Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Cork Incident

I have random trains of thought and the one just now brought me to an event that happened in June 2006. It's a favorite story, I've found; people really seem to enjoy it, so I figured I'd write it down.

Summer 2006. My then-girlfriend, Jen, and I planned a 3-week trip to Italy to visit my family. I've been out and openly dating women for 13 years, but this was the first time ever that my mom would meet one of my girlfriends. Jen was my first real, serious long-term relationship and in the time we had been together up until that point, she had heard stories and was pretty well-aware of my mom's personality. But, as I tried to warn her, stories weren't adequate preparation for the real thing...

Things didn't go very smoothly. Jen, God love her, was so easy-going and tried really hard to get to know my mom and to get along with her. It drove Jen crazy that we got stuck in Monterosso due to my mom (every day, she'd call and say, So, today, I need you to..) and it upset her that my mom and step-father treated me like shit. The visit was kind of a roller coaster, with lots of ups and downs.

One night after dinner, Jen, my mom, and I were sitting at the table outside on the terrace. The scene was lovely: candles burning, the sound of waves lapping on the beach mere feet away, all three of us had a nice, happy wine buzz going. We were chatting and gradually the conversation turned to my mom's childhood.

Without going too deep into detail, my mom had a really fucked up upbringing and like me, it's amazing that she got out of it and became such a successful person. As much as she drives me crazy, I have always admired her strength, determination, and pluck. I hadn't heard the tale of her childhood in probably two decades, so I listened with interest. The prosecco flowed like a river and we just kept drinking and talking.
She gradually got more and more emotional as she told her story, until she was crying. The moment was really touching and I hadn't felt that close or loving toward my mom in years. Jen, having just earned her PhD in Clinical Psychology, was a bit awed at the sudden outpouring of honesty and vulnerability.

At the end of the story, we each had tears in our eyes and I got up and gave my mom a huge hug. I felt really close to her, something that rarely happens, and I was so touched and sad for her.

We sat in silence for a time, collecting our thoughts, drinking more, listening to the waves. I can say definitively that, at this point, we were all pretty drunk, but the prosecco kept flowing. It was a nice, peaceful moment that I savored, feeling full of warmth and goodwill towards my mom and Jen.

After a time, my mom spoke up and the atmosphere and tone of the conversation did a complete 180°. She started asking Jen questions about her mom. It started out innocently enough, but then gradually became more and more prying, causing Jen to prickle.

Jen's mom is a lay nun in the Franciscan order, so she is really, devoutly Catholic. When she and Jen's dad divorced when Jen was 12, Jen's mom decided she'd sinned enough by getting the divorce and never dated anyone afterward. My mom kept asking, But Jen.. I don't get it. Why do you think your mom never had any boyfriends?

Jen tried to be patient and kept telling my mom she was uncomfortable answering that question. It was obvious she didn't want to discuss it and any normal, polite person would have dropped the subject. My mom, however, was seriously drunk at this point and apparently super feisty. She kept poking, prodding, prying, asking basically the same question again and again, in an increasingly more irritated, frustrated way.
Jen started to get irritated, too, that her boundaries weren't being respected. She finally put her foot down and said, You know, Paula, I really don't feel it's right to discuss this, I'm not comfortable, and I would appreciate a change of subject.

I was sitting at the table with Jen to my left and my mom to my right. There was a period of silence after Jen told my mom to drop it. I looked down at the table to collect my thoughts and the next thing I knew, I saw a wine cork bounce across the table, from Jen across to my mom.

I looked up sharply, my brain unwilling to comprehend. One glance at Jen's angry, disbelieving face confirmed my suspicions, another glance at my mom staring at Jen with a challenging expression, then back to Jen, it all sinking in slowly.

Uuuuuuhhhhh.. no way, I thought. But.. yes way.

My mom, in her frustration at Jen's unwillingness to give her the dirt, threw a wine cork at Jen's head. The cork hit Jen in the forehead, bounced off, and then went bouncing along the table. Jen was stunned, as was I. They sat there for several very long moments, glaring at each other. My brain was still having trouble processing what had just happened, and all I could manage to say was a worthless reprimand: "MOM!"

I had no idea what to do, but then Jen got up abruptly and started cussing my mom out, including several instances of the F-bomb. I managed another "Mom! I can't believe you did that!" before getting up and following Jen down the steps and back to our apartment. Jen was raging pissed and it took some time to calm down enough to go to bed.

At about 10 in the morning, my phone rang and it was my mom. I answered, not having any idea what to expect. Surprisingly, she was very humble and apologetic. The first words out of her mouth were, "Do you hate me?"

"I am so, so sorry. I don't even know what to say. I can't remember the last time I was that drunk. You guys just kept pouring more! I woke up at 4 in the morning with the worst hangover and headache I've ever had in my life. Please forgive me."

The cork incident: perhaps forgiven, but definitely not forgotten.

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