Thursday, March 5, 2009

Screaming out the Window


Sometimes, it's just too much. "It" can be anything at all: losing your keys, the series of phone calls you have to make to investigate a fraudulent charge on your credit card bill, a visit from the in-laws, the cat scratching the furniture, missing the bus, burning dinner, the rude person who lets a door shut in your face while you juggle groceries and a child, broken machinery, stepping off the curb into a dog pile . . . But sometimes there is nothing wrong, it's just a day with an overwhelming amount of work (real work and "busywork") that must get done, and you are just a one person with two hands. My mom and I have a shorthand for empathy in this situation. "Want to go scream 'shit' out the window?" we'll say to each other. It dates back to a specific moment of frustration, though I don't remember at all what it was about. We were living in Chicago—on Lake View across from Lincoln Park, which puts me at about eight years old. The apartment had a solarium. (Okay, I love the sound of that. That all by itself is a memory worth holding: the apartment had a solarium. How many times will I be able to say that in my life?) It was a sun space that projected from the living room, a large polygonal bay window to let in the light. My mom had placed some plants there; I remember at least one schefflera, and I think a fuschia as well, unless I'm mixing up my urban gardens and the fuschia was in some other apartment. Now that I think of it, I'm not at all sure that the bay windows opened. They did or they didn't. If they didn't, then my screaming memory belongs to a window with the same exposure in the apartment: right out onto the very respectable, serene Lake View. As I said, I don't remember what caused that moment's frustration, or whose it really was (only my mom's, or was I also out of sorts?). Anyway, the thing I will always remember: leaning with my mother out an open window on this lovely tree-lined street and screaming a long, drawn-out expletive into the neighborhood. Not to mislead you, this was uncharacteristic of my mother; please do not form any impressions of her based on this four-letter act. But the irregularity of it is precisely why it's such a great memory, and why it gives me an odd comfort (and, back then, it gave me a thrill). I was eight, and complicit for one naughty moment in a grown-up's tantrum. Why should we be frustrated and hide the fact, or worse take it out on each other? Much healthier to raise the sash and scream on a rare occasion. It made us both feel better, made us laugh, and I got to see that it was okay to blow off a little steam. We are all human after all—a fact I tended to overlook as a child, concerning my parents. As for childhood swearing . . . I didn't learn it from my mother. She didn't corrupt me, only acknowledged the realities of what you hear daily in the city. Besides, I'd been in preschool in Greenwich Village NYC in the early 1970s; I'd already heard much worse.

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