At thirty-one years of age I found myself sneaking out of the house and driving my mom’s car into town to get drunk without her permission. I had hatched the plot two days earlier and conspired via text with my tia and sister while we all sat at dinner the table at one of the two Chinese Food restaurants in Rural Nowhere, Ca where I grew up. My mother had been particularly agitated this evening; when her soup arrived she took a taste and proclaimed loudly “THIS IS THE WORST SOUP I’VE EVER HAD!” she called the young femme boy waiter. “YOU MAKE SURE TO TELL THE COOK!” I tried to keep from laughing but it was too funny and soon all of our eyes were wet with tears. “Well I decided that I am not going to be quiet any more. I am going to tell people when I want something.” said my mother, her tone indignant.
“That’s great, Mommy.” I replied, feeling proud of her even as my cheeks burned with embarrassment. My auntie agreed that I could use some time to myself. I’d come up to help relive some of the care-taking responsibilities from my auntie during the four days between finals. Knowing she’d be more likely to take her sleeping pills if she felt in control of something I had her correct my spanish essays as I dispensed her nightly nose of sleeping pills, tranquilizers and anti-psychotics. She hadn’t slept in days before I had arrived and when she is deprived of sleep her paranoia and the torturous delusions become even more unbearable; the mania and sleeplessness are both a symptom and a cause of the delusions. I really wish there was a kinder word. I called my dearest most compassionate friend, a marriage and family therapist intern at some hippy school in the bay. “Is there a better word for ‘delusion’ or ‘hallucination’? Something kinder? More compassionate and respectful? Something that acknowledges that these experiences are my mother’s reality?” I asked almost certain of the answer.
“I dunno buddy. We always say ‘delusions’ in school but I know it’s pretty loaded. Maybe we can think of a word together.” We sat awkwardly over the phone, spitting out words or phrases that all sounded like strange euphemisms. I shot down all his ideas and after about a minute I changed the subject.
I feel like I am taking up so much space in my relationships right now so I keep apologizing and realizing afterward how silly I sound, saying things like “Thank you for letting me call you and dump all this on you. I’m very sorry.” Sometimes it feels like all I talk about is how sick my mom is and how I can’t think about anything else. I keep trying to remember to take a deep breath and move away from the situation; with my face all pushed up against the glass it’s difficult to breath and even harder to see.
My mom conked out at nine-thirty and I could hear here snoring loudly from the living room. “Call me if she wakes up. I will come home right away.” I promised my tía and tío even while I knew that I’d be too drunk to drive the long dark stretch of highway should there be an emergency. I had to get out of the house; the din and clang of multiple televisions, tios, tías, cousins, the wild dogs barking and, my mothers nonsensical prattling were pulling my attention in so many different directions and I needed a moment to remember who I was when I wasn’t The Boss of Everything.
The second night after I arrived my mother baptized my laptop with homemade holy water and blessed my boobs, butt and pussy through my pajamas. She was afraid the demons would get in. It was awkward but not sexually inappropriate. “It’s okay that you blessed me but you cannot bless anyone else, especially none of the little cousins.” I told her firmly. “It will really scare him.” “That’s okay.” she said, eyes wide with mania, “They don’t want the little children.” she advised me.
I’m afraid there will be an emergency but I’m scared to relax and I share my fears with my best friend from middle school as we sit around the table at the bar where her boyfriend works eating peanuts and throwing the shells on the ground. “Dude. If that happens we will get you home. Don’t worry. Tonight is not for worrying. Just take a deep breath.”
I haven’t been doing a very good job taking care of myself lately. Sometimes I try to decide where I have prioritized my needs over the needs and desires of others and find I am number seven or eight on the list. I have a lot of coping mechanisms, most of them are not very good for me; they are the comfort of food, the validation of sex or the fog of drinking. Once last summer I had wanted to kiss a pretty boy who was visiting from Mexico City. I was afraid to ask for what I wanted so I organized a consensual gang bang for a pretty thin girl at the party and I never even took my underwear off or let anyone touch me all night. She loved it and friended me on facebook the morning after. I felt sad and disappointed as I tumbled out of the gallery the next morning, gathering up my clothes before anyone could see my disappointment. I caught the first bus I saw on the street and it took me the wrong direction. I stood up, shouted, demanded to be let out of that dreadful metaphor; There is nothing worse than shooting down Figeroa in a metaphor for your own life.
