My mother-in-law, Ruth, is the sort of person who must fill up a space with movement, or a silence with chatter -- who drives a calm person mad, and a mad person catatonic. She is the sort of person that goes up to my guests at our summer party and talks to them about the benefits of masturbation.
"Karen, your mother-in-law is talking to me about masturbation!"
"Yes. I know...." I say, flipping the chicken on the grill and wishing I wasn't too busy to get shit-faced. "What can I say?"
I am a person who likes the sea, winged creatures floating on updrafts, small frogs croaking unreasonably loudly in the night, and the silence of solitude. And the silence of companionship -- my husband’s thigh pressing gently into mine as we read side by side. A reasonable sort of person, if I don’t say so myself.
The time is the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, the place is my home, the cast is my mother-law-in and myself. My husband is at work. I don't remember where my girls are. My mother, who lives next door in an in-law's apartment, is asleep. And I am alone with Ruth; and she's talking nonstop. She's been talking for hours, pacing about with her head tilted to the floor. And I: moving about the house, cleaning an already clean counter, picking up a stray object, re-scrubbing the frying pan. I am afraid to sit -- lest she devour me with her prattle. Suddenly her talk turns to masturbation. I am fully aware of her feelings on the subject. I scrub the pan harder.
“Ruth,” I say, “I really don't need to talk about masturbation."
"Well." She stops her constant movement. "It's nothing to be uncomfortable about."
"I’m not uncomfortable with masturbation, Ruth,” dropping the sponge to prove my point. “I just don't feel the need to talk about it."
"Well, what do you want to talk about?"
I am panicking in my head, trying come up with something to talk to this woman about -- anything! But, I fail. She commences her movement. I pick up the sponge. The momentary silence is quickly filled with the continuation of her words.
“I knew these two women,” she prattles on. “Two sister’s who lived together. They had a very nice little house. Maryann liked to garden. Jean, she loved to cook. Neither one of them ever married. They were both, however, afraid to touch themselves.”
“It must have been a challenge,” I tell her, with tempered sarcasm, “for them to bathe.”
"No, Karen." She holds her temper with me. "They touched themselves to bathe, but did not masturbate."
I sigh, close my eyes in misery. She continues. "And they both went crazy."
I feel the need -- couldn't stop myself -- from reminding her that mental illness is a biological brain disease and not, in anyway, connected to a lack of masturbation.
And we continued this dance of mother-in-law and daughter-in law. Eventually she went home, and my mother woke up, and my daughters appeared, and my husband came home, and the frogs croaked and the birds were on wing.... But I have yet to fully recover; and continue to feel the need to masturbate, repeatedly, while screaming into a pillow.