So for those of you expecting a humdrum positive conclusion to this vacation: well, welcome to the Fujishima family, I guess.
There was absolutely nothing pointing the way toward such a calamitous conclusion to our vacation. Sure, my father and mother got impatient with each other in the car as they both tried to get us to Maine---but then, they always tend to get impatient with each other when it comes to directions. Otherwise, we all seemed to be having fun, enjoying the beautiful sights of Acadia National Park, taking pics and videos, enjoying the infectious panting of our enthusiastic dog Dusty. It was pretty much all pleasantness, as far as I was concerned.
What in the world happened? I dunno if I could tell you how exactly things transpired yesterday, because at the time my parents were arguing with each other about plans made and plans not made for the day as we drove back to Bangor from a boat ride around Five Islands, my brothers and I were too busy watching Millennium episodes on our little TV in the car. So I only caught snatches of their angry discussion, but those snatches were enough to alert me to some serious unrest going on, especially when we found ourselves back early at Howard Johnson Inn instead of at the Bangor Folk Festival, as we had originally planned.
From the best of my knowledge (I haven't really bothered to confirm details with either my father or my mother), tempers started flaring up when Dad realized that, after our boat trip, we'd only have about an hour or less before the folk festival's last day of festivities concluded. Apparently he had really wanted to see what was going on at this festival. Mom, however, most likely expressed a clear lack of interest in it---and whenever Mom doesn't like something, she assumes no one else will like it. As usual with any major argument between these two, though, that was only a springboard for other issues: money issues, issues of who's in charge around the house. When the argument continued after we had returned to the hotel for the night, Mom even had the audacity to bring up, at the most inappropriate moment, the issue of my father's admittedly problematic smoking habit (Dad: "I'm getting out of here"; Mom: "Go! Go puff your cigarette!")
One of my younger brothers, Masao, left my parents' room while the two were still bickering, but Michow and I sat there listening to them stand off against each other. It was gutwrenching, but I couldn't leave, I guess because I have kind of a personal stake in these kinds of arguments (mostly against Mom, to be honest). Eventually, my mother, disgusted, ordered my dad to just take the kids out to eat and leave her alone; he did, and we followed, although I was pretty somber most of the time we were eating out (we went to a Japanese restaurant, Ichiban). I really wanted to say something to my dad---to comfort him---but somehow I just could never work up the will to say anything, I guess fearing that whatever I'd say would be inadequate.
The worst was yet to come though. Later, after we had all returned from our trip out to eat, my mother (and my grandmother, who didn't say much except telling my mom to leave it alone) came to our room and tried to explain her side of things. (Convenient that Dad isn't around to explain his side of things so we could perhaps decide for ourselves who held the upper hand in this matter.) Usually I would probably let her ramble on and on and not say anything, but that night I felt like I had to try to offer something constructive, to try to be helpful and sincere.
Maybe I should have rethought that strategy. I said to Mom that it seemed to me that these kinds of problems---problems of scheduling and problems of who actually wants to do what---would have been avoided if, instead of only my father and mother were planning this trip, we had all taken part in the planning process. I suggested that we should have made a lot of decisions on this trip as a family unit. I regretted it instantly: her immediate (and, in hindsight, should have been predictable) response was to implicitly accuse me of hypocrisy in that statement by pointing out how uninvolved in family matters in general she felt I was. As usual, she laced her biting criticisms of me---heck, of all three of us---with condescension, and this time, instead of simply sitting there and taking it, I felt like I had to fight back.
So all the old issues came right back into that hotel room, but with a twist that I wasn't expecting. I think she revealed her true colors last night when she basically stated out loud that, because she was the one making pretty much all the money around the house, she deserved to have the final say in most matters, whether it be which restaurants we go to (which is none, since she believes in the goodness of the cheap buffet), which places we'll go to see, etc. Power of the purse. On Saturday evening, in looking for a place to eat for dinner, we were all headed toward the front door of a diner restaurant before Mom suddenly decided that we should all go to eat a fried chicken buffet at a nearby KFC, mostly because it was cheaper and, as she said, "served salad" (like the diner place wouldn't have served a salad at all? Call me naive, but I find that hard to believe). What gives her the right to make that decision for all of us? Just because she "makes all the money around the house"?
Her gall in making such an outrageous (at least to me) claim stunned me into two realizations. First: this is the mother I've been struggling so mightily to try to win over as far as garnering her support for my still-controversial (around here) career path? Frankly, that kind of attitude verges on the dictatorial; why should the fact that she makes most of the money around the house entitle her to have final say in most of the decisions? Just because, as she believes, she's the one paying for everything? Whatever happened to family? (Well, I guess we ungrateful sons pissed that away when we decided not to take a great interest in the affairs of the family, eh?) In the past, I've always tried to see things her way, try to balance my anger at her with an understanding of her position; but with that statement, I think she pretty much forfeited any sympathy she might have had with me. Honestly. Even when she was trying to run my life (well, that's the way it felt to me), I always had to give her grudging credit for having her heart in the right place. But I dunno if I can take her seriously now, knowing that, to me, she has finally laid bare her manipulative heart.
Second: there's only one way that I can get out of her overbearing clutches, and that is to more or less cut all financial ties from her. She thinks she has control over me just because she pays, say, my credit card bills? She thinks, because she's paying for my college education, she should have a say in determining how I spend my four years of college? Eventually I'm going to have to handle my own finances on my own; might as well start doing some of it now.
