Saturday, March 22, 2014

cats from hell, moms from purgatory

Last night AK and I had pizza and sangria at new friend/Homeboy volunteer Kendra’s house, where we snuggled her new dog and watched My Cat from Hell. Like all makeover shows, it’s not really the cat/dog/kid/house/restaurant who needs to be made over, but the couple trying to wrangle the cat/dog/kid/house/restaurant. And for some reason, the people we seem to trust most to administer the necessary tough love are burly biker dudes with shiny sunglasses (I’ve been watching Restaurant: Impossible at the gym). One part punk, one part military. Or if not them, flamboyant gay men or tough British nannies. Apparently meanness is acceptable from those types. We like it less on naggy (American) women. And we don’t like men who refuse to kick our asses, I guess.

I don’t know, this analysis may break down, since the main lesson of My Cat from Hell is Buy Your Cat A Cat Tree.

There is a framed picture of a dog in the background. And you wonder why the cat is pissed?
My friend Wendy also got a dog, who looks a little like Kendra’s dog but taller, and I met him Thursday at Wendy’s writing party. It was so nerdy and fun and inspiring. Wendy and her friends are all really fantastic writers. My writing routine is still limping along, but this week it got a tiny bit more spring in its step. Wendy had us choose from a series of prompts, and most of us ended up writing about a character in our novels-in-progress. Here’s what I came up with for “I remember my mother’s…” (loosely inspired by a story my mom told me about my aunt and filtered through the eyes of Tilly, the protagonist in my YA novel; for the record my aunt never abandoned her children).

Shake it like an Instagram picture.
I remember my mother’s belly dancing clothes. Layers of gauzy, flammable fabric in a shade of pink I don’t think they even have in Morocco, or wherever belly dancing is from. Gold sequins. Elastic at the wrists and ankles that left wormy indentations when she came home and changed into sweats. I was five, then, and she was twenty-five. This was the year before she got serious and went back to college, and eleven years before she got really serious and finished college.

She took lunch shifts at the Capricorn, even though they paid shit, she said, so she could belly dance with Monsieur Alamy and his troupe in the evenings at a little studio sandwiched between a dry cleaner and a Subway. My grandma was against it, of course. She was against all activities that took my mom away from me for reasons other than earning money. She refused to babysit, and so my mom set me up with a Subway kids’ meal and a box of crayons in Monsieur Alamy’s studio.

I still remember how the grain of the wood floor made my drawings look like they’d been done by someone with Parkinson’s. The studio smelled like wax and spicy stew. Most of the other dancers were  closer to my grandma’s age than my mom’s, Chuckwalla housewives who needed something to do while their husbands played cards, or divorcees who needed something to do while their ex-husbands played cards.

There were two other young women in the class. Even at five, I could feel how their energy was different, how they were like the princesses on the DVD’s I watched, and maybe Monsieur Alamy was a sort of schlubby Aladdin. My mom was the blonde, so I imagined her as Cinderella, a poor girl who puts her foot in the right kind of shoe (for belly dancing she went barefoot, her waitress feet free at last,  calloused on the bottom and black from the floor). A woman named Gina had hair dyed as bright as Ariel’s and a pretty mermaid voice, too. Monnie, the brunette, would be Belle, I guess, although I suspected she didn’t like to read. She had a dullness about her that she could not shake away any more than she could shake away the ring of flab around her middle. Monsieur Alamy loved that ring; it was a  thing, in belly dancing, to create the most dramatic tremors possible.

Obviously they're standing in front of a pond that Ariel just happened to leap out of.
On cold desert nights, they steamed up the windows. Monsieur and my mom and Gina and Monnie. Around the time I grew bored with drawing and started choreographing my own, inappropriately sexual dances, Monsieur decided he wanted to start a touring troupe. When my mom reported this to my grandma, she said something along the lines of, Well, that sure is too bad, isn’t it? But it was nice while it lasted. And my mom said, No, you don’t understand, I’m thinking of going with him. He says I’m  really talented. And my grandma said, Do I have to remind you that you have a child? And my mom’s face got weird and she said, Maybe two, soon. My grandma said, Jesus Christ, Kathleen, this is not how I raised you. My mom said, God forbid I be my own person. God forbid I have a life doing something really positive and artistic.

I don’t know what happened after that. Only that my mom did not go on tour with Monsieur Alamy, and within a few weeks I was back watching Nick at Nite with her in the evenings, her belly hidden beneath a big gray T-shirt. There was no baby, either. The one she’d alluded to.

Once my grandma had said, They don’t...leave you alone, do they? Her words loaded with extra meaning in that grownup way. While they do...other things? she said.

Sometimes, I said.

This one time they let me watch three princess movies in a row. It was my one great day. All Ariel, no stupid crayons. Mmm, said my grandma.

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