Last October at my sister's 35th birthday dinner, my brother feels the need to inform the entire table of my old thumb-sucking habit. I was really surprised anyone remembered, but apparently the way I went about my little rituals, is strange and fun to bring up at inappropriate times. My family, especially my brother, enjoys watching me squirm and fidget because I am the only one left with secrets apparently. I sat across the table a bit embarrasses but struggled with the comments. I look to my grandmother, who rolls her eyes in support of a topic change. Good call, grandmother. I search my sister for some clue about her feelings on this, but she cuts me off popping off with "Remember the gaga?"
Jesus. These people I lovingly call my "mother-fucking-family" have no tact whatsoever. The "gaga" was my soft, silky blanket which I carried everywhere, until I was about ten years old.
"Yes, Kim-BERLY, I remember someone telling me what a baby I was and daring me to throw it into a pile of burning leaves..." I say with long drawn out sarcasm, biting her in the ass for these horrid acts against young gaga loving children.
My sister and my brother exchange looks of pride, as if my tossing some old blanky into the fire somehow diminished the pain my terminally insecure childhood. My grandmother rolls her eyes again, grabbing my leg under the table to remind me I am strong. Grandmother is very good at this, especially when she knows I am about to crack. Not one to fuck around, she is quick to call over a waiter to bring her more salad dressing. It doesn't help me any, as my brother recalls a story to the entire table.
"I remember when Kelly would sit in front of the television set, curled up with that gaga and sucking her thumb, almost as if she was in a trance. I swear, the whole world could have disappeared and she never would have known, as long as she had that old rag." my brother proclaims, as if he has just informed the world of some hidden family crime. Long festering wounds have been revealed and he seems most impressed by his speech. He is, however, not lying, though he isn't correct either.
"Well, Duane..." I start, taking in a long breath and thinking of how best to handle the situation. My first thought is- LIE! Then I think lying would prove less of an interest to these people. No, they don't want some stammering story about how difficult it was for me to stop my blanky twiddling and thumb sucking. This was a family out for blood at all costs. They were not going to be satiated with flushed cheeks, They needed meat ripped from bones and knockdown drag-out family quarrels that would end only at next year's Christmas dinner. They weren't going to let up.
"Well, you see, I still have a 'gaga'..." I was in deep shit. All eyes had turned to me; the sound of forks clanking down on plates when the television has just reported a bombing or a brand new episode of Friends. My grandmother pursed her lips and folded her napkin. My husband tried to start a mild mannered conversation with the waiter. My brother and sister, of course, turned their goddamned chairs towards me, to be sure not to miss a word. I had to be proud. I had to prove to these people that yes, I might have an old blanky, but I am still smarter and far wittier.
"Oh my God! You STILL have one? Haha ...and what about your thumb? Still sucking?" my brother looked around the table as if speaking to each and every person there. "I'll be damned, Kelly, a grown woman still sucking her thumb."
My brother. The fuck-twit.
It's not that bad to have a habit of sucking one's thumb. I have friends who didn't stop until they were in their late teens. Occasionally I wake up to find my husband, also a childhood thumb-sucker, going to town on his 27-year-old thumb. My fever, which was now blazing onto my cheeks, spilling over onto the red vinyl tablecloth wasn't about sucking my thumb. The true depravity was in my gaga.
I have gone through several gagas [pronounced Gah-Gah, like MaMa, only with a hard G sound.] over the years. After the crimson fires swallowed my first gaga I simply made another one out of one of my mother's shirts. It was silky; something put out for a yard sale. I had this gaga, gaga #2 for years before it was shredded down to the size of a napkin. My third gaga was a red and black striped silk blouse I wore in the sixth grade, which also fell apart. My gagas, which I now call "rags" are like a part of me. People have odd habits. Some eat boogers. I've known some men to jack off with slices of deli ham. I have even been privy to those odd characters that obsessively clean their hands or only step on certain color tiles as they walk through the mall. Let's face it, we are ALL fucked up in some way.