I would try to detail some of the other points that came up, but frankly, I feel like I'd get too exhausted and demoralized from the effort. The important thing to take away from it, I guess, is that she decided, "No more vacations, if this is the aggravation I'm going to get out of it!"
Alas, that wasn't the end of it. The next morning, she woke us up at 6:30 a.m. and suggested that, if I so wanted to take more of an active involvement in our trip, I should sit in the passenger seat in the front row of our car and direct my father home. When my dad found out about this, he responded, "That's not the point!" This led to more yelling in the car as we headed out of the hotel after handing in our keycards; even Masao couldn't resist telling Mom to "shut up" as she continued yelling at Dad and I. I lost it myself, saying "You think you rule everything around here?" She misheard me and thought I was accusing her of ruining everything (although I think she did, for the most part), and she got loud and defensive yet again.
The rest of the 12-hour-long car ride was, for the most part, quiet. In the end, she did try to help in directing us home a little bit, and I let her, even though I remained in the front seat throughout. If I was charitable, I would interpret that as a sign of goodwill, of trying to "make up." Today, however, she briefly brought up the whole row again when she added a new voice to the mix: my grandmother's. According to my mother, my grandmother---the one from Taiwan who's still here and who I can speak to too deeply because of the language barrier---offered this pearl of wisdom: if I were Kenji and my mother was paying for a trip to Maine, I wouldn't complain.
"Makes sense, doesn't it?" Mom said.
All in all, I can't say that this trip was a total disaster---for two-thirds of it, it was genuinely relaxing, and I for one was having fun. But, far from what my mother claims to have intended for this trip---"Who cares about the folk festival? When you remember this trip ten years from now, you'll remember Acadia"---I think I'm going to remember the bitter yelling as much as I do the pretty sights and sounds of nature in Acadia. Somehow, the yelling hits so much closer to home; it's probably part of the reason why I've felt strangely depressed so far today.
Look: I'm not going to claim that I'm a perfect son or anything. I'm not one to dispense with the "I love you's" and the "I appreciate you's," especially if I don't mean it. And, in spite of the great effort my mom has admittedly made over the years in order to help us out, put food on our table, etc., I've never felt it. So I've never really said it all that often; none of the Fujishima men have, really. And if one needed more evidence how bitter my mother really felt about it, her outburst Sunday night and Monday morning was it.
Am I coldhearted? I really wish I had the heart to apologize for years of what she probably feels is a lack of appreciation of her efforts. Maybe I'm just pathetically justifying being a total asshole to her, but there's just something else that bothers me about that disgusting sense of entitlement she exudes: she seems to assume that, just because we don't say anything, we must not appreciate her. Now look, I understand that perhaps all mothers need to feel that their sons and husband appreciate her. I'm not blind to my failure to come through in that regard.
But, in my heart, I feel as if all the bad things she's done to me has outweighed the good, to the point that now, I can safely say that I really can't stand being around her anymore (and she's off from work this entire fucking week!). She's the one that has almost succeeded in giving me feelings of nausea whenever I even think about watching a movie in her presence, knowing that she thinks so little of my ambition to become a film journalist. She had a huge hand in allowing my acne to flare up again because she felt she was soooo much smarter than my previous dermatologist, figuring that he was really wasting my time and her money by asking to see me every month even after my acne was calming down. (I've restarted a different skin care regimen with a different dermatologist; it looks like it's working a little bit.) In short, I blame her (at least in part) for a lot of things: the fact that I feel so inadequate about facing real-world challenges; the fact that I have such low self-esteem regarding my career ambition; and more.
Hearing her explicitly admit to all of us that her opinion mattered more than anyone else's because of how much she was doing for this family---paying the bills, mostly---was perhaps the last straw. Forget about trying to get on her good side; forget about trying so hard to see things from her point of view. Mom, believe me, deep down I still appreciate all you've done for me---for all of us---in helping us stay afloat. Really, we owe you our lives up to this point. But anyone who's willing to flaunt her power in the family in such a ruthless way---well, I think such a person deserves only conditional respect at best.
Yeah, as you can tell, I'm pretty angry about this. But what does it matter? As with all family arguments, everything is left floating in air until the next outburst. Nothing gets resolved at all. (In that respect, the late sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond got family life absolutely, harshly right.) The best thing to do is just get out of harm's way. I should have realized this long ago.
In the interest of fairness, however, anyone who's willing to disagree with anything I've said---say I'm being too rash, say I'm making her too much of a one-dimensional enemy, or even go so far as to say that my mom might actually have a point in what she said (and I've tried the hardest I can to say it in her terms, without exaggeration)---by all means, feel free to do so. At least that's way more than my mother would grant to anyone holding a point of view different from hers.
By the way, congratulations to Robert Cochran, Joel Surnow, Kiefer Sutherland, and the rest of the marvelous cast and crew of 24 for their Best Drama Emmy victory on Sunday night. It was about time this show got some recognition for the gripping and groundbreaking work that it is---even if, for my money, the show really deserved the award three years ago, for its still-unequalled second season, when its geopolitical commentary and high-octane thrills were still relatively fresh. Still, this was probably one of those "make-up" awards: to make up for past neglect. Better late than never, though, right?