I got a call from my little brother last night. It was around midnight, and his tone was a mixture of amusement and grave concern.
“Have you seen mom’s Facebook post?” He asked in a way that presumed I had. “Is she really going to Puerto Rico for 22 months?”
“What?!” was my reflexive response. ‘Of course not’, I thought immediately after, but left it there in the hope of receiving further context.
“Yea, at about 9:54pm mom posted that she was going to Puerto Rico for 22 months. Jen (her best friend) commented ‘What? You must elaborate…’, and Alexa (our cousin, who lives in the same small town as our mother, and is in daily contact) posted, ‘Yea, what?’”
“Didn’t you talk to her tonight?” I asked, knowing he did, implying that it would’ve been something she would have mentioned.
“Yea, I talked to her earlier but she didn’t say anything about going to Puerto Rico for 22 months”.
So, clearly she is not going to Puerto Rico. She has barely been out of the Quad City area in years. She doesn’t drive; has no income to speak of; has no Puerto Rican suitors to my knowledge; I’ve never heard her mention any short con she has been working on to gain free entry onto an aircraft or any other form of passage out of the continental US; nor has she mentioned any plans to relocate, long term, to a place where she does not speak the language. Who goes anywhere for '22 months'? But … Still, is she?
You’d be surprised by what my mother is capable of. She has ‘partied’ with celebrities ranging from members of the rock and roll groups Cheap Trick and Sha Na Na, to founding members of the Gangster Disciples. What the euphemism ‘partied’ stands for, I do not want to imagine. Growing up we barely had enough money to pay bills, let alone the luxuries of the middle class, yet she still managed to regularly get us Pizza Hut for dinner (by calling and complaining that the delivery order, that had never actually been placed, was late), she managed to get me any pet I wanted, all whose fate I still shudder to consider – I lost interest usually after a couple of weeks and they’d conveniently go missing. Once, after our cat had been gone a few days, my mother told me ‘you know honey, sometimes cats when they get old; they wander off from where they live to die in peace’. Two months later my cat returned home, to my mother’s astonishment. She later admitted to driving the cat two counties over before releasing it in the country, presumably hoping it would get the hint to take the noble, medieval, Japanese route and wander off and die rather than be any further burden to its family. Like a Japanese psychological horror film, the cat returned abruptly to remind us of the misdeeds it had suffered.
I always got what I asked for on Christmas and on birthdays (save for the set of bagpipes I perennially requested from Santa, even some years to the exclusion of all other presents [I still have never owned a bagpipe, btw, probably for the best, for everyone]). She eschewed conventional parenting discretion and caution, and gave me a dubbed copy of the N.W.A. cassette ‘Niggaz4life’ when I was nine as one of my first albums, took me as a fifth grader to see Metallica & Anthrax for my first concert, and allowed me to rent ‘Faces of Death’ videos to watch when I’d have friends stay over who were from families that observed ‘basic moral decency’ much more rigidly.
The most important thing mom did was to teach me through these reckless id-driven excursions that societal structures are made by people, and as such they have no truly objective value, and most importantly, we can make our own. I was raised to question authority as a matter of course - to such an extent that by the time I was a middle-schooler I was carrying on an email correspondence with the (now designated terrorist group) EZLN – the Mexican Zapatista Liberation Army; and I spent my weekends going door to door attempting to fund-raise (unsuccessfully) for the Communist Party of America.
That said, considering my mother’s artful use of cunning and deception to subvert many boundaries imposed upon her by society, she has an admirable, yet almost inexplicable, willingness to accept sincerity in others. This once resulted in her calling me and telling me that a serendipitous guardian angel had called her to settle all of her outstanding debts, and all debts of her family as well. She was so convinced, and thus convincing, that I had printed out the paperwork to sign over my student loan debt to rate-gouging hucksters engaged in a felonious scam before I took a breath and thought through what exactly was going on.
That is the downfall of having a mindset that assumes everyone will believe you no matter what the truth is. You might be able to get a free pizza out of a pizza restaurant shift supervisor that has nothing invested in whether or not an angry customer pays for a pizza. But at some point you start believing that you are entitled to a free pizza no matter what – you have to, in order to keep doing it. Eventually you will have a hard time distinguishing a lie from truth in any circumstance. As such, the same will happen for those assessing your intentions. As a result those you are closest to cannot help but entertain the completely fantastical alongside the mundane regarding the information you provide – an apparent declaration that you are moving out of the country previously unannounced for an extended period of time becomes as seriously considered as your conquests at Bingo Bash, and your sharing of photos from the Facebook group ‘Hippie Peace Freaks’.
So, are you going to Puerto Rico for 22 months, mom? Almost certainly she is not. But part of me takes everything she says at face value. Another part of me questions everything she says as well. Objectively, I have to assume her Facebook account has been hacked; it is just such an absurd notion. But I can’t shake the thought that she has managed through her secret talents to procure an extended vacation to the Caribbean. Such an exciting and unexpected possibility would have been foreclosed if my mother had been a more usual parent. But she decided to do it her own way which entailed along with the questionable, imparting upon me a fundamental rejection of discrimination of any kind, (paradoxically) holding compassion as the highest ideal, and valuing the pursuit of knowledge above other pursuits. As a result I might just be booking a flight to San Juan in the near future.