The chat threads say that the difference between knowledge and wisdom is the difference between knowing that smoking is bad and not smoking. Is Aunt Sheila chaotic good?
Am I thinking Chaotic because of the clutter? Now she’s talking about memory. Has she read up on brain-ology? Or just listened to a lot of Dr. Phil?
The short-term, long-term thing sounds right-ish, but pat. If it’s from a magazine or TV show it’s probably over-simplified.
She thinks things through. Connects things.
I can follow. And if I put my oar in, she doesn’t mind. She relaxes.
The tennis team. If I’d made it, they wouldn’t have sent me. Connie made it. Connie always does. And they wouldn’t have sent her anyway. She guides the hairdresser, discussing feathering and blunt and lighting. She spends more than $100 a month on her hair and never breaks a nail or chips the polish and they wouldn’t have sent her away even if she had no boyfriend.
Yes, I do want to study at home. Because I’m bored and embarrassing. I don’t want to come in mid-semester and be looked at and forgotten.
She’s considering it. That means that I have the grand opportunity to mess things up. She’s challenging me. Well, what do I want. I used to know that, didn’t I? Well, first I’d research it. But I’d need a computer for that. I’m kinda stuck on a computer.
OMG She’s talking about porn straight up. Not “age-inappropriate material”, not “pictures not meeting community standards”, just porn. And she’s old. Be cool. Downplay.
(How could she just say porn?) Change the subject/play up the usefulness (Guys say porn to be shocking.)
Keep hands busy. Act cool. Keep the subject moving.
“What’s Fossils Without Dinosaurs?”
More interesting and geeky and then back to the brain stuff. Tying the brain stuff to what she knows I know. Was she a teacher? She has brain on the brain.
Talk. Just talk. This is a conversation. Keep the hands busy. Tie the conversation back to a computer. No. Be more subtle. Back to ‘help’. Computer later.
Yes! Computer. Now hookup-cable. Definitely cable. Dial up is so slow. OMG she’s yelling through the bathroom door. It’s porn and pee and cable if you please. Am I being sensitive? I hate it when Mother and her friends are sensitive. I don’t want to be a sensitive person.
Is she insensitive? I don’t want her to be insensitive. Look for the cable. Talk back . Don’t be sensitive. Are these walls thin? I can hear so much in the bathroom but the walls seem thick. Maybe it’s the small rooms. And the bare floors. And the metal in the bathroom. All of those. Such an odd bathroom.
There’s the file running along the wall from the left corner and this diamond-paned window with the dusty drapes and big old console television with another television on top and then the door in the right corner near the tacky bookcase. The coax came out of the wall under the window and behind the TV’s. They were more than a foot away from the wall, so the plugs and cables were obvious. The bottom one wasn’t plugged in.
Only coax. I know about that.
I hope she won’t be wearing that to the computer store. Don’t say that. That’s the kind of thing that Mother says. (But I’m a happy medium – no I’m not. I’m embarrassed.)
She’s perplexing. This Wooden TV has a lid on the top. No telling what that’s for. But she knows DSL. Why doesn’t she throw this stuff out. The window is almost dark.
No energy. Maybe no nerves. Maybe I could help. Maybe I could help. maybe it wouldn’t be all wrong. Maybe.
I could offer.
Here’s someone else she knows. Like Mother and Father and Connie and all of their friends and I can never keep up with who’s in and who’s out and who’s talking to whom. (if him = whom) Unless computer guy is Peter of Bobby. No, not Bobby.
She’s deciding and it’s worrying her. Barbara felt a loom of threat. There’s always something wrong if someone’s worried because if there’s nothing wrong they’ll make something wrong to have something to be properly worried about.
But the clouds part and she’s even going to change before we go out. Is it bad that I’m wondering if it will be worse?
Who is Natalie. Will she like me? Will I have to straighten up, smile, and present myself. And the afternoon is young, as Mother would say and throw out her hands. I hope I don’t have to meet too many people. I just get tired thinking about it.
And now we’re stopping in the middle, which is not (is) giving up. We’re going to get a computer (we’re going to look into getting a computer and she’ll research and fiddle and stall and never get one – she’s only pretending in order to stop in the middle which isn’t the middle because we began there so we’re stopping at the beginning with books on the floor) Shut up. I want a computer.
I’ll keep working while she changes. That’s not giving up. Or at least that’s not me giving up. If I get the top polished, I can reshelve what was sitting up there and that’s 1/6 of the case done. Maybe I can get the next shelf done before she gets out. She’s slow (should I be helping her dress? Does it hurt her?) ((I don’t want to do that.))
And I can tidy up the books. She’s left a bunch of things stuck in between the leaves (Between the Lions) . . how can I possibly organize (throw away) these? What are they?
OMG. I’m living in Easter Egg House! I’m definitely going on an Easter Egg hunt. I’ll get a computer and log all of these and then maybe she can throw all the bits and pieces away. Or maybe DO something with them. Maybe a website.
I need CD’s and a thumb drive and . . . a scanner? Yes. I’m definitely going to make copies for me. I’m definitely not going to be left out or sent away with nothing. This will be a story, or grist for a story, at least.
She's wearing jeans. I hope she doesn't look horrible in them. And who's Natalie. My stomach is knotting. Natalie is from the big house. She's better than us here in this little (shithole) place.
What will I say?