In my first semester at my out-of-state university, I had an English Literature teacher who was probably five or six years younger than I. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this. At the university level, it’s a fair bet that whoever is teaching the class has had enough education to choke a horse; the woman was more educated than I ever had any intention of being. I liked her quite a lot, though not as much as the younger students did. She taught Shakespeare with a smile on her face and tried to make it accessible to a group of twentysomethings–the majority of whom were used to having information fed to them in easy-to-digest, toddler-sized bites. I convinced myself that on the occasions when this slow and painful feeding was taking place, I tolerated it well and quite invisibly. I was sure that my impatience or outright disgust or bemusement when someone still wasn’t getting it (even after having the information rephrased and repeated ten times) was well hidden behind a cultivated mask of maturity and superiority.
And then, one day, the teacher was perched on the edge of her desk in front of me, lecturing from slides. I’m sure I looked more engaged than the average student, which was not at all an accident. Since high school, I have always made a point to keep eye contact with my teachers, and I almost always sit in the first two rows. There’s never any danger that they won’t notice my attention, effort, or participation. Anyway, she’s lecturing, and she says something I find a bit ironic (I don’t at all remember what), and I guess I get this look on my face that pretty explicitly betrays what’s going through my mind. The teacher cracks up and says “I love watching your face. I can always tell exactly what you’re thinking.” I grinned back and class went on, but as is often the case with me, I filed the information away for later when I had more time to think about it.
Since I moved back home, I’ve been seeing a lot more of Mama. We still spend a lot of time on the phone, but we also try to see one another at least once a week, even if it’s only when I’m in town for grocery shopping, which is what was happening this afternoon. (Honestly, after 14 years of living so far away, I’ll probably never get tired of seeing her; I take whatever time slot I can get. We have a good time when we’re together.) So, after a couple hours and a couple different stores, I was waiting for a clearing in traffic so I could pull out of Wal-Mart with my mama and car full of groceries. We’d been sitting there for a while and I was getting impatient. We were in kind of a hurry, it was hot, and I still had a 30 minute drive home after I dropped Mom off.
The guy approaching from the right was going exactly the right speed to make me cuss–I knew I was about to miss the best chance to go I’d had in the past five minutes. “Come on, Jackass. Go a little slower. Ridiculous mother fu…” My fingers were tight on the steering wheel, and I knew without anyone having to tell me that even if I hadn’t said a word, my face would’ve said it for me. Mama said, “oh, honey. Your mama just came out of your mouth. That’s exactly what I would’ve said.” Today was not the first time she’s said this, but usually the circumstances are similar.
Apparently, I have THE TEMPER. And also (ohmygod) THE MOUTH.
Honestly, it amuses me. It’s not at all a problem for me that I occasionally channel my mother. I think she’s funny as hell, so of course I’ve unconsciously patterned a few behaviors after her over the years. But I don’t think she sees it that way. I think maybe she’s afraid she’s passed on primarily those characteristics that she considers defects. I don’t think of them that way at all. So the hell what if I’m a little more outspoken than the majority of women? So what if I prefer profanity over most of the other words in the language? (Obviously, it isn’t because I don’t know quite a few of the impressive ones as well.) So what if I can’t sit through a conversation I find abhorrent without my displeasure and disagreement painted all over my face? It’s one of the reasons I consider myself an honest person: not even my facial expression is capable of saying something I don’t mean.
I wonder if she realizes I inherited that characteristic as well? I know there have been times in her life when she’s found it especially inconvenient, particularly when she’s attempting to operate inside hateful and backstabby work environments.
Admittedly, I do spend a lot of time wishing that (in addition to her outspokenness and her easy-to-read facial expressions) my dear mother had also seen fit to pass on to me her beautiful, LOUD singing voice. I will never in my life know what it is to sing without a microphone and be heard. I simply do not have the volume. I have a sweet voice, I think, and I’m pretty darn handy with the harmony, but I’ll never have the instrument that she does. It also would’ve been cool to get her boobs, but alas, those were not items that I could will into existence. (Believe me, I tried.)
I am pretty happy with what I got, though. Sure, I laugh too loud and cuss like a sailor. But I can also tell an okay story and write a halfway decent sentence, and I owe both those skills to her.
Not to mention the fact that when I’m happy, anyone who’s looking at me can see Joy painted across my face. Why in the world would I want to hide that?