Biomythography, Note 53
She'll Stand By Your Mom
I knew how bad the air in my parent's house smelled. When we arrived, I popped my asthma meds in my mouth and let them dissolve for a quick rush of antihistamines. I’d prepared my girlfriend, I thought. We paused on the front porch in the waning light.
"Oh my god," she said. "It even stinks outside."
"I did mention the cigars," I responded. I glanced at the screened window next to the front door. Unfortunately it was a nice day and the glass pane was open a few inches.
“Pichi?” my mother said as she came to the door. She gave my girlfriend a warm smile and, for me, she lent a nod of approval.
The minute or two of greetings distracted us from the stale cigar smells, the cat urine, the greenhouse of plants, the dog odors, and the dragon's breath of a fresh cigar as my father lit up next to an ashtray where his old butts lay, one of them still fuming like a forgotten tugboat on a lake of gray ash.
My girlfriend had a chance to adjust. My brothers came up to punch me on the shoulder and my father talked to distract me. While I tried to tell my brothers, still-blonde and blondest, about my semester, my mother and girlfriend behind me shared an earsplitting laugh. I turned, feeling bewildered. My girlfriend's dark eyes lit up the living room. My mother bore a broad grin, seeming very much at ease. I wasn't sure what they'd said but I was suspicious of how the tone seemed so different from when my mother came out steadfastly against me bringing a girl home.
Then came a tour of the house and grounds. The inside of our place wasn't much in Pichi's eyes, I could tell, a mishmash of furnishings, different styles, different colors, many things homemade like the deck, the roofs, two of the rooms, and the sheds. She lived better than this. The grounds, though, sat in the middle of a forest, as advertised, and in our shaded one acre plot grew fifty or sixty of my mother's trees, shrubs, garden crops, and vines, which she showed off. Pichi seemed slightly lost in the terminology but pleased by the lushness of the tour.
Over dinner, we discussed the Thanksgiving meal preparations. Pichi expressed her amazement at the tradition ("It's just eating?"), which endeared her to my parents even more than her straightforwardness already had. My brothers showed some enthusiasm in their explanations, too. It was probably the first time either of them got to discuss events from our history books that everyone in the room didn't already know.
When we wiped the table down, we persuaded Pichi to join us for round after round of card games. After a couple hours, she tossed her right arm back and yawned.
"I'll go downstairs to rest," she said. She had already put her bags in my bedroom. My parents hadn't seemed to notice or care.
"She's supposed to sleep on the couch," my father reminded me after she left.
I glanced to the living room. I shrugged. "Maybe I'll sleep there."
Twenty minutes later, I walked down to my bedroom and never came back up.
"What do they think we've been doing all day, every day at the college?" she asked me. She curled up next to me on top of the covers and gave me a big kiss.
This had been the plan. We had executed it as we'd intended.
Not everyone has the same way of dealing with people. I had never questioned how similar Pichi and I were about this element of our lives. We simply were who we were. I didn't notice the good luck of our matching attitudes. Maybe I expected her mindset because she was a girl who had invented her own language so she and her sister could talk secrets in front of their parents. The openly defiant approach came naturally to her, with a smile. Her parents had been only moderately strict, less than mine had tried to be, but she hadn't been able to live quite within their rules. She agreed with me that my parents' more prudish regulations made no sense and she saw no problem with me defying them.
I'd brought money for a night at a hotel. As I got ready for bed, I took my wallet out of my pocket and checked it, a habit. The cash was still there, handy if we needed independence.
The next morning, Pichi got me up early. She sent me upstairs first. There in the dark kitchen, out through the back window, I could see an orangish glow on the horizon. The sky above the barren tree branches looked purple. But in a few minutes, it brightened.
While I was making omelets and pancakes for breakfast, my father stopped in. His footfalls were heavy. His eyes were so lidded as to be half shut. He didn't have a cigar in his mouth yet. He gave me a silent stare, shook his head, and trudged to his spot by the television. I peered into the living room beside him. There, the couch sat re-made into its former self, a couch, not dressed up as a bed. Last night, someone had removed the sheet and the pillow. The stack of blankets had doubtless gone to some hall closet.
A few minutes later, my mother stopped in. As she helped herself to coffee, she said, "Your girlfriend is really nice."
"Yeah, she is." I paused to agree, partly because I had finished cooking another pancake and set it aside, mostly because I was switching my gears mentally.
"Did she sleep all right?"
"Ah." It was an interesting question. I had already been given instructions on what to say. "Do you remember how a few years ago, I kept complaining about the mattress springs cutting me?"
My mother squinted, not at me, but through the back window. "That sounds familiar."
