LOVE IS LOVE AT THE NARRATIVE ARC
Mom Came Out Before It Was In
Summer Vacation 1969
“I’m not going with you to those stupid hot tubs. This whole place is too weird! I can't stand California and all these hippies out here anyway. You could've left me at home with Dad if you hadn't made him leave,” I said, in my meanest voice. Mom would say "hostile" voice; that was her new word of the month. I wish I was back in Illinois with Grammy, instead of here with my mom, where men had ponytails.
I rolled up the window, so I wouldn't have to listen to my mother's response; knowing it would be the predictable, transactional analysis lingo. It was exasperating having a Gestalt therapist, psychologist, or whatever she was, for a mom. Why couldn't I have a normal mother? None of my 13-year-old friends in Indiana had mothers like mine. Mom said she was "open to changing her lifestyle." Whatever that meant.
I sat there in our rental car in the Esalen parking area. I looked away from her so I could ignore her, and, of course, attempt to antagonize her. Even though I was fuming a mere seconds ago, I was suddenly aware of the grandeur of the towering firs, redwoods, and oaks.
I looked down and noticed that the main building sat perched on the rugged Big Sur coastline. Low areas of the plunging coast were drenched in fog. A piney scent seeped into the car; did I hear crashing waves, despite the tightly closed windows?
A tapping on the car instantly brought me back to my current outrage. Mom motioned for me to come out and talk. I roll the window down, slightly.
"I hear that you are angry with me right now, Janie, and that's OK," Mary Ann was unnervingly calm as she spoke. She talked to me, her own daughter, exactly as she did her patients or “clients" as was now the acceptable way to refer to those undergoing psychotherapy. Another annoying new thing; she thought I should start calling her by her first name. That was ridiculous and I wouldn't do it.
Opening the car door, hard, just to be able to slam it again, for greater effect.
I blurted out, "I hate you!"
"There's something happening here, what it is, ain't exactly clear…" Buffalo Springfield.
I tugged my bangs down to cover my eyes, trying to hide my burning tears. I felt hopeless in containing my anger; I could not find words for my confused feelings. I slammed a lot of doors that summer; I was powerless. But it wasn't only me; it was bigger. The entire country seemed at war: the assassinations in 1968; the Chicago Democratic convention riot; the Vietnam war protests; Mom and Dad separated. Mom was going to see the musical Hair when we got to Los Angeles.
Mom tried the eye contact technique as she said, in her, composed voice, "I can see you're not happy or approving of my choice, but I am going to the nude baths, because I choose to involve myself completely in the whole experience here at Esalen Institute,” she waited. “Remember, you are making the choice to be miserable and close minded; therefore, the natural consequence is that you will remain stuck in your emotions, not to mention you'll get warm, waiting in the stuffy car all afternoon. But that's OK; it's your decision. You could at least get out of the car and take a walk, honey."
My friends thought she was pretty, in that Julie Andrews sort of way, with her angular face and her tennis player physique. But none of that mattered to me. Her practiced emotionless tone infuriated me too much to appreciate those qualities. My mother turned away from the car, her purple bell bottoms dragging in the dusty parking lot, with the requisite Birkenstocks peeking out every few steps.
It was July 1969, a man walking on the moon was a small thing compared to the revolutionary changes I was experiencing that summer. After the Esalen encounter, Mom and I picked up two more of her friends for the journey to Southern California. Maurice, a Trappist monk, who just renounced his vows. Having been cloistered for 10 years; he sat like a statue in profound astonishment.
At the ways the world had changed. I, too, was in a state of shock, as I met the second person to accompany us. Mom introduced her new partner: a woman. For a 13 year old girl from the Midwest, it was a giant leap.
No small step.