The Famous Words I Did Not Speak

by | Nov 2, 2022 | 0 comments

You know those days when everything goes wrong? That was moving day. The emotional blow was to the heart. We were being ordered out of the house I grew up in, where we’d lived for the past fourteen years taking care of my mother. I’m pretty sure that if I hadn’t moved in with her, my brother and sister would have put her in a home,  her worst nightmare and something I promised her decades before that I would never let  happen.

My vote against it wouldn’t have mattered much. There are voting restrictions on middle children. I’m not a family law scholar but I believe the constitution defines middle children as three fifths of a child.

The oldest has the divine right of kings unless the family charter disavows royalty in favor of more modern forms of governance and social order. In that case, the oldest child instead of inheriting supreme dominance as King or Queen takes on a role more like that of a mafia boss. Either way, the oldest has the kind of power that can be abused.

The youngest, royalty or not, has a magical role. Being “the baby” is a title that can work as a coupon for privilege or an air tight excuse. The youngest can be the darling or the problem child, but the youngest is the only one who can be both. The youngest can be the perpetrator of vile acts and caught indisputably right in the act of vile-itude. But there is never a perp walk. Here’s the magic: the baby can lie (such an imagination!), cheat (so mischievous!) and steal (a terrible misunderstanding), but still be greeted with a round of applause and celebration upon (hour late) arrival. This is power that’s nearly impossible not to abuse.

The middle child has no power to abuse. Any power we gain has to be earned. At best, being in the middle can make us deep, observant, peace makers, even wise which is actually an ultimate power. At worst, being in the middle can make us sycophants, manipulative, desperate for attention of any kind, or worse, accustomed to being forgotten.

First borns arrive with excitement, transforming whoever the two lovers or newlyweds once were into parents. The first child becomes the center of their existence. Number one changes the world.

Then one day, the parents say to each other, “Let’s have another one.” The second child doesn’t change their world or redefine them. The second is an addition to the family, and can certainly become the youngest, but here’s what makes child number two the middle child: the parents think about it and say, “This one isn’t enough.” That is how the middle child is identified: not enough. Then comes the baby. There were three of us in our family. Families with four, six, ten, fifteen kids? I am out of my field of expertise. Perhaps the birth order constellation is repeated in clumps.

Mom was over a hundred when she died. She kept saying that she needed to live long enough to vote against Trump. We sat around the kitchen table discussing the ballot, every issue, every candidate. We marked our ballots and sent them in the day after they came in the mail. She arrived on the planet during the Spanish flu pandemic and left during the Covid pandemic.

Then suddenly the siblings with the vote told us to pack up and get out. Have to sell the house. Have to get the money. Since then, I’ve heard a lot about the disintegration of families after the last parent passes. The ugliness involves inheritances and loss and replicates the dynamics that were in place when Mom and Dad went out for the evening and left the kids in charge of each other. Remember that?

You can imagine I’ve done a lot of thinking about this. What I believe is that the disputes traced down to their roots have to do with the clash between viewing what happens after the last parent passes with either the sibling rivalry model or the parents’ instinct to take care of their children. This is a book, a tome, perhaps an anthology. The title: “Where There’s a Will”. My advice to parents who are thinking of croaking some time in the future: don’t assign one of your children to be the successor trustee. Poison for which there is no antidote.

When my son and I were ordered to GTFO we hadn’t gotten our vaccinations yet and the pandemic was hot. When we’d finally gotten our shots and the two week waiting period was over, we rented the first place that would hold us and the unknown quantity that had been in storage for fourteen years. After that long, you forget what and how much of what it is you had. I notified the owner of “Self-Stuffit Storage” that I’d be vacating. Two days later I got a call from them that my unit had been broken into. The thieves came during a curious gap in the facility’s promised 24/7 staff presence. There were hundreds of units. Mine was the only one to get robbed. Everything had been stored still wrapped in moving blankets. When the goniffs (look it up) found nothing but unidentifiable objects in moving blankets, it must have made them mad so they trashed the place. Their business card: “The Babies” (a terrible misunderstanding).

