The Patio Argument

Growing up in suburban New Jersey in the sixties and early seventies, my sisters and I looked up to Mom for an answer to everything. She was a power greater that inculcated the manners and mores of middle class society to me and my three sisters. A vibrant woman – she squired the socialite scene of Smoke Rise, and made a cutting figure on the dance floor. However, our “patio argument,” in the fall of my thirteenth year, changed my rose-colored Mom view; I challenged her like an equal to my adolescent self.

Throughout my youth, I clearly felt loved by my father. Born two days after his 32nd birthday, our connection, although never really intimate, thrived on an intuitive understanding of each other’s mentality. We were destined to be connected, and our minds saw the world in similar ways. Although later we would create a bi-polar relationship because of our divergent political views, during my childhood his love never wavered. Dad saw in me a ‘special something’ that set me apart from my sisters. His belief in my assets despite my liabilities highlighted my mother’s shallow understanding of my potential.

During my ‘adolescence,’ Mom always seemed burdened by me. As I neared that age where girls are supposed to act like ‘young ladies,” my overweight, awkward presence frustrated her well-groomed coiffed world. Any attempts to seek attention through a budding intellectualism fell on deaf ears. She saw my logical schemas as odd commentary – strange world views to her devout patriarchal maternalism colored by her late night movie mentality. Each time I asserted my true self, Mom glared with skeptical eyes that expressed a silent dig, “That’s not the way girl’s should act!” Blind, or dismissive, to my yearning for attention, Mom’s love and acceptance became near impossible to get.

This patio argument became a defining moment where our two worlds came face to face for the first and last time. Mom had been cleaning with Clorox, and was in her usual Capri pants and white t-shirt. Her firmly held hands-on-hips framed her petite figure, while her short dark brown hair matched the deep black pools of her struggling eyes. Mom extorted that my loose “other side of the trax” friends were not what she expected of me, and she didn’t like the direction my life was going. She yelled every which way to rein me in. For each assertion she made, I retorted with some logical reasoning that rapidly broke down her illogical arguments about propriety.

I always wanted my mother’s mindfulness, and hoped that any conflicts we encountered would, by the laws of nature, lead to a more meaningful mother-daughter intimacy. My 13-year-old perspective thought our battling interplay was the natural order of things. I imagined, within this argument, she would stop in awe of my sophist talents, instantly embracing my mind and spirit. But seeing me for me, and spending quality time doing things for me, was not her way. There were too many children; to many responsibilities; and too many cocktail parties to see straight. So the only means of keeping order to her world was through discipline – everyone falling into line – wearing the right dress, speaking when spoken to and never challenging social norms or authority. I became the one who never matched her expectations.

I turned my mother’s judgements inward, and they came back to the surface with angry assaults on her intelligence. For all that she did not see in me, I did not see the values in her. We raged, cried fearful tears, and slew insults. Our clash of titans argument clearly showed we were in different worlds that would never find a common ground. Her failed attempts to silence my voice eventually stopped when Dad intervened.

He took my arm and led me into the kitchen. Dad patiently listened to my frantic tirades that tore my mother’s integrity and intelligence to bits. Every now and then he would nod. It seemed he had no words to quell me – he only wanted to know what happened. Eventually I claimed the death knell statement, “How could you stay married to her?” My Dad said nothing and looked down. His silence became vindication of my right views.

The next day, we all moved through our separate worlds keeping a careful distance from each other. Over time, as winter turned to spring, my path moved further away from my parent’s frivolous, materialist world, and closer to edgier pursuits. Having already taken the leap of intoxicating nights, I readied toward a world that could not talk back, criticize or rein me in. Yearning for a more creative, intellectual, and comfortable place, the first ‘maryjane’ sent me on my way.

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