Sunday, August 23, 2020

Not Zen 198: Externalizations

Mirror  Reflecting Vase by Cgn, Wikimedia Commons

There was a mirror in the hall next to the kitchen. Before she looked at it, Pat stole a glance at her husband. He stood at the sink with his back to her. Satisfied, she turned to her reflection. In it, she saw a tall woman with arms folded. She looked more determined than calm. Pat closed her eyes. She emptied her mind. It didn't come easy. She noticed the tension in her neck and shoulders. She willed her muscles to relax. There would be no headaches for her this morning.

"Hey there," she said. She cleared her throat. "I'm ready to make my call now."

Her husband twisted. He didn't stop his work but he took a moment to smile.

“Nice, Pat," he said.  "You look sharp. Did you put on makeup?  It's just a call to your mother.”

“No, I did not put on makeup.”  Hands on her hips, Pat shook her head.  “I'm looking good because of my meditation.  I can feel how much it's helping.  Last night, I reviewed my mother's messages.  I had time to consider the things she said.  I focused inward.  This morning, I did it again.  I regained my emotional peace.”

“You look nice, mommy.”  Her daughter entered the kitchen from the doorway of the dining room. She paused to hug her leg.  Pat accepted it with a caress of her daughter's head as she continued.

“I will admit,” she said as she looked down at her clean, pink blouse, “I did change clothes.”

“Sure.”  He nodded.  She could tell that he still thought she'd dressed up.

“For months, I've been thinking about my conversations with my mother.  They do not have to be dictated by my gut reactions.  She knows how to trigger those.  I've done soul-searching about my relations with her.  My approach is better.  My reactions are calmer.”

“That sounds great.”  He gave her a thumbs-up, hands dripping.  Then he turned back to the sink and resumed washing dishes.  Every Saturday morning, he took charge of the chores.  His favorite was hand-washing the week-old stuff that she had left out from her cooking.  Pat thought it was disgusting but also it was great, so she encouraged it.

When his back was turned again, she made her call.

"Hello, Patience," her mother said when she answered. 

Pat's given name was Patricia. She'd had the argument with her mother about it dozens of dozens of times. It had been written that way, correctly, by her father on her birth certificate. But her mother had preferred the name Patience from the beginning, so she insisted on using it. Even when Pat had been a child, her mother had referred to her by her almost-name more often than her given one. She only used 'Patricia' when dealing with schools, jobs, and government offices. 

"You must have gotten my last note," she continued.

"Are you still having problems at the grocery?" Pat asked. She rubbed her neck. It felt stiff.

"No, no, that's all done now." She heard a gust of air next to the phone speaker. Her mother's hand had waved off everything that Pat had planned to say. "Let me tell you about what's new in town."

As usual, her mother steered the conversation to her local topics.  She liked to focus on people that no one liked.  They fascinated her. Besides, they made her put-downs seem funny.  She ridiculed their hair, clothes, facial tics, awkward mannerisms, bodies, and, most of all, their figures of speech. She could mimick voices in a way that made Pat laugh.

Pat didn't want to be amused by her mother's cruelty. But sometimes she was, despite her intentions. Then her mother concluded by saying that she would love to help raise her granddaughter.  That was something that would never happen. She lived hundreds of miles away and was totally unwelcome to participate, so it wasn’t a real offer.  She wanted to say that because it gave her a chance to belittle the sort of people, like her daughter, who resorted to using daycare as a way to manage child-rearing tasks.

"It's just irresponsible," she said.

"Thank you, mother. I'm aware of your opinion."

By the time Pat's mother asked to speak with her grand-daughter, the girl had wandered away.  She had marched across the living room and kicked one of her toys, a car made for a doll.  She made a few, small pushes with her foot.  Then she smacked it across the floor.

“Sorry, mom,” Pat said with a smile.  “Our little girl doesn't want to talk right now.  But she's fine, thanks.  Yes, she's fine.  Thanks, mother.”

When she hung up, she felt calm. Her neck had grown more tense. Her jaw was sore. But when she checked her hands, they were steady. 

“That was the most polite conversation I've had with her in years.”  Pat raised her chin.


Her husband turned.  He had finished the dishes, the glasses, the big pot, the small pots, and he was down to the silverware.  He was drying three forks as he gazed at her, eyebrows raised.

“Yes,” she snapped.  She decided that her husband wasn't being supportive.

She strode from the kitchen to the dining room and next to the living room, trying to find her daughter.  The girl had dropped to her knees to shove the toy car under the sofa. It didn't fit.  She kept trying.  Pat stooped to give her a hug. Her daughter dodged it.  

“What's wrong, honey?” Only a little while ago, her daughter had been fine.

The girl twisted away from Pat's next attempt to touch her. Then she rolled her eyes, a gesture that Pat hated.  She dashed into the hall.  With a glance at her mother to make sure she wasn't being followed, she banged through the front door.  She let it slam closed behind her.

Only after she escaped did she make a rude noise. 

“What the hell?”  The door reverberated twice.  Her daughter's footsteps faded. Pat stomped back to the dining room. She raised an eyebrow to try to pull explanations from her husband. 

“You look angrier than usual, actually,” he said.  He was rubbing a pair of spoons with a hand towel.

Hands on her hips, Pat took a deep breath.

"I do not," she replied.  The words were automatic.  But she studied her phone.  Her gaze drifted to the front door. Out of the corner of her eye to her left, she caught a glimpse of a stiff-looking figure in the hall mirror.


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