I flirted with a married friend of a friend, I had dubbed him “Hot Keds Soccer Dad” and told him so when I had a fifth beer in me. He wore Converse, and was unusually stylishly dressed for a Silicone Valley engineer, he was handsome and I was drunk. “I heard you have a wife and a baby.” I shouted in his ear, wrinkling my nose.
“Well, close but not quite. I have a wife and two daughters. They’re five and seven.” He replied, automatically pulling out his phone to show me the image of their beautiful faces shining from behind the cracked glass.
“Gross.” I said. “No, I am kidding they are incredibly beautiful. I just don’t want kids and feel very strongly about it.” My song came on at the karaoke machine and I hopped up taking the mic in hand. I spit out the line I had come up with I decided to sing the song an hour earlier. I gestured toward the the red jeans tucked into my black boots and the black beret my tía had crocheted for my head.
“I know I look como una communista right now but inside I am a very fancy girl.” I’m not sure why I spoke in Spanglish, probably because the women sitting behind us belting out Chavela Vargas-esque rancheras could have been my great aunts or maybe because I wished somehow that they would claim me. In the dim lights of the bar I wondered for a moment if I was being racist then commenced to perform the most silly and outrageous rendition of “Diamonds Are A Girl’s Best Friend” I could muster. No one else stood up to sing their songs, but I did, planting one rubber clad foot atop an empty table as I pantomimed the lyrics to the song, everyone clapped and I sat down to get drunker.
It also seems I get straighter when I am in Hollister, or maybe it is just that it seems easier to meet men out here. I sat down next to Hot Keds Soccer Dad and we talked about kink and the east coast where he was from and soon he told me that I made him regret his whole life.
“Don’t say that. I will never understand you the way your wife understands you. No one else will ever know you like she will!” I insisted, with all the melodrama a recent divorcee could muster.
“I feel like you understand me better than anyone ever has,” his eyes were were wet with lusty sincerity. It’s a look I’ve seen many times before; I have a knack for making people feel understood and accepted and sometimes this causes people fall in love with me very, very quickly.
“No.” I said. “I just know how to make you feel like that. I try to make everyone feel like that. I think I’m probably just a sociopath or something.”
A beautiful cheerleader I had known in high school came up to my round leather chair and touched me on the shoulder “You look the same!” she said to me.
“Yes!” I agreed. “I’m just older and fatter! You also look the same.” I smiled. She was gorgeous and I had a a crush on her in high school.
“Oh, stop!” she said.
“No, I am serious. I am totally gay and you are super hot.” I insisted. She either did not hear me or pretended not to. We chatted for five or ten minutes and she told me that she’d opened a fancy salon, was married with a few kids. I can remember thinking she was perfect and being so envious. She had a young pretty mother who came and picked her up from school in a red convertible and I remembered her once telling me that her mother was her best friend. I wished that I could have been like her; white, pretty, popular and rich.
“I can’t believe you moved to Los Angeles by yourself! You’re so brave!” she exclaimed. I hear this frequently when I come home and it always baffles me.
“But I’m not brave! I mean, I wasn’t brave enough to be gay here. So I had to move.” She paused for a moment as if to search my face for some hidden truth. It was her turn to sing. She touched my hand and gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek goodbye. The beautiful cheerleader belted out a gorgeous rendition of Killing Me Softly, her lustrous voice painfully sincer. Suddenly, I felt sad that she only sung sitting down in darkened karaoke bars on the nights when her kids and her husband were up in their cabin on the mountain. Then I reminded myself that I didn’t know that; she might sing in the shower, in the car with her children or in her church’s choir and that her dreams, desires and needs were different than mine. I have a dear and wise friend who often reminds me of the courage and the defiance of queers who refuse to remain confined to cities and other places that are considered “safe.”
I hope that one day I too will be that brave.