I glared at my brother, who settled into his familiar megalomania, feeling he'd won a battle of maturity. I can only explain his gratification by assuming he is jealous. Yes, that's it. Jealous, because at 40, he has been divorced twice, both times taken for all he had, and has virtually no artistic talents with the exception of holiday lawn ornaments which he cuts out of wood. Even then he uses a pattern. Good old-fashioned jealousy once again strikes the hearts of my family members as they realize I am more unique than they are. I am my grandmother's favored grandchild because I live up to my name as the black sheep with great attention to detail. Tonight, at a restaurant where the waiters wear fifty buttons and karaoke singers whine in the background, I am not dressed in gray turtlenecks as the other members of the group are. Nor do I echo their fondness for leather shoes or gold jewelry. This evening I am wearing a lace up black satin corset with fishnets and knee-high boots.
"Yeah, I guess it's pretty funny, huh?" I joke and look to my husband for support. Neal is good at these situations. He breaks the attention away from me, but my brother smiles at me, almost as if he's ashamed for me. Well, it's an odd mix of shame and desire. I realize he thinks of me as exotic, something he longs to be, but neither of his wives, or my mother or sister, nor him got an ounce of. The LAST word I would use to describe my brother is "exotic." Let's put it this way; if there was a television sports show called "Extreme Hair Styling: The Preppie Way " my brother would be the winning contestant each week. My brother is the kind of man who irons his underwear and starches his undershirts. I am a stark contrast against his white-bread lifestyle with my hair colored various shades of patchy purple, facial piercings and blood red lipstick.
At the same time I feel his unusual brand of pity on me, I also notice him fondling the small beaded necklace I made for him in high school. He asked me to make him something "hip" and I laced gold, red and tan beads on string and he fell in love with it. Over ten years later, he still cherishes this piece of art as if the Smithsonian Institute crafted it. I sense his admiration, not only for my oddities, but also for my confidence in admitting such a taboo as sucking my thumb at my age. I can tell he's not far from asking another question, but our eyes meet and he realizes it's time to let it go. We all finish eating and I feel better with my drunk ex-sister-in-law [who was my brother's first wife- who he is seeing again after divorcing his second wife- that is another story.]
She delights in reminding my brother how much of a "hard-on" he had for her mother when they were first dating. My poor grandmother. They have no idea how they are killing her. I think my grandmother has mastered the art of rolling her eyes. She is a perfect woman in so many ways. She stayed with an alcoholic for 25 years; never leaving him despite an addiction that later killed him. She eats like a fucking bird. She puts everything back in its place and never once have I known her to forget to take out the trash. She is stronger than I am. I am insecure, which is what my brother and my entire family seem to forget. I appear deft and funny. I am a perfect specimen of a freak, complete with the deep, dark self-loathing that goes along with being a social outcast.
They do not see me late at night, as my husband does, alone sucking my thumb watching television, twirling shreds of satin in between my fingers. They cannot know the horrible truth about me, that I am wounded from years of taking care of my chronically ill mother while they were away at college or living with older men. They will never see me with my rag [the 6th or 7th one by now, I always forget] twisted up into a point or into the corners of my eyes while I disappear from the world. They couldn't ever understand why when I think about something, my need to hold my pieces of gnarled satin matches that of a crack addict. They don't see me furiously hunting for my gaga when I have misplaced it, tearing apart the bed, the closets and the couch cushions. My brother with his matched clothing and polished smile doesn’t watch me as I curl up in a ball after sex when it occasionally reminds me of past sexual abuse. He will never be party to my complete disregard for my lover as I float off into another world; a world where little girls are not forced to burn their childhood blankets. In that world, the family knows that she has burned it because of her uncle's semen stains, not because she is ashamed.
Send private anonymous feedback to the author (to post a public comment instead).