TMD has been reading this little saga right along with the rest of you, and she said it all seemed so foreign, that she didn’t recognise the characters in this little episode. ‘So much screaming,’ she said, with a grimace.
She’s right. I don’t behave like this anymore; I am more tolerant and amused, more sure of myself, less needing arguments to define myself. That being said, I recognise this girl well. I remember what it was like to feel so angry….and so afraid. So confused.
Parts one and two should really be read before this, the conclusion of one fight with my mother, but not the last. This was the start of creating a family out of friends who understood what I was going through, because they were going through it too. This was the first time in my life I’d felt that way, and so I cherish these chicken flavoured memories of a younger me.
I thank Opposite Gender Soulmate for his vivid memories and his skill with words.
We must have looked like some kind of animals. Existere ripping apart the kitchen to find a can of Campbell’s Cream of Chicken Soup so she could verify, and perhaps photograph, its contents. J cackling wildly while pulling slimy pieces of chicken out of the pot and holding them up to turn them in the light. He squinted like a jeweler; it was some kind of righteous gold. “Look at the size of this baby!” he’d scream, pushing a wet sliver of meat into our faces. And I was pacing obesely, causing the giant bookshelf that dominated the living room to rock back and forth, its menagerie of books, toys, electronic equipment, and other gimcrack artifacts of college life dangerously on the verge of landslide.
I was shaking my head, going over and over the facts, enumerating points on the tips of my fingers. These points you see, when connected, would create a complete psychological profile of July… July, the mother… July, the control freak… (This is the part where you sit down and hold your breath) July, the homophobe.
“She is a Master Manipulator,” I explained to the other two, who franticly ignored me, “and she must be stopped.” Our motivation, of course, was the gratifying vision of calling July out, making her admit she was wrong, and then Rubbing It In Her Face:
Existere in a buzz cut and camouflage, holding a Ziplock bag so full of wet chicken that it looks like a lumpy, pink pillow; and J, snarling in full Christina Aguilera drag, hip jutting and limp-wristedly waving in the air a three page letter from the President of Campbell’s Soup Company; and me, flanked by the other two, delivering a rousing indictment, a Julia-Sugarbakeresque monologue. “And that, Marjorie, just so you will know, and your children will someday know, is the night the lights went out in Georgia!”
Six months before, not long after I’d met Existere, we sat at the edge of a lonely campfire, a black and unforgiving midnight pushing against our backs. With my arm wrapped around her she talked to me for the first time, in the smallest voice, about her mother. The woman she loved so much, but who—she was afraid—did not love her. Not ever, not really. It was significant, this moment of my life, to know that the fear we walked with, into and out of every day, was so simple, and yet it shook us to say it, to hear it said. Something inside of us made us vulnerable to vicious hatred, and it was something we could never change. And in Existere’s beautiful, glistening eyes that night I saw that her fear was my fear, too.
But in Existere’s face there had been rescue. Because she was so amazingly beautiful, so deserving, and she allowed me to see the same in myself. And so I stood up, for the first time in my life.
And half a year later we were still pushing—against that quiet, empty fear, and against the people in our lives before which we’d be the most vulnerable.
The phone rang. And someone handed it to Existere who was pacing now, in my place. “What?” she answered, pointedly aloof.
A pause. Existere’s eyelids beginning to twitch.
Something said into a telephone a hundred miles away ignited her. The other voice was loud enough I could almost make out what it was saying, and it threw Existere into spits of angry, frightened words.
“You are a bitch.” She accused, in a tone—a volume—that threw me back, and then she waited just long enough so a reply could begin—so she could cut it off.
“You have no concept of respect! Fuck you! Stop being so fucking stupid!”
Existere was crying through her rage, she never stammered, but gasped and choked at god-knows-what expletives and the violent denial her mother was spitting back. And I really did hurt for her. I imagined screaming at my own mother, which I’ve never done, and I realized how much I wanted to right then, to have the freedom to be so expressive. If only my mother would be guilty of such an otherwise overlookable offense, then I could let this anger and fear out. I laughed nervously with J.
“You put Fucking Chicken in corn chowder and fed it to your daughter who you Fucking-Well-Know is a vegetarian. Fuck you. Fuck you. Fuck you.” I could tell the frantic repetition was used to block out whatever her mother was saying right then, much better (more grown-up) than fingers in the ears, eyes closed, voice chanting I can’t hear you, over and over again.
“Fucking chicken!” she shouted one last time into an angry dial tone.
July had hung up, and Existere was alone again. Something had come between the two of them, as something often did, and she looked at me with terrified frustration.
And the chicken was the thing, but we almost knew better.
In the years since the smell of corn chowder first became eternally attached in my memory to what I’ve learned was the sound of love fighting for itself, I’ve watched Existere and her mother grow into a strong relationship. I remember being so afraid for her as I watched the splitting open in anger that day, or any of the times since. But I know now that these two women, in so many ways so different, yet irrefutably linked, without the freedom to fight with such fury, would never have found each other.
Postscript: July stubbornly maintains to this day that the chowder had no chicken. And we did do everything short of getting the letter from the president of Campbell’s to prove it to her. I have to think about what conceding to the accusation (the truth) would mean for her: the pride that might be wounded (but probably not); the chance lost to have a fun little spat every now and then around the holiday table (perhaps over a bowl of piping corn chowder), or the abrogation of the sanctimonious authority that is simply allowed to be irrational sometimes. And secretly, I’m mostly glad she won’t budge.