The Family Way …or Why I Have a Thick Skin (But Am Crying Inside)

My aunt busies herself in the kitchen, chopping vegetables, rinsing pots and pans, ready to make soup for dinner, among other dishes. She comes out to wipe the table for what seems like the fourth time in an hour. Something on her mind? Since I’ve arrived I feel as though there’s been some question or statement playing on her lips. My aunt is a straight shooter who considers herself tactful, which means whatever she wants to say will eventually be said, sometimes sooner than you think.

I’m lying on the carpet reading a Taiwanese beauty magazine, aware of enormous discrepancies between the way the models look and the way I look on a day-to-day basis.

“Betty,” my aunt says, wiping vigorously at someone’s sticky fingerprints. Probably my cousin Larry’s. He’s a slob. Not yet thirty but balding, paunchy, bow-legged. He’s got a master’s degree from Purdue, which in French means “lost” because when the French who and who first arrived and saw nothing but cornfields that’s how they felt. Larry has a Master’s degree in Finance or something about as interesting from the University of Lost. Larry works 9 to 6 then comes home, eats dinner, showers, plays video games on his phone or checks stock prices on his computer. Sometimes he will chat with his father, who is like an older, more put together, more religious version of Larry. The elder is in bed by 10PM. They are both about as exciting as vegetarian compost. Larry also has a girlfriend who is much more attractive (not even on a sliding scale), and who is two years older than I am, and who, you can see it in her eyes, is ready to get married. To Larry.

“Hm,” I reply. Interesting liquid eyeliner technique.

“Betty,” my aunt says again, and this time she stops wiping and looks at me, “I’ve been thinking.”

“What?” I look up. I don’t think I will ever perfect this liquid eyeliner technique. For one thing, I do not possess liquid eyeliner.

“I can’t stand it anymore,” she throws the rag down on the table, “You and Karen really need to find boyfriends soon. Neither of you are getting any younger. I worry every night that you two won’t get married.”

I look at her. The eyeliner technique now seems crucial.

“Don’t…worry,” I say.

“But I do!” My aunt picks up the rag again and starts to wipe down the chairs, which are of lacquered wood. Fingerprints show up easily there too, “You know back in my day women your age would not only be married, they’d have one or two kids by now.”

“Well, it’s kind of different now.”

“Yes, I know, but still, time is running out. You are ladies now, not girls. Time to make yourself pretty and concentrate on the few fish still left in the pond.”

Jesus. I look at the magazine filled with pretty young girls with perfect makeup and hair, probably only twenty one or something, with hoards of guys chasing after them. I think about Larry, who most likely does not even know that his girlfriend takes a half hour if not more to apply her makeup and do her hair, or that she even wears makeup or does her hair – he probably thinks she just looks like that…naturally. I think about Larry’s long singledom which I thought for sure might be permanent and then my surprise when he brought home a very pretty girl with absolutely nothing wrong with her except her curious taste in men and remember, Oh, right. Larry has a good education, a decent steady job…and right, and Larry is a man. I look at my aunt, who though with my uncle is hardly a billboard for storybook romance, is still somehow an advertisement for a happily married woman with purpose and a sense of pride and achievement. All good things, completely and utterly fine to have been gained from a strong marriage. And instead of looking at the blank television screen where my reflection would only stare dully back, I reach for the remote and turn it on. HBO. When in need of tuning out, HBO.

A new movie is just about to start – and as the opening credits begin to run with familiar names laughing snowball from hell: “Bride Wars.”

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