We met the movers at the new place. They unloaded the truck and cut away the moving blankets, item by item. It was like opening a time capsule. Piece by piece I found out what had been broken, what had been destroyed by time or leaky roof, vermin, negligence, breach of contract, moths. It was harder to determine what had been stolen because it’s negative evidence. “What’s broken?” is a lot easier than “What’s missing?” Then the movers disappeared. I’d managed to transfer the old phone number–the one I’d known nearly my whole life. But when we set it up, it didn’t work. So no land line. As for the internet , the technician for AT&T had given the usual four hour window, but he didn’t show. I called. First they told me he was delayed, then he was further delayed, and then he wouldn’t be coming at all and couldn’t reschedule for another week.

AT&T is the only provider for my purposes on the island. There are many internet providers who don’t even serve the island–same for a lot of things on various levels. The isolation began to come into focus. So no phone and no internet. We don’t have a television, haven’t had one since the house burned down way back in 1991 in one of those celebrated California fires. It melted, or was swept away by looters who stole into the moonscape while no one was allowed back in for safety reasons. I just never replaced the television (one of the best decisions this mom ever made).

And then it was that I discovered that my cell phone was broken. It had finally breathed its last after a long life of very little use. We don’t have “smart” phones–just flip phones. There are reasons, boring, philosophical, practical, psychological and neurotic. Then someone came to the door. It was one of the movers, furious. They’d been waiting for me at the storage unit for two hours. They’d phoned and texted. I’d told them the phone was broken. Maybe I didn’t yell.

What else went wrong? Did I already say that it wasn’t the worst day ever because, after all, I was still alive? Not sure that wasn’t just something else that went wrong.

We were without internet and without phones for a week while everything got sorted out. At first, the mere thought of being cut off from contact, both incoming and outgoing, sent me into a panic, but I did not utter those famous words, “At least it can’t get any worse!” Those are words that everyone is sorry they said. They beg for punishment. They are an insult and a dare to the invisible currents of fortune and misfortune flowing through the private universes that surround each of us as we make our way through our lives. This is why I did not speak them.

So we can rule that out as being responsible for the refrigerator suddenly not working. Luckily, I’d brought the old refrigerator and freezer from my mother’s house. We’d only be in this house temporarily until we found a house we could buy, a place of our own, a place where I can paint the walls day-glow black if that’s what I wanted, a place I am not borrowing or allowed to be, dependent upon the good graces and generosity of a host, a house that can be home, that we can fill with our own personal aesthetic turpitude. (One person’s aesthetic turpitude is another person’s splendor).

The refrigerator and freezer from my mother’s house were going to save me from buying new ones when we settled in our own place. I had the movers put them in the garage and I propped the doors open so they wouldn’t grow mold. So when the landlady’s refrigerator expired on the day that kept getting worse, there was a little breeze of triumph and survival when I went through the kitchen, opened the door to the garage, turned on the light and plugged in my mother’s fridge—–which overloaded the circuit and shut off the electricity.

I had to call the landlady who came over with her husband and introduced me to the panel on the wall in the laundry room. I dug around in the thousand and one boxes to find a sturdy extension cord, figured out how to put the refrigerator and freezer on a separate circuit. We lived with fat orange extension cords wriggling through the kitchen until I could get someone to rewire the garage to avoid any future overloads. So there went another fat suck from my thin mother load of savings.

There are some people, most of them freaks (but in a good way) who move into a new place and by the next morning everything is unpacked, put away, the furniture is where they want it to be, the books on the shelves, organized, the kitchen in order, the cabinets cleaned, the shelves freshly papered. Upstairs the beds are made, all the boxes gone, folded flat and saved for the next big move. The toothbrushes are set up ion their holders, the medicines in the medicine cabinet., the place has been dusted, cleaned, the floors polished. There are little bud vases in the kitchen window overlooking the garden. Each has a single young bloom standing in it. These people are endowed with mystical powers that I cannot begin to fathom. One best not look directly at them without protective eyewear. I am not that person. I am the other kind. I will be unpacked as I find I desperately need the items still in the boxes, one at a time. It can take months, years. Or it may never happen. Someday I will die because we’ve moved and someone like me hasn’t gotten around to lifting me out of my crate.

After the initial shock of moving had calmed, things began to come into focus. I looked out the living room window. There was no one out on the street. The houses all looked alike, every house born on the same day at the same moment. The trees, the bushes, the streets and walkways equal length. Where was everyone? I camne outside and looked back at the house. There was another house identical to ours down the block at the corner, and across the street half a block in the other direction. It was all a facade. We’re living in a Hollywood set.





Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *