[an error occurred while processing this directive] Beauty,Spring 2005
Fifth Web Papers
On Serendip


Kat McCormick

Sitting on the Greyhound bus riding from Baltimore to Philadelphia, I realize the old dream of the "industrial north" is a carcass now: I pass abandoned buildings and warehouses and factories. The hard-tacked shiny new metal, the productivity which used to define a region, has decayed into a rusting hulk. The people here no longer emit the same glittering, bustling pride. Transformations like this occur daily, slowly, the minute reductions of time compiling to change entirely the surface of who we are.

At seventeen, I fell in love for the first time. Though that love was beautiful, this is not a story about that love, or any of the women and men I have loved since. I only mention it because it was with a girl, my best friend- the detail of her gender a fact which my parents found revolting. When I told my mom, she threw the typical "my daughter is gay" fit: screaming, yelling, throwing lamps, even pulling out my hair. I say typical, because in the time since, I have heard so many stories like this. For me, though, the experience was distinctly atypical. That was the first of two times in my life I have heard my mom raise her voice, and the first and only time I have heard her curse. She said that she doesn't want to be a part of the lesbian exploration of my life, that it is too painful for her, that I should call her in eight years, when it's over.

I wonder when I'm going to be able to laugh off anything about my mom, which I almost certainly should.

Two years later, she decided to tell my dad. I was living with him, it was the summer after my freshman year of college. Afterwards, he sat heavily at the table, contemplating.

"I'd rather you be a leper than a lesbian. You're better off losing a leg, or half your brain cells," he said. He aimed those comments at me, like a javelin, feeling the weight of them before hurling them across the room. Each designed to make me feel ashamed, shocked by his disgust, crumpling under the pressure and strength of it. Each comment did knock my breath from me, coming under the guise of unconditional love.

I was determined not to let him see my emotion, and determined to as best I could not feel it myself. Exacting a form of rigidity in myself was the nearest thing to escape I could find or afford. Perhaps this is just the drama of being young and feeling things rub raw against you- when you are young, you have not yet developed calluses. I'd say it was the curse of youth, but I'm beginning to think that "settled" is an illusion at any age. My parents seem no more settled than me.

On the days of that interminable summer, I found it helpful to think that I was concieved with the intention that I would one day be the only judge of what is truly best for me. I continue trying to realize and validate that intention, the right of being born. You were born, and so you're free. What distinguishes humans from other living things is our ability to change environments and the intelligence to know what power that holds.

My parents wanted me to transfer out of Bryn Mawr to a small Christian college in Texas. They refused to pay for Bryn Mawr, saying they could not financially support my schooling at a women's college, an environment which they saw as enabling my sexual decisions. Financial abandonment was just another form of emotional dissertion that was also threatened. But while I had defense against thier opinions, money was another matter. As my Dad said, "He who has the gold makes the rules." I decided that no matter what else happened, I needed to get myself some gold.

Three years later and miles and miles in debt, I am set to graduate a week from now, from Bryn Mawr- and institution which I chose, and an education which I paid for. Coming to celebrate this achievment with me are my parents. Ultimately, we have come to an understanding: we respect eachother for the strength of our convictions, and our determination to act on them. They are proud of me for achieving what I wanted to achieve, despite that it is not what they wanted for me, and that they did nothing to support it.

I was talking with a friend last night about what, if anything, is beautiful in this story. She asserted that it was beautiful because it was a story of redemption, of a parent child bond that lived through the ultimate questioning of whether a parent's love can, or should, be unconditional. We learn to forgive each other for being human, to forgive the volatility and melodrama of it.

I am not sure what constitues a beautiful life, but part of it seems to be in the stories you tell about it. Consider "La Vita E Bella" (1), where a man's deception about the horror of the holocaust to his son allows his son to remain alive. The story, and his belief in it, are beautiful. Similarly, I want to reject thinking about these events in my life in terms of thier underlying disgust, hate, and hurtfulness. I want to construct, and believe in, a story that flips everything over in order to see that the driving motivation is love. This parent child love is sometimes so strong that is can warp those who hold onto it, pushing or pulling you into a new form. Likewise, it is a love that will continue through this warping, and hold you together as you reinvent yourself anew.


1) "La Vita e Bella". Dir. Roberto Benigni. Perf. Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi. 1997. [an error occurred while processing this directive]