Based on the events clouding Momo’s childhood and the way I described her tendency to cling to objects, you might get the impression that she was shy, retiring, sweet. A woman who, though she didn’t have any children of her own, (surely you noticed that) made her campers feel safe and secure. Maybe you picture her with a large cushiony bosom and a halo of tight gray curls. In the deep of winter, she’d drink chamomile tea while knitting a chenille scarf.
If childhood events dictate personality then you’d be right, in which case we’re all slave to the past. What if how we respond to a flat tire, a sale on brown diamond stud earrings or whether or not we can tell a good joke, or even remember the punch line to it, is pre-wired? What if at all your hand-wringing about not being breast fed as a baby, loved sufficiently as a child, encouraged and bathed shaped your personality the same way that icing determines the taste, texture and relative deliciousness of a cake? To put it another way, what if we’re all born the way we are regardless of say the toxic atmosphere in which we’re raised?
Consider Momo. While she does know how to knit and happens to fit snugly into a full D-sized bra, Momo could best be described as a balls to the walls type of gal. At camp or in the hallways of her apartment building on the Upper West side, Momo can be seen sauntering around in her robe. If it’s past nine pm or anytime prior to eleven the next morning, Momo delights in shocking her neighbors or campers with a flash of her long thigh otherwise hidden inside the folds of her red flannel robe. She laughs then with delight as you cringe or look away. Sometimes she wears bright red lipstick and might remind the casual observer of a cross between Rosaline Russell circa “His Girl Friday” and Sharon Stone slowly uncrossing her legs in “Basic Instinct.” And yet she runs a sleep away camp. She’s single, in her late ‘50’s and aging well.
At camp she’s instituted a bi-weekly tradition of Wild Wednesdays, were anything goes, within reason. She grants herself the same latitude. On Wednesdays, Khalid brings over a dinner of mansaf or some other Jordanian delicacy. He tries to get her to eat halva but she’ll have none of it. Though Khalid commits adultery every Wednesday night, with his wife’s blessing (she’s happy to be rid of him) he’ll never violate his religion’s injunction against drinking alcohol. Momo loves drinking a fine scotch, neat (why dilute it?) at the end of the day. She firmly believes in the evils of high-heels. Nonetheless, she kicks off her shoes as if her Tom’s or Merrills where squeezing her toes blue, plops down on whatever flat surface will support her and sips a jigger’s worth of top shelf scotch. It is her way of saying “day is done”. At first, Khalid tried to change her ways. He was appalled that she would allow scotch to touch her lips, let alone swallow it. He was appalled that he’d sleep with such a woman. Resigned, he now insists that she brush her teeth before they have sex.
When they first met, Momo made it a habit of accompanying her campers on the toe path that led to the new deli sitting on the intersection of Route 109 and Youngstown Road. She’d drink a frozen mug of root beer with her charges and rant about this or that. Drawn to the dark, mysterious stranger behind the counter who had a family of wide-eyed children bustling in the back room, she lingered. Gradually, the two became friendly. His children grew up and left home long before Khalid and Momo exchanged anything more than pleasantries.
In the first flush of love, Momo had a hard time restraining herself. She looked for any excuse to swing by for an emergency this or that. During the year, she stopped dating, stopped accepting new invitations on Match.com. After all, she had Khalid. At long last, here was a man who didn’t run from her, who loved that she towered over him and completed his sentences (even if she was generally wrong). Gradually, she came to realize that Khalid would never leave his silent brooding wife and that her mother, in particular, would never, ever accept her dating a Muslim man.
She had no choice but to own it.
(Photo: Tim Duch)