Let Them Eat Cat Food
by Marina J. Neary
3. Size Four Is Unacceptable
Boy, I must have been really distraught, because I got on the phone and called Rinnie, the biological side-effect of my college fling. Don’t believe old wives’ tales that you cannot get pregnant the first time, or while you’re drunk. If you have my luck, you will most certainly get pregnant, and your life will be seriously dented, just as mine was.
To make a long story short, the fling evolved into a save-face marriage, which was a perfectly logical resolution for an unplanned pregnancy in 1970’s Russia, and the marriage ended in divorce, which is an even more logical resolution in 1990’s America. I discovered very quickly that the U.S. is a place where people from third-world countries come to get divorced.
The court awarded child custody to me on the simple technicality that I had medical benefits. I don’t know why Rinnie got so insecure and hysterical, as if she were the only fruit of a dysfunctional marriage. This nonsense with bulimia and black nail polish bordered on ludicrous. I loved her in my own way, even though her father’s genes were more active than mine.
Of course, I would’ve liked to see more of myself in her, more of the graceful Jewess, less of the drunken Polack. I never made her a burden, at least not consciously. Still, that girl keeps saying the most bizarre things, like: “I’m a hiccup of nature, living proof that sometimes the swan is even uglier than the duckling.” I know she’s saying it to get attention and sympathy.
Well, the frizzy-haired brat needs to realize that sometimes Mother Kitty also needs some attention and sympathy. This incident with the miscarriage was a perfect opportunity for Rinnie to step outside of her self-indulgent masochism for a second and comfort her mother.
She arrived — not immediately, of course. She had to wrap up a project at work, get her eyebrows waxed and pick up her son from daycare. The first words she uttered as she crossed the threshold were not of sympathy but of self-pity. She started whining about her soggy boobs and enflamed nipples, and how she just couldn’t wait to put an end to this whole nursing nonsense.
I reminded her, ever so gently, that if she weaned the baby off of her milk, she would also have to wean herself off of jelly donuts. Otherwise, with all those extra calories not getting burned, she could easily balloon to size four. I’ve seen that happen with my college friends, and I’d hate to see that happen to my daughter. Rinnie would never forgive herself that lapse into slovenliness, not with her fragile self-esteem, and it would give her one more excuse to burden the rest of the family with her complaints.
She would also probably get fired from her job. Gone are the days when looks didn’t matter for journalists. Appearances are everything, and not just for models and actresses. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a fat violinist or pianist on stage? The bottom line is: if people see you, they expect to like what they see, plain and simple. A journalist with a twenty-seven inch waist is not acceptable. If I don’t bring this to her attention, who will?
4. Macho-Friendly Anesthesia
Around six o’clock I heard the familiar engine of Evan’s Subaru in front of the house, followed by the familiar smoker’s cough.
Rinnie pulled her nose out of the coffee cup, rubbed her eyes and asked, “Do you want me to tell him, or are you going to do the honors yourself?”
While I was pondering the most diplomatic way of breaking the news to my husband, he was rummaging through the mail at the door, humming an Abba tune.
Rinnie, not known for her manners, interrupted his song. “Hey Daddy, we have some bad news!” she blurted out. “Kitty lost the child.”
“Did one of her students quit?” he asked, his eyes still on the envelopes.
“No, Daddy, she had a miscarriage.”
“Really? Kitty was pregnant?”
“Yes, fourteen weeks.”
“Oh well... Like they say, God gives and God takes.” He scratched the back of his head and tossed the junk mail into the recycle bin. “While we’re at it, did my fishing catalogue arrive?”
A wave of heat, like a whiff from a sauna, came over me. I refused to believe that it was a hot flash, so I decided it was a pang of tenderness for my husband, whose stoicism never ceased to amaze me. It must be the genes of Teutonic knights, the Spartans of Central Europe, as I like to call them.
“Look at that man,” I whispered to Rinnie, when Evan’s narrow back disappeared from my view. “Burying his pain... He always turns to fishing when he’s suffering.”
“Then he must be suffering around the clock,” Rinnie said, “because I always see him with a fishing catalogue. Or, maybe, he just doesn’t give a damn. Maybe, he’s actually relieved. Have you thought of that possibility?”
I should have expected my daughter to say something of the sort. She sensed my vulnerability and took this opportunity to kick me. She would never dare to do that under less tragic circumstances. She knew I could tear her own marriage apart in two seconds. Now she was paying me back for all the unflattering comments I made about that malnourished, neurotic, infantile web designer of hers.
The difference is that when I criticize her marriage, it’s out of unconditional motherly love and perfectly justified concern. But when she starts trashing Evan, it’s purely out of cruelty, juvenile rebelliousness and some irrational thirst for revenge. For some bizarre reason that I cannot grasp she is convinced that I am her enemy, that I gave her life just so I would have someone to torture.
She just doesn’t understand that maternal love is not all hugs and kisses, and shopping sprees, and margaritas by the pool, and gossip about other women, and matching nose jobs. Sometimes it’s fangs, and claws, and hissing, and meowing, and tufts of hair flying. It’s all for a good cause. I honestly don’t know who taught Rinnie such nastiness and cattiness. Where does she get it?
When Evan finally found his fishing catalogue and came for a Guinness, Rinnie caught him by the flannel shirt and detained him in the kitchen. “Tell me the truth, Daddy. On a scale from one to ten, how deeply are you bummed over this?”
“Let’s just say, I’m bummed for having had my balls snaked for nothing. I’ve already tasted the joy of being your stepfather. That kind of killed my appetite for the real thing.”
“You mean I’m not the real thing, Daddy?”
“You’re instant family. That’s different. That’s not real. Real things don’t happen overnight. They take time, effort and money. And who’s got the time, effort and money these days? Not me. I’m just a moocher and a cruiser. Now, where’s my beer?”
Rinnie slipped him one of those alcohol-free atrocities. I bet Evan didn’t even notice the difference. He just snatched it from her hand without looking at the label, removed the cap with his teeth and started circling the newest lures in the catalogue. He already had about ten thousand dollars worth of fishing tackle in the garage and nobody to bequeath it to.
Copyright © 2011 by Marina J. Neary