All week people have been congratulating me on quitting my shitty job. I won’t lie. It’s such a lovely change when my impulsivity and irresponsible disregard for long-term consequences – which is often regarded as a major character flaw, gets a bit of appreciation for being awesome.
It was terrifying. I woke up from a terrible dream where a disembodied voice said:
None of this will stop you from turning into your mother.
This fear doesn’t always sit right up front in my brain, but it’s always hanging around the periphery of my self awareness. There was a brief second while skipping down the office hallway for the last time, when I thought: “my mom would totally shit her pants right now.”
How immature am I that this thought gives me so much pleasure – like I’ve tricked fate or something. Still, I carry a looming dread of fulfilling my family curse. This particular curse has been passed down for generations on my mother’s side for as far back as the women in our family can remember. I knew my grandmother only after the curse did its damage. As a teen, I watched my mother battle and finally succumb. The stories she told about herself – all from a time before – may have stirred warm sentimental feelings for her, but for me those stories only served as a warning. So I watch myself closely. Changes – especially physical ones – evoke alarm and I wonder, “Is this how it starts?” Honestly, I don’t really know at what point the curse begins or what its indicators may be, I only know, that when the curse takes hold, every women in my family is always overpowered and when she finally gives in, she follows the same fate as every other woman before her: she becomes her mother.
In my family, when a woman reaches the age of 40 or has two kids, (whichever comes first) she gains 100 pounds and grows a moustache.
I used to joke about how this is the unfortunate result of Eastern European genes. I’d laugh about the suddenness and inevitability of it all. The thing no one mentions, but I have always known is that this is the moment when she stops caring. She is no longer part of the present, but lives in the world of before. She stops doing things. She goes out less and less – eventually only to places she knows like to church and the mall. Dreams, ambitions and interests are reduced to stories meant to reveal why they weren’t worth the trouble or why they could never happen for her, or for anyone else. It doesn’t happen all at once. It starts as exhaustion or a general overwhelm and eventually a past-tense replaces sparks of excitement and previously held interests wither and decay like last season’s garden until no one remembers these women as anyone other than they are – the mother, the grandmother, the bitter old woman.
To make her seem less threatening in this state, I have purposely reduced my mother to a two-dimensional character. After all this is what she has done to herself – flattened out. Even after the kids left and she had time, she wouldn’t get a job – too scary. Or go back to school – too old. Or even travel – what if? She refused to stretch herself in any way. But she would sigh a lot and complain and talk about how the world was going to hell or go on and on about small slights turned into large offences. At first I would listen, terrified, dismayed. Years later she still tells the same stories, but I’ve long since stopped listening – it is simply too boring, too depressing, and now too threatening. Especially since I find myself doing the very same thing.
I have always carried a fear of the curse ever since high school graduation when my grandmother waddled over and laid a heavy hand on my shoulder. With the tone of someone imparting great wisdom she said, “I was as pretty as you when I was 18.” I remember watching her join my family at the table thinking, “Never. Never. Never.”
In my twenties, when I don’t think I was seriously worried, I used to examine myself in the mirror, looking for features that resembled my mother’s — but my ass was still firm then, my upper lip still hairless. I thought I might be exempt. Physically, I take after my father’s side – smaller bones, taller. But because my mother and I are so similar in other ways, I may have over compensated at bit…
I’m terrified of ruts. Before I got married and had kids, I moved often, travelled frequently, changed jobs just when my learning curve began to plateau. I dated outside my type. I lived outside my comfort zone, thinking perhaps it was really comfort and stability that somehow invited the curse in.
But then I got pregnant twice and bought a condo in Yaletown. Comfort and stability are my new goals. I’m slowly entering menopause and trying not to freak out as the sales assistant at Nordstroms described my figure as “sausage shaped.” Or as more and more dark coarse hairs begin sprouting all over my upper lip.
Every night, I stand in front of the bathroom mirror and mutter,
What the fuck? over and over.
Oh of course I am reminded every time I open the Georgia Straight that there are chemical peels and all types of cosmetic surgery available. I know about boot camp and yoga. I know I can diet if I want. But it seems pointless if it only scratches the surface.
What scares me is that for the first time in my life I can see how easy it was for my mother to lose herself – first from necessity because a woman has to let herself go a little to cope with children and the pressures of running a home. Then because it requires so much energy to find or recreate a self. I can see now, for the first time, how it is possible for a life once richly lived to shrink into the shape of a well-worn path from home to the mall and back
What stops you from drinking every night?