"Pichi has cuts on her hip and her thigh this morning." I set the latest pancake on a plate for myself and poured syrup over it. I'd kept up with my personal swimming workouts, two miles per day, so my cooking plans usually involved eating at the same time. My body stayed hungry.
"Why don't you have cuts?"
The question made my stop shoving pancake pieces into my mouth for a moment.
"It's been so many years, now." I tested my ideas by rotating my body a little and imagining my bed. "Even in my sleep, I can roll over and avoid the sharp points. I know where they are. I don't have to think about it. That's probably why I don't get cut much."
"Have you turned the mattress over?"
"Five or six years ago. And back again. I keep the best side up with its worst springs near my feet instead of my head."
My mother considered the problem, hands around her mug.
After Thanksgiving, my young woman and I returned to Massachusetts. We got back into the routine we had developed with fun, work, school, food, and fun in roughly that order during the day. For the past month, Pichi had seemed to find the lack of grades in her courses to be difficult. Even though she said the Hampshire College system was fine, actually quite European and in line with her expectations, she had to double down on her emotional investments in a couple of her classes in order to finish them.
One of my writing courses stayed good and busy. I sprinted to the end with sheaves of typing paper stacking up on my desks.
As I fielded calls from home, I noticed my mother asking about Pichi every time. Once, I even put Pichi on the line for a moment at my mother's request. When she finished, Pichi handed me the phone to hang it up.
"I really like your mother," she confided.
On one level, I saw how Pichi had plenty of criticism for my choices in friends, the behavior of my brothers, my father's smoking, and my former girlfriends, some of whom she had met. That could have sounded harsh to my mother. It didn't. My mom laughed at Pichi's comments every time. The two of them seemed to be in sympathy over my habits or about my general situation. It wasn't what I'd expected. Also, Pichi loved our Danish furniture and said so repeatedly. The pieces reminded her of home.
When it came time for the upcoming Christmas break, though, she missed her family, especially her sister, and she let me know. Often.
"This time, I'll have to go home," she said. "It's only a little too early in the year. My sister won't be free. Schools in Europe don't get out as early. As soon as they do, though, she and I will be together every day! I'll stay all of January, too."
Somehow, her attitude toward going home to her family got conveyed to my mom. My mother's reaction was quiet but I could tell she was disappointed.
"Is Pichi not coming for Christmas?" she asked.
"She was pretty critical of my mattress, you may remember." This was a part of home that seemed safe to mention rather than her opinions about friends or family. "She got cuts from it."
"I didn't know a spring was poking you."
"Yeah." I'd complained about them for years but I had also given up, so I understood the point. "I got used to it, I guess."
"Well, she's welcome to come home with you. I bought you a new mattress."
We had a week left in the semester. When I hung up the call, I knew it was too late for Pichi to change her flight plans. She had decided to head home early and stay all January, too. I was scheduled for almost the opposite, returning for a January term class but leaving before the spring semester started. It was all part of my plan.
At the root of the plan was money. I had to take off time to make more so I could return to college. My DJ gigs were paying decently, though. If I'd thought about it more - and in advance - I could have stayed and turned up the activity on the DJ side jobs. Pichi wanted to stay at Hampshire, for sure, and my leaving made it look like this was goodbye to our affair.
I had planned for my college relationships to end this way. I meant to have a different fling, or more than one, each semester. Pichi had said the same thing. A couple boyfriends per semester suited her, another way we seemed alike. Yet, when it came down to it, I already missed her. She was next to me every day but I didn't want her to leave.
"Well, my mom says she'll miss you." In my room, I flopped down in my office chair. I rested my arm on the desk and my chin on my hand. "She said to let you know she bought me a new mattress for my bedroom."
"She bought me a new mattress?" Pichi said. She sat up at the edge of the bed. She burst into a huge smile.
"Well, it's sort of for me, too." There was a chance it wasn't. This was the first time I was realizing it.
"Now I have to visit," Pichi said. She ignored me for a moment and turned to the paperwork on her flight back to home. She flipped open the manila folder. She tapped her lip with one finger. "I'll work something out."
Pichi looked very Mexican. Once again in my life, it never occurred to me that anyone would have a problem with it. And they didn't.
I'm not sure if the lack of race and/or cultural friction would always have been true in these past decades. In my two geographical areas with the friends I had, though, it was.
Standing up for friends, which was how this started, wasn't something I felt I had a choice about. Yet it may be why this stands out in my memory. Sometimes I wonder why particular times stand out more than others. I think I was a little surprised by how much opposition I noticed to Pichi's presence. When I told everyone what was up, though, I was as surprised to find folks giving me the chance to stick by a friend. Not everyone in our group stayed friends. But everyone was willing to try.