My Challenger: flamingnyx
My Challenge: Write a letter to one and/or both your parents about how the way they raised you allowed you to rebel against them that 'one' time.
[Week 1.] [Week 2.] [Week 3.]
Okay, okay, that's too formal. I know it, you know it, we all know it. Yet, when one is writing a letter, the "Dear" just sort of writes itself, you know? Geez, look at that--I get that from you, you know. That repetitive phrase that peppers the language of me and the four sibs gets on all our spouses and partners nerves. Just so you know.
But anyway--down to the nitty-gritty. I could tell more tales than Scheherazade on how your actions caused my reactions, but that's just relationships. Mother/son, husband/husband, brother/sister, brother/brother, friend/friend...
Do you remember that time you chased me around and around the dining room table with the paddle? We were both laughing hysterically at the end, and I for the life of me cannot remember what it was I had done to get into trouble that day. I do know, though, that you promised me Dad would get me when he got home. And, knowing that I could take you at your word, decided to suddenly get a bath as soon as we heard his car pulling up in the driveway. He came in, lifted me out of the tub by one arm, spanked me on my bare, dripping-wet ass, then lowered me back into the tub with a stern, "Next time you listen to your mother."
From that day on, I tried my best to never get into trouble.
But this letter doesn't concern that snapshot--not really, anyway. After all, not wanting to be paddled isn't exactly "rebellion," is it? Especially if the farthest I was going was to the other side of the dining room table...
Then there was the time I ran away--actually ran away--for what, three, four hours? I had written (what I thought at the time) was a convincing argument as to why my little brother, Michael, was a bad, bad kid who had gotten away with too much, who was on my last nerve, who was the bane of my existence. I took my new backpack that had been purchased for the upcoming school year, took some hot dog rolls and hot dogs from the chest freezer, and went walking. Once I was lonely enough, I walked home to see you and Dad frantically speaking on our front sidewalk. As I emerged from the woods on the bike path, you ran over, near tears, asking where I had been. Honestly, I think I was more surprised you had noticed I had been gone. It's rough getting attention when there are five of you only six years apart. When I mentioned that I had left a letter to you on my desk, you asked quizically, "Why didn't you leave it on my desk?" I shrugged.
I still owe Michael an apology for that day. The worry and anxiety you and Dad took out on him was probably just a tad too much, and that was my fault. That was the day I promised to try to be a better older brother, to try to keep my three younger siblings from getting into trouble on my account. I failed at this as well, but not for trying.
But this letter isn't about that incident either.
It was in seventh grade that I first heard the words "HIV" and "AIDS." The whole school was having a mandatory assembly to learn about this disease: what it was, where it came from, how it worked. And, I must applaud the Daniel Boone Jr. Sr. High School for this, very progressive of them in the winter of 1988, since not too much was known about it anyway.
Our assembly meeting consisted of the seventh through ninth grades. At one point, they handed everybody a pencil and an index card. "Write down any question you have--there are no stupid questions!"
So I wrote down the only question I could think of: "Is being gay genetic?"
Let's have some insight here: I already knew I liked boys and not girls. The only person I knew who also liked boys and not girls was Uncle Timmy. I also knew that Uncle Timmy was dying of HIV/AIDS.
I was scared out of my mind.
What didn't help matters later during the assembly, was when one of the presenters, in a fit of righteous indignation said, and I quote: "It's obvious some of you kids aren't paying attention to what we're saying up here. HIV/AIDS is not a gay disease! So whoever it was that asked if being gay was inherited? Don't be stupid!"
That was the day I promised myself that I'd try not to be stupid, and therefore try not to be gay. I failed at that as well. Obviously.
The next morning, after the assembly, as Tom and I were getting ready for school and you were getting our breakfast together, Tom started talking about how great the assembly was, and how he had learned a lot. (This was before my older brother hit his silent stage--which he still hasn't grown out of...) You turned to me, Mom, and asked, "And what did you think, Jason? What did you learn?"
