Watch

Watch: she is a truly dispassionate cook. You have to tell her things like “paprika isn’t spicy, you have to add pepper or these chiles for that”. She won’t even slice the onion, leaving that for the maid to do. And once the onion dish, loosely covered with cling film, stinks up the fridge, you have to inform her that’s another use of the baking soda, unopened in her pantry. She could care less, all she wants is the praise. My mother is a praise-devouring monster, her narcissism so pure and self-effacing, she would never understand the glazed look on people’s eyes when she makes every single anecdote link back to her, to the compliments people have told her. Imagine growing up next to that: there is never enough for you, and it makes you suspect any flaunt of pride on your own part.

At the table, she asks insistently, “Is it good? Is it tasty?”. After 4 yes I decide I detest her. After the story of how she probably saved my stepfather’s career by feeding this to the foreign minister, I laugh, and she thinks I am naturally basking in her glow, smirking because, wow, she is something.

I don’t know what strange hurts made her this way. Anything that happens to her is disconnected from her, unless it’s something good, then it is the fruit of careful work, due to her ascertaining her rightful place in the world. Apparently, as a teenager, a gypsy palm-reader told her her place was with men of importance in the world, like both husbands. She is a beautiful woman, my own looks largely derivative from hers. But where she rouges and paints, I let things be, falsely looking for the authentic.

It’s the first day of the year, and I can muster no compassion, and find no way to stand in her shoes. What does that say about me, an adult, who should know better than to be swayed like this, with this blind hating pounding at my throat. Instead I retreat to the novel I just started, stay in my pijamas all day as if to say: in this vacation, I am a prisoner, and I won’t bother.

Laughable and ridiculous, I am. The trick is to reconcile all the unconditional ways she’s loved me over the years, the ways she has supported my dreams she can’t understand, how she was withstood my long silences, the only words I have had to say the unnameable, the thing she can’t undertand.

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