The big dog and the blind boy

My mother can be truly tenacious. Many are the times in my life that I’ve been grateful to look behind or beside me and find her there. Always — even when I’ve disappointed her or done something utterly ridiculous — I know she’s there if I need her. She refers to herself as “a big dog”. Not all the time, but like: “I took your grandmother to her appointment today because the doctor wouldn’t answer her questions and she needed a Big Dog.”

Yesterday, I told her that, as a Leo (and the single defining force in our collective universe), she was to blame for all her children being “freaks of nature.” I say this kindly, and in the funniest way possible, but in actuality, I think there’s an element of truth to it. The five of us cannot gather anywhere without being the center of attention. She says “well honey, that’s just because we’re fascinatin!” And there’s truth in that. I’ve never met anyone else like us. We all naturally gravitate toward intellect, learning, and wit. Throw in my mother’s penchant toward creativity and strangeness (regardless of the situation), and well, you got yourself a buncha freaks. Smart freaks who talk about interesting things, but freaks nonetheless. In fact, I’ll bet there isn’t a one of us that wasn’t “different” before the age of three.

As an example, I give you J, my youngest brother. First, the basics: Like his sister, he learns about the things that he’s interested in quickly and is able to apply that knowledge. He’s good at his job and knows it well, he’s intuitive and knowledge-seeking, and he’s excellent at correctly judging situations and people. Now, the kicker: He’s a fucking freak. When I was home last, he did his traditional “humiliate Mama in the grocery store routine.” This has been an ongoing thing with them for years, but this was the first time I actually saw it play out firsthand.

My mother works with developmentally disabled adults. Years ago, when J was in junior high, her job had an in-service on “the proper treatment of blind people.” J just happened to be there that day; he’d gotten out of school early, so he was on the sidelines being uncharacteristically quiet and still, waiting on her to get off work. Now, the in-service was a serious thing. They were having it because their staff was often inconsiderate to the blind people in their care. They’d forget to tell them to step down or they’d steer them too close to objects in their path, and since the blind person’s hand is always on one shoulder or the other (and they’re always on one side or the other) they’d end up getting hurt. So, this in-service involved just the staff, leading each other around blindfolded, trying to learn how to be sensitive to the very existence of the people who were relying on them. J watched all this passively, silently. But somewhere in his little freak brain, he also integrated it. We saw hide nor hair of it for years. Then, some years later, it popped up in the grocery store.

The story goes, Mom was in a bad mood. Some bitch did something to her at work, and she was walking around with the “don’t fuck with the big dog” face. I hear it’s a Leo thing. Anyway. So J puts his hand on her shoulder. Now, we’re a somewhat affectionate family. I pat/pinch the boys’ asses being stupid, they put their arms around both me and mom when they think we need it. So Mama didn’t really notice the hand on her shoulder – not until she realized that she was garnering stares from everyone she and J passed in the aisles of the supermarket.

J was pretending to be blind. And so far, she’d walked him into a couple endcap displays and a wall of Coke products. He’d stumble for a moment, pat his way around, and walk with his hand out at the right level till he “found” her again. When she looked up and over her shoulder at him after she noticed people staring (J’s about 6’4), she saw that his eyes were sort of heavy-lidded, fixed on some invisible point ahead that never changed. He was doing the perfect imitation of a blind person. So, she punched him in the stomach (and this woman’s playful punches are NOT painless) and told him to stop it. And naturally (after he gave her a visual demonstration of what he’d been doing), she couldn’t stop laughing, which was J’s objective from the beginning.

Now, I had the privilege to see some of this when I was home last, though by now Mom has learned to immediately smack J’s hand off her shoulder when they’re in a public place. To compensate for this, J has adapted a vocal routine to go along with the physical. “Mom? Mom! Where are you? You’ve left me again. Has anyone seen my mom? Hi! (touching a stranger) I’m a blind person, can you help me find my mom?” And he’s standing stock-still in the middle of the aisle with his hand uselessly reaching into the air around him. Now, I don’t know who you think I am, but I do not have the ability to keep a straight face in the presence of The Funny. (My middle brother, T, has it, and I’m totally envious. It makes him a terrific joke-teller.) So I’m laughing my completely loud and distinctive laugh, Mama’s moving quickly down the aisle trying to pretend she doesn’t notice or know the blind person who’s very loudly asking for his mother, and T and N are shaking their heads and following her, chuckling to themselves. It takes me a moment to realize that I look a little cruel, standing five or six feet away from a blind person in a supermarket laughing my ass off. When I do, I walk up to J and put my arm around his significantly-higher waist and we walk off smiling to find Mama.

Normal people – nay, even just fascinating people – do not do these things. These are the actions of freaks. Once again, I use this term with all possible humor; I certainly wouldn’t have my family any other way.

ADDENDUM: I called Mom at work to read her this story, knowing she a) probably needed cheering and b) thinks I’m far too distant from my family nowadays and needs to know I’m still the same person. She said, and I quote: “Yes, but you’ve said nowhere that I’m actually a very nice person, small and petite of frame, and generally a delight to be around! You talk about the ‘big dog’ and people are going to think I’m a big woman. Why can’t you use the nickname you gave me? ‘Mamasita’ makes me sound so cute.” This, from a woman who yanked people from car windows when I was a child, and parked behind people who stole her parking place so they couldn’t leave in recent years. Naturally, I mentioned these behaviors, to which she said “well, what do normal people do when assholes steal their parking place?” I said, “we cuss, loudly, from the confines of our car.” She said, “well that’s not healthy. That’s bottling up your anger; it’s passive/aggressive behavior. You know I don’t believe in passive/aggressive behavior.”

This is exactly my point. I love my family, but freaks we are, and ever shall be.

This entry was originally posted in May 2005 when I was living 1650 miles away from home and missing my family. I’m reposting it today in honor of Mama’s birthday and her continuing role as Big Dog and Freak-in-Chief.

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