You know how it is. Anytime you go to your parents’ house, you automatically revert to old patterns and roles. Maybe you were the smart one, or the pretty one, or the athletic one, and no matter how many years it’s been since you graduated from high school, as soon as you are in the presence of your family, the old label clings to you like a barnacle.
I wasn’t the smart one, the pretty one, or the athletic one. I’ve always been the one most likely to do something stupid to mess up her life. I don’t know how or when I got that particular label. I was a timid child, so it’s not like I was jumping off the roof wearing wings I’d made of construction paper, or anything like that.
Looking back over the years, however, I can’t deny that I’ve made some pretty stupid choices – and they are always big stupid choices. I can’t seem to be content with things like getting my phone shut off for non-payment or thinking that Paris Hilton is an excellent fashion role model for a middle-aged woman. Oh no, I’d never do either of those things. In fact, my life is fairly routine and regimented. My bills get paid, my apartment gets cleaned, and – unlike Paris – I wear slips and underwear, just like my mother taught me.
But occasionally, it’s as if I stumble across a handful of magic beans and I decide to plant them just to see what will happen. And next thing you know, I am on a ferry with my cat and all my worldly goods, moving to Nantucket to live with a guy young enough to be my son. At the time, it seemed like a good idea. It always does.
My youngest sister, Rachel, was The Good Child. Seriously, she was. I am fourteen years older than she is, and I remember how easy-going a child she was. Pretty, smart, sweet – a parent’s dream. She went on to get a good education and a series of good jobs. She’s the successful one… except, now, at 30, she is contemplating a big career change. As in leaving the business world of Chicago and becoming a horse trainer in Austin, Texas.
I vary between wanting to be a fly on the wall when she has that little conversation with our mother, and thinking “Wait a minute, I’m the big disappointment in the family. Back off my turf, sister.”
I also worry that as The Good Child, she has no idea what sleeping dogs of war she’s about to awaken. I wonder if she has the skills to handle what is about to come barreling at her. So, despite the fact that I really enjoy my job, I thought that in sisterly solidarity, I’d join her in her quest for a new life. I cooked up the idea of opening a diner together on Route 66 outside Amarillo called Two Sisters, where the uniform includes lame’ hot pants.
Somehow, though, the idea simply does not seem big enough. I was talking with a friend, brainstorming about how I could set the screw-up bar so high that none of my siblings could hope to reach it. He suggested I have an affair with a married man, waving his wedding band in my general direction and asking “How can I help?”
When I finished cleaning up the mess I’d made from spewing tea while I laughed, I said, “It needs to be bigger. You’d have to run away to Texas with me and become my fry cook.” (What a diner really needs is a fry cook with a master’s degree. Am I right?)
Upon reflection, however, I realize that there are a couple of other candidates who would make my family’s hair stand on end like quills upon the fretful porpentine. For example, I work with several heavily tattooed lobstermen with criminal records. (Just so you know, I don’t haul trawls; I push paper.) I’ve seen a lot of bearded guys zooming around on Harleys lately. The mind boggles at the possibilities.
I’ve decided that the best way to handle this is to try it as a statement: “My daughter ran away to Texas with a married man and opened a diner where she wears lame’ hot pants to work every day. He’s the fry cook.” Or, “My daughter ran away to Texas with a burnt out, heavily-tattooed lobsterman. She opened a diner and wears lame’ hot pants to work every day.” How about “My daughter ran away to Texas on the back of a Harley with some guy who looks like a member of ZZ Topp, and now he’s the fry cook at the diner she runs while wearing lame’ hot pants.”
Except, I’m not so sure that last one is viable, because I don’t believe my parents actually know who ZZ Topp were. (Are?)
I think of it as a public service, really. My siblings can forever more be up to all manner of crazy things and our parents won’t even blink. It’s like I’m handing them a “Get Out Of Jail Free” card.
Merry Christmas for the rest of your lives, y’all.