A journal entry from November 2016 lightly edited
I wake up with nothing in my head. It sort of feels like it’s time to get up but I can’t totally tell because the window blinds are all the way down obscuring the light, my bedroom room in total darkness. It could have just as easily been five in the morning as noon.
An instant later, a stab of anxiety. Surely I’m late for work. But I don’t do that anymore — don’t work, so that’s not it. Not the source of the panic. I flick the light on the nightstand on, take a look at [SO] next to me, still sleeping, the right side of her emerging from the covers, showing flesh. Cute. This is her method of night time bodily temperature control: Half-under the blankets, half-out.
There’s no work anymore, I repeat to myself. I take a look at the clock over at the edge of my dresser. 7:44. It’s time to get up. The alarm will ring at 7:50 anyway and I don’t want stare at it for six minutes before it rings. Suddenly I remember what it is, the thing that was important. My sister is in our apartment sleeping in the spare room on an air mattress and I promised coffee by 8.
Without even thinking about it, I’m on my feet, and then the thoughts start ripping out, fast and loose and uncontrollable. I have a headache — I wonder if will go away or stay all day? Is [Sister] up yet? Should I wake her up if she’s not? Will Mom get here on time or will she be late like usual? Is [SO] really OK with us doing all this family stuff without her? Does she really not care, the way she told me she didn’t? Who knows. I can’t wait to run, I really really need to run before the day starts.
It’s just a lot of bullshit noise. My brain always produces this crap in the morning. And the crazy stream of questions vanishes quickly once I’m in motion, just like it always does. I move through routines. Make the coffee, wake my sister up. Some bathroom time and grooming. I do the things instead of thinking about doing the things. It’s easier and I find, as I always do, that I prefer it.
My sister’s a hippie. I forget this sometimes but when she’s staying over it’s hard for me to ignore. [Sister] sings a Ani DeFranco song, Dilate, as she gets ready — she’s decided to go to the gym with me. I’m shocked I recognize the lyrics — I listen mostly to a) heavy metal and b) video game music soundtracks and would never choose of my own free will to browse Miss DiFranco’s catalog of tracks. Still, I recognize it because [Sister] has sung this song a lot around me. Maybe even forced me to watch a youtube video of Ani performing it, which I surely watched with an awkward grin on my face. The kind of grin that says: Please let this be over soon.
The gym time passes easily. [Sister] and I didn’t talk on the five minute drive over. And when we did, it was straight logistics. I could see she was tired, trying to pull it together. I’ll meet you after the yoga session, I told her when we entered. I lift for thirty minutes and hit the treadmill to run two miles, then [Sister] and she walks out of the studio on the side of the workout area and we’re done.
Back at home I make fried eggs and fresh coffee. [SO] is up, she’s talking to <sister> and I find I’m a little worried about how they’re interacting because [SO] is strict and proper and just-so, a product of her background and work and feeling like she needs to be perfect, and [Sister] is i-don’t-give-a-fuck loosey goosey. But it’s OK today. There’s laughing and warmth. [Sister] has fully woken up by now, is talkative and energetic. She doesn’t say anything too crazy, doesn’t talk about the things I fear most, like her poly-amorous lifestyle that [SO] disapproves of or the incredible fact that she believes in mermaids. Like, that they are real, mermaids, in both the present and past. [Sister] asks [SO] if she is sure she won’t come with us. [SO] is sure, says she has things to do.
Mom arrives. This was the whole idea: To go out and walk on the coastline of Marblehead, the three of us, then have lobster for dinner, which my mom loves — it reminds her of childhood. It’s a Wednesday and my sister lives in Seattle. She was visiting the Boston area for work and this was the one day she had off. So I was like, if you have it off, let’s do something, the four of us. It became the three of us because [SO] decided she didn’t want to. Fine.
We head to King’s Beach and walk down the shoreline and it’s cold but not unbearable, mid-forties, foggy as hell. My mom is in her seventies and had knee surgery two years ago but you wouldn’t know it from the way that she’s excitedly moving up and down the coast in sneakers and grandma jeans, exclaiming that the smell of the ocean is exactly the same as when she was a kid at the beach with her parents in Connecticut, jumping from rock to rock and doing spry-assed-things that probably no-one her age should be attempting. I can’t find it in me to issue even a cautionary warning. That’s how happy my mom looks.
There’s a couple in their fifties that walks by the three of us and they look upper class and stiff somehow and the woman looks at my mom and something in her face seems to show disapproval and surprise that such an old lady is running amok over the coastline and I say something with a joking lilt to my voice like we just let her do whatever she wants, you know at this age they’re hard to control and she gives me a tight smile with no words and I wonder what the fuck her deal is. The man says: Your mom better be careful. It’s easy to trip and break something. I find I’m suddenly irritated by what I perceive is his negative judgment — his clear disapproval of what he thinks is a lack of concern for her safety. He sees this as a reckless willingness on my part to let her do whatever the hell she pleases. In response, I think to myself: My mom is not a pet. She can do what she wants. Eat it.
After a while, [Sister] says we’ve got to head back because the water’s coming in. The fog is so thick at this point we can barely see more than ten feet in front of us. At some point I realize I’ve lost my mom — she’s out of my sphere of visibility. I ask [Sister] if she knows where the fuck she is.
In response, [Sister] starts singing a song from this old 70s album called Free to Be You and Me, specifically the Parents are People track. I haven’t heard it in thirty years, at least. It was a kid’s album — something parents put on to help their children learn how to be sensitive and empathetic, to consider other peoples’ point of view and so on. Hippie shit. And I realized in a strange instant: Mom was a hippie too. Clearly that’s where [Sister] gets it.
Mommies are people, [Sister] sings, exactly recalling the melody from the first verse. I remember this — it’s remarkable how our brains remember melodies. My sister has a terrific voice — she did theater in high school and college, musicals, chorus too. It projects everywhere, sounding even louder than usual because the waves are bouncing off the particles of fog and coming back to us.
[Sister] waits a few beats and then sings the same lyric again: Mommies are people. It’s like a crunchy version of Maro-Polo.
Then I hear from somewhere beyond the cloud of white haze in front of us the next line in the song, performed by my mom.
People with children
I push down my own feelings of silliness. We are adults singing childrens’ songs in forty degree weather in Marblehead. This is not right. Not proper, not manly. It’s… well, it’s really, really fucking stupid.
But then The Moms is suddenly visible in our little circle of fog and she’s got such a big goofy smile on her face that it makes me forget I’m 40, and we all sing the rest of the song together, a song we haven’t sung since we were ten fucking years old living in shitty apartments after moving out of my Dad’s place, after the divorce. I look at my mom’s face while she sings and she’s radiant, like she’s discarded thirty years of living. And I suddenly understand how brilliant [Sister] can be sometimes.
In the beach lot I see the old couple next to their car and they give me a dirty look and somehow I just know it’s about the singing and I find that I’m instantly and absurdly glad that they’re so bothered and I flash them my widest smile and wave before we get in the car.
On the way home we’re talking about how awesome the lobster is going to be and I kind of can’t believe that it’s Wednesday. You know, I never would have been able to do this back when I was working all the time. [Sister] would have come to town and asked what I was doing and can we get together and I would have said well geez I’d like to but you know work and everything and we wouldn’t have even advanced to the phase where we’re asking my mom if she can come see us too.
Now I can do this sort of thing any time the opportunity presents itself. No rules, no restrictions, nothing getting in between me and having myself a wonderful day.