Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rom-Com Mother's Day Revelations (and the triple chocolate chunk brownies that made them possible)

I celebrated this Mother's Day with escapism. I began the day by quietly placing a signed card with a Starbucks gift card inside on the kitchen table as I slipped out of the apartment just before dawn. Because I can remember dates, but not far enough in advance to send cards and buy great gifts and ask off work.

After I returned a quarter past two and we debated over who was obligated to choose the Mother's Day mother-and-daughter-do-something-together activity, it was decided that I would drive with my stepdad to the grocery store and pick out some nice steaks, potatoes and a movie. Amazingly, only brownies were added once we got to the store.

Then it came time to select a movie from one of those little DVD rental thingies. This is always an ordeal, because the only common ground the three of us can find are comedies, and within that category only contrived rom-coms or quirky indies. Of course, grocery store video kiosks do not at all specialize in the latter category, so one can imagine where this is going.

The plot of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past [and every other rom-com of its kind] goes like this: There's this guy, and he's a jerk. Such an over-the-top kind of jerk, in fact, that he seems fully aware of the way he preys on insecure women and just doesn't give a shit about it. To balance out the extremely sociopathic behavior of the male lead, we find out his parents are dead and he is denying the one true love he ever had, so instead the viewer is supposed to care about this guy because the writers threw in some childhood trauma. In this day and age, who really has time to build nuanced, round characters anyway? So then the hunky dude goes to his brother's wedding and colossally fucks up everything as much as he possibly can, after which his dead playboy uncle returns in ghost form to show him what a tool he is, a la Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol. Of course, he learns his lesson in time to put everything back together and make the poor lady fall in love with him again, and suddenly everything is platinum and there is, once again, justice in the world.

As the credits rolled, my mom remarked,

"Now, if only every idiot womanizer got visited by three ghosts..."

But I wasn't thinking about the womanizers. I was just thinking about the womanized - the tools of the sex-crazed, the victims of deep-seated insecurities and parental issues. I wondered about the women who sleep with men like that and cry when they leave in morning. I wondered which of those - the oversexed swine or the helpless damsels, that is - deserved to be pitied less.

During my senior year about a year and a half ago, I went to a party at a fraternity my ex almost joined. It was like any other state school kegger at a Greek organization; co-eds ambled about from dim room to dim room holding plastic cups of beer that was only free for the women the "brothers" wanted to sleep with, while hip-hop music blared from the speakers in the semi-finished basement over the squeals of wide-eyed 18-year-old girls. I drank fruity jungle juice in hopes of rendering the whole night tolerable, only to discover no one was interested in conversation with a frumpy pledge's girlfriend. I went to the living room - oddly, the least occupied room in the whole house - to sulk, and a gaggle of young women emerged from the basement. An artificially dark-haired girl with a pixie-cut approached me. She had a tan even though it was January, and she had the appearance of someone who hadn't always been overweight, but had only very recently and rapidly grown chubby.

"Whoever he is, he's an asshole," she said to me with a sympathetic expression as she sat down next to me on the couch.

I looked back at her and managed a weak smile. The poor girl. It wasn't a "he" at all. It was this poor, self-conscious thing with her too low-cut shirt and heavy eyeliner. It was this group of girls, for whom the unreliable attentions and flirtations of fickle, self-absorbed 20-year-olds either made or ruined their collective evening. I was that girl once, and arguably in that moment still was (after all, I was extremely bitter that no man was interested in talking to me beyond obligatory pleasantries because he neither found me attractive nor had hopes of getting in my pants).

I left the party - drunk and depressed - with my sober and loving boyfriend, hopped on the back of his motorcycle, and wrapped my arms around him as we rode through the windy cold to my apartment. Snuggled under the comforter in my bed I tried to articulate my reasons for spending the better part of the evening on the couch reading magazines and glaring at people, and he told me I was reading too much into the whole experience. He then fell fast asleep moments later, snoring like all the other bastards lucky enough not to be burdened with excessive negative thoughts in the middle of the night. I sat up in bed - still drunk - and wallowed in pity for myself and pity for those girls and pity for everyone in the world who would continue to do stupid things just because they were insecure. This is the way the world is, I thought with deep despair. I cried in the dark like a self-loathing sot, wrote about how devastating my revelation was, and finally closed my eyes.

I was not visited by three ghosts that night. I did not begin any lasting life changes in my brooding. It didn't all tie together in an unimaginative and predictable denouement. I have just since settled into the realization that this is, in fact, how the world works. There is no shortage of awful people willing to inflict harm on others, however it is those who are discontented with themselves who allow such offenses to take place. That is what bad romantic comedies and bad frat parties and long nights have taught me.

My mom refuses to watch depressing movies, and says that their purpose is to be "uplifting." She does not want to be frightened or disturbed by cerebral screenplays and trippy montages. She also believes in justice and people getting what they rightfully deserve. I watch movies to see the world how it is: shitty and chaotic. Somehow, I find this cathartic, while neat endings make me physically uncomfortable. Sometimes these differences feel so vast.

Nonetheless, I found myself watching the whole movie. I enjoyed the jubilant redemption at the end, even if there was no payoff whatsoever. In moments like these, the huge gaps between me (with my fucked up view of the world) and everyone else don't seem so huge. This may or may not have been the best gift for Mother's Day I could have given to someone who sometimes appears to worry about my unrelenting cynicism.

Or, if not, the brownies hopefully helped.

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