What am I doing here?

By Kit-Bacon Gressitt

Not too many moons ago, in a moment of pause, it came to me that my family was wracked with discontent, my thighs had spread to embrace the toilet seat in a big old hug, and I hadn’t a triumph to my name. Other considerations notwithstanding, the triumph thing was my true obsession, despite my knowing the assumption of grand success was an absurd remnant of baby boomer privilege.

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 4.50.32 PMOf good Southern stock, I was birthed between 1946 and ’64, therefore I deserved it all—the dearest of kindred souls, impressive properties exceeding those of my parents, all the tangible and intangible riches befitting my special generation, including stellar, enduring success. I was certain I deserved these things, but I did not have them, and I was experiencing an adjustment reaction to the creeping recognition that they would never be mine. This was a perplexing departure from expectation, as perplexing as those sausage toes that had started greeting me each morning from the foot of my bed and leading me into the bathroom, where I sat on the commode, my swollen feet cooling on the Saltillo tiles, and stared up at a pudgy Fernando Botero figure, dispassionately contemplating her obscured visage in a bathroom mirror.

The computer-generated reproduction had the superficial look of a real painting, the texture of canvas, layers of color, an aged patina. But there was not a brush stroke on the piece; exquisite details had been abandoned to the expediency of mass production; the colors were not true. A gallery owner to whom I had taken a similar picture for framing had known it at once to be a fake, but he was seeing this technology for the first time, and he was dismayed that naïve consumers would think it genuine. I told him I knew it to be a genuine fake. He was not relieved or amused.

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 4.50.54 PMNeither would the framer have been amused by my painting’s male counterpart on the bathroom wall. He was sitting naked on a chest, his be-plumed helmet to his left, his penis hidden by a hairy shin, the sketches of an extra hand and foot floating oddly unattached beside him, unused options that refused to go away; all put to canvas with the same computer fakery as the gal at her morning ablutions. I wondered then, as I do whenever I sit there, why Botero left the extra hand and foot visible. I couldn’t fathom a reason.

But I can’t fathom a lot of things. Why do some people suffer and others not? Why do cats play with their food?  Why does capitalism thrive, even among purported communists? Why do people lie to themselves? Why do Western males wear pants? What the hell am I doing here?

For a moment, having contemplated the hand and foot and life’s other mysteries, I engaged in a bit of self-indulgent despair, enumerating my failures and wondering if there were something else I might have learned from them, some hidden lesson that might have led me to triumph.

Oh, I’ve enjoyed a few successes of minor note. I’ve had some interesting careers, a plurality of husbands, a generous number of enlightening adventures. I produced a bright and beautiful daughter of olive skin and fiery eyes, who, when she was little, would murmur my name as she curled into me, “Mama, mama, mama,” although, now she murmurs, “You owe me therapy for the rest of my fucking life.” Nonetheless, I’ve also managed to avoid addiction, no small feat for the descendent of Bible-thumping teetotalers and unrepentant alcoholics—and a few unrepentant bible-thumping alcoholics.

My family has produced missionaries of various stripes; imbibers who’ve made it to recovery and some who’ve remained in denial; control freaks, who are actually quite competent, so I figure that’s vindication; and escape artists, I, being one of the them. Hell, I moved across the country to limit family encounters to the kissy-face stuff of holidays and reunions, and when one of them called to cheerfully pronounce a move to my vicinity, I felt the sudden need to barf, despite my deep and enduring love for him and possibly due to the fact that he once assured me I would eternally roast in Satan’s hell fires, awash in God’s vengeance for my sins, primary of which was my failure to accept Our Savior, Lord Jesus Christ into my heart and be bathed in his eternal forgiveness and love.

Turns out, heavenly rewards, at least for Baptists, are available only on a quid pro quo basis, and this blew the proposition for me: Because the Baptist god predestined my salvation, or condemnation, I figured it didn’t matter if I opted out of having Sweet Baby Jesus to tea. Hence my scheduled rendezvous with Satan, who, truth be told, is a lot more interesting a character than the Christ on whom I was reared.

Except there is no truth, per se. Baptists are too tight-assed for truth; it just sucks the broomstick in farther. And proper Southerners hold social graces in much higher esteem than truth.

But I, the family heathen, have found expulsive expression far more to my liking, and sitting there that morning on the throne, waiting for my toes to cool, I decided I had undermined my best intentions, my highest hopes for success—deserved or not—by allowing my heritage to temper me. I had abandoned the exquisite details of life to the expediency of some semblance of family harmony, my colors were not true. I was stymied by the grip of a mighty sphincter, a Botero woman, insulated in her rotund figure, identity obscured, caught in static indecision at the bathroom mirror in perpetuity. I had resorted to writing fiction, to skirt my familial bonds, hide beneath some camouflage netting, and produce a triumphant recasting of our tragic decline. But the truth kept rearing its head, demanding to be heard, like the artist’s unattached hand and foot refusing to fade into the background.

That morning, then, my bowels relieved, my thighs un-wedged from the toilet seat, I brushed my teeth and decided, I decided I would just write, write whatever I’m compelled to write, triumph or not. And that, I suppose, is what I’m doing here.

Love, K-B