Tell me again why the hills are brown, he asked over Labor Day weekend.
The hills are brown because they just are, thatís the color of hills in the summer. But I explained again, like explaining why water is clear or snow is cold or dogs bark: ďThe hills are brown because the grass dries out in the summer.Ē
Kent says, But the hills stay green in Ohio all year round.
Well, Ohio is humid, the east coast is humid; California isnít humid. Our hills turn brown in the summer. Some of our hills are always brown. Itís the way hills are supposed to look.
On Saturday we were silent in my dadís borrowed car. Yesterday my mom asked why the hills were brown, Kent said. I feel myself starting to puff up, to get angry, to blurt out angrily that his mom doesnít know California, doesnít deserve to know California, doesnít understand anything, doesnít understand me, doesnít deserve me and California and my pretty brown hills studded with oak trees and olive groves. But I catch myself, this time, and ask, Did you tell her why?
Yeah, she thought it was weird, Kent answers. I turn the radio up a notch, biting the inside of my cheek in frustration. The hills just ARE. There is no reason.
I think, I am a brown-hill person. How can I be with a green-hill person? He will never understand me.
I think, What am I doing? How can I have agreed - forever and ever and ever - to take his family as my own? I think, I am a horrible person for all my mean thoughts. I think, how did my husband come from them. I think, WHY DID YOU BRING YOUR NASTY GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE WITH ONION RINGS ON TOP TO MY NICE DINNER TABLE CAN'T YOU SEE WE ARE NOT GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE PEOPLE THAT IS SWEET POTATO CR»ME BRULEE BY YOUR FORK AND YOU BROUGHT FOOD TOPPED WITH ONION RINGS.
Family is hard. Especially when they are not your family.
But every good story needs a villain, doesn't it? What fun is a holiday anecdote in which everyone behaves nicely? Surely stories in which I appall my mother with my bad manners make for better drama, right? I play a fantastic villain. I am used to the role. (See: Nobody wants to fuck mean mommy; every fight I have ever had with my husband, et al.)
Let me set the scene -- we are at the dinner table on Thanksgiving (I am the one with smudged eye-makeup and a mild fever, avoiding eye contact with my in-laws at all costs):
My mother: I'm still not sure what song M. and I should dance to at his wedding; he wants me to pick it.
Me: Blah blah blah yeah you have to be careful about crossing a line with the lyrics.
Everyone: Ha ha ha yeah you can't dance to just anything with your son blah blah blah
Me: Blah blah blah songs blah blah blah wine
My mother in law: Kent, what did we dance to at your wedding?
Me: [Rolls eyes because GAH who forgets things like that?]
Kent: [blank stare]
Me: [Rolls eyes HARDER because apparently husband also forgets things like that] You danced to "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Kent: Oh, right. I want to say we danced to "I Will Always Love You," but that was at Mom Prom...
Me: MOM PROM? I'M SORRY BUT EW THAT IS SO CREEPY! MOM PROM!!!???
My In laws: What? What is weird about that? Our son is a gift from the heavens and we worship him and shower him with baked goods and casseroles and never make him do anything like CLEAN or COOK or GET OFF COUCH because he is our PRECIOUS BABY AND HE BELONGS WITH US AND MOM PROM IS SPECIAL AND GLORIOUS.
Me: [Decides to take evening down in flames]
My mother: Molly...perhaps you did not notice my very obvious throat-clearing noise but maybe if I say your name in a stern Mom Voice you will back this train wreck up and just be nice.
Me: [Ignores her] Um, HELLO Mom Prom is bizarre and weird and LOOK AT HOW SCORNFUL I AM, YES BITCHY SISTER IN LAW I AM TALKING TO YOU SO DON'T PRETEND YOU AREN'T LOVING THIS BECAUSE THE BITCHIER I AM, THE CLOSER YOU ARE TO V.C. ANDREWS-ING YOUR BROTHER.
Everyone: [Uncomfortable silence]
Me again: Come on! Mom Prom? Gross. GROSS! I have never heard of anything like that before! Yuck!
My mother: [Gesturing wildly to get my attention, drags her hand across her neck in universal sign for SHUT THE FUCK UP RIGHT NOW YOU CRAZY LOON WHO IS NO DAUGHTER OF MINE]
My brothers: [laughing hysterically]
My father in law: Well, what about Daddy-Daughter? Didn't you have a Daddy-Daughter Prom?
Me: Uh, no, we dated people our own age...
Bitchy sister in law: We didn't date them.
Everyone: [Hates me]
Thanksgiving Dinner: Yeah, we're done here.
Me: ...but...MOM PROM...
My mother: Enough, you.
My dad: Who wants dessert?
I'm a charming hostess, no? I could blame it on the cramps or the viral infection (yes, you can get mono when you are THIRTY, it turns out...) or the stress of having my in-laws at my parents' house, but the truth is that the only one to blame is me, because I am the one with the problem. My in-laws, they give me the Rage. I don't know why. [*cough* passive-aggressive smothering parenting style based on guilt and inability to say what one really thinks plus unhealthy need to prevent kids from becoming independent adults because doing so would take away only identity they know *cough*]
The next morning my mother came into my room and said, I wish I knew why it is so hard for you to be nice to them.
I answered by crying and screaming that I hate them.
She walked away.
Later, after she dragged me to the gym with her and I had calmed down, she tried again. Why are you so threatened by them, she asked?
I DON'T KNOW I JUST AM DON'T YOU SEE HOW THEY ARE?.
Yes, sure, I see how they are, she said. But so what? Why do you let them bother you?
BLAH BLAH BLAH SNIFFLE SNORT WHINE THEY HATE DEMOCRATS AND THEY HATE NEW YORK AND THEY MAKE US FEEL GUILTY AND I HAVE NOTHING TO TALK TO THEM ABOUT BLAH BLAH BLAH
So, she asked. Why does that prevent you from just being nice?
I can't be myself around them, they don't respect that Kent and I are a family; they treat us like little kids...
Again she asked, Why does that prevent you from just being nice?
But Mom, they push my buttons, they are boring, they make Kent feel bad about not living near them, they are passive aggressive and arenít interested in anything beyond their family...
Molly, she said, just before walking out of the room. You only see them a few times a year. Why does ANY of that prevent you from just being nice?
It's like asking why the hills are brown.