This conversation holds new perspective for me now that I've had years to digest it. After all, you also knew your favorite uncle--the uncle who had taken you dress shopping for your prom, who spent time with you, and was your confidant growing up--was dying of HIV/AIDS. You wanted us as children to understand what was happening, that it wasn't because Uncle Timmy was "bad," or that he had done something wrong to be punished by god. That when Grandmom made him eat off paper plates and drink out of plastic cups for fear of catching it that she was being stupid.
But when you turned to me, and asked me what I had learned?
I had learned that I was stupid, truth be told. And the last thing I wanted to tell you was that I, too, would eventually get AIDS because I, too, was like Uncle Timmy.
"It was stupid," I said. "They shouldn't talk about those kinds of things in school!"
I remember the shock on your face. I think Tom punched me in the shoulder, as was, and still is, his wont. I ran from the breakfast table, grabbed my backpack, and started racing down the driveway. I did not want to have this conversation with you, or anyone. After all, where could it lead except for the inevitable conclusion? You would find out how wrong I was. How twisted I was. How sinful.
You stood at the end of our sidewalk: "JAY-son! Get back here! What's going on? What's the matter? Get back here NOW!"
"No!" I shouted, tears starting to cloud over my eyes. The gravel crunched under my feet as I speed-walked down the hill and around the curve, trying to get to that part of the driveway covered in trees, blocking me from your sight. Once I was out of sight, then this conversation would end. I would be safe. I could keep my secret.
You ran after me. "Jason, what is wrong? What is going on? Talk to me!"
You easily caught up to me. After all, my body had yet to grasp the concept of "coordination," something that my fast-growing legs and arms wouldn't fully grasp until way beyond high school. You grabbed my arm, yanked me around. "Jason! What's the matter?"
I blinked back the tears while trying to free my arm from your vice-like grasp, unsuccessfully. "Nothing!" I shouted. "I just think they shouldn't be talking about stuff like that in school!"
Confusion was etched into your face. I think some hurt as well. What did I know? A self-absorbed teenager worried about his sexuality and death had little time for worrying about what his actions were doing to his mother.
It was then that I promised myself to be even more inconspicuous, to not do anything to gain your attention if I could help it. Because you were my mother, and you are like a pitbull--once you latch onto something, you do not let go until it's resolved. I'm not sure how long we would have stood like that, pitbull to pitbull, if Tom hadn't casually walked by, oblivious to the tension and said, "The bus will be here soon."
I could tell you wanted nothing more than to drag out of me "The Truth." But your duties as a mother meant you had three more children back in the house to get ready for elementary school that morning. That making me miss the bus would be the beginning of a disastrous day, with everything out of whack. You eyed me warily as you let go of my arm. I turned and started my speed-walking again, toward the top of the next hill on our long, winding driveway, once again the goal to be out of your sight.
It was then that I learned how to embrace passive-aggressiveness as an effective means of getting out of trouble. To say what I thought you--and the other adults in my life--wanted to hear. To act the way I thought you wanted me to act.
I started the silent act, the untraceable, undetectable rebellion. And, luckily for me, I had Tom, Mike, Sylvia and Cynthia to act out in other ways, physical ways, to keep the attention off of me. To let me be silent. To perfect the art of acting.
Was it a typical "rebellion"? By no means. After all, how rebellious is it really to not act out, to not call attention to yourself? This "rebellion" story has nothing on some of the stunts my other siblings pulled--not even close. But that was their lives, their rebellion, their way of trying to figure out who they were and what they wanted out of life--and this was mine.
And it was the only way I knew, in the cacophony that was our household, to stay under the radar.
And in doing so, I did us both a great disservice. It wasn't until years later--after the army, after college, after moving out to my own apartment--that I would learn to trust myself--and you, as parents--again. To start speaking up, saying what I actually thought, acting how I wanted to act. Letting you get to know the real me.
Yes, I was nothing but a stupid teenager, just not stupid in the ways I thought I was. But I still need to ask your forgiveness, Mom. I'm sorry for not trusting you, for not trusting in your love and understanding. If I could go back and change it all, would I? I'm not sure. I'm not sure we'd be as close as we are today if we both hadn't gone through those moments together.
But I should have known, even then, that I could trust you. And I'm sorry I didn't.
But at least I know now. And I thank you for that.
Thank you for being my mother, and now for being my friend. I couldn't ask for a better one of either, you know?