I really appreciated this piece in the Times a few weeks ago. My parents raised me in this fashion, allowing me a sip of wine or cocktail here and there, which in my personal framework worked like a charm. I did not run and get drunk at my first opportunity (nor ever, really), and I believe I have this to thank for. May I also interject that I don't think this is necessarily a good Family plan; I'll go out on a limb here and say I don't think this sip-here-and-there philosophy worked horribly well with my brother. I believe it's a child-specific prescription, as most disciplinary measures are. And frankly, I don't know how you handle this particular subject within a family where children can be remarkably different. Subject for another post, I guess.
My parents, living in Arizona, were big G&T drinkers. It was a year-round thing there, and I loved these sips. It was so crisp, fizzy, refreshing, and sophisticated (they had these tall thin glasses they'd prepare them in with tacky tropical (undoubtedly leaded) designs down the sides). It was always consumed outdoors, in the stifling heat, usually with the smell of cut grass, and the whirring of a sprinkler. It was a drink I really grew to love as an adult, but had to have the right environment. This isn't a cocktail I gravitate toward in winter, or at a generic reception. Moving as I did from the East coast to the Midwest and back East again, the G&T became my way to inaugurate summer. I'd wait for the first really (really) warm day, and decide around 5 p.m. , this was it. This was the day. And prepare one, and savor the fresh lime contrasting with my own salty sweat. It took me back to my porch, my parents, and held the promise of warm days ahead.
I know I wrote that we only host the December monthly neighborhood cocktail party, but no one wanted April, so impulsively with little time to spare, we decided to host Friday night's get-together rather than see it die on the vine. After a stressful few weeks, followed by a frantic 48 hours preparing for this thing, I was set. It was 80 degrees out, I was sweating. The party would be outside on my long porch next to the magnolias, directly over the blooming yellow iris. And I started anticipating that lovely bubbly fizz under my nose. I was upstairs doing something, and heard the arrival of a few guests in the yard, when I heard someone call my name from the first floor of my empty house and came down to find . . . her. The cool neighbor down the street with the baby. The mother of the bellwether. And she had clearly already put a few back in order to steel herself to speak with me for the first time in 15 months, and I was stone cold sober. She wanted to talk. I told her I probably needed a drink for this, and went out and without thinking, fixed myself my inaugural '08 G&T.
I wrote in the comments last post that I had often thought I should take a tray of martinis down to her house, and sob it out. But never got the courage. I had no expectations for this conversation, I had never played it out in my head, because in my head I never made it to her doorbell. I will say, though: in my mind's eye, both the cocktail and the conversation were on my terms. This was decidedly not.
It was not a pretty conversation. She sobbed, she yelled, she practically wailed. I did not. She vacillated between extremely upset, extremely sympathetic, and extremely ignorant. She asked me a thousand times, with tears streaming down her face, "What can I do?" and I kept answering, stone-faced, "nothing." There is nothing anyone can do in this particular situation. Not her, not my husband, not my therapist even. What is left to do is up to me. This is simply an issue where I need to work out my own comfort level, and I haven't, yet. She was convinced I was mad at her, I emphatically told her I wasn't. (I really wanted to show her my blog post, and stress the words "cool" and the part about fantasizing hanging with her, but couldn't find my laptop.) I reiterated multiple times I wasn't ignoring her because I was angry at her, I was avoiding her because the whole thing made me very sad. She said she lost her mother last fall, I told her I was sorry, but it wasn't the same thing. Not better or worse, perhaps, but definitely not the same. She told me she can't go through life being mad at everyone who still has a mom. This was the point where my hand started shaking so violently that the lime about committed suicide and leaped over the rim onto the floor below, and the only time I raised my voice: One, not mad. Two, how dare you judge me. How dare you tell me how to grieve. How dare you tell me that it's wrong to be hurt -- or even resentful and angry -- if I lost a child and you did not. If one of your children dies, I will continue this line of conversation with you, but losing a child is different than losing a parent. But I was older when I was pregnant, she moaned, I was so worried I would lose my daughter. But you didn't, I reprimanded her sternly, you didn't. And so you don't get to be here, you don't get to empathize, you don't have a scintilla of a clue.
But what can I do.
We looped through religion (my lack thereof), Maddy's life (she never really got the particulars), what I'm doing for my grief. It was here that I glimpsed the cool neighbor, the sarcasm, the one that was such a cool mom -- the one I missed. I'm not sure if she heard me, but she at least pretended to listen. And I told her if she wanted to get together, just the two of us, I was up for that, but I was not ready to face her daughter. She is a dagger in my heart, and I can't. It's self defense, it's not anger.
I never apologized for ignoring her all this time, and I never cried. We hugged repeatedly, and left on -- I think -- good terms, wandering out to the porch together to check on our toddlers, who are enamored of each other, running around the freshly mowed lawn while the incoming crowd of neighbors chatted in the cool evening breeze. Last year, I couldn't taste anything. My much-anticipated inaugural tonic last year was bubbly water that couldn't bring back memories of my Arizona back yard, or tie me to more comfortable place, and got tossed down the sink. I had such high hopes for this year's tonic. It tasted like
Nonfulfillment. Broken promises. Involuntary Resolve.
I guess there's always next year.