The other night, I looked straight into my sister’s face and told her she is a total asshole. I said this to her because I was angry – and because she was acting like a total asshole.
I’m the kind of girl who calls it like she sees it.
Why she was acting like a total asshole – which is so accurate a label for someone acting like such a total asshole – is up for debate because what she verbalized and what actually motivated her actions are two very separate things. Deciphering that shit – her real goals and her real thoughts and her real motivations – takes a lot of time and energy, and when only one person in the equation (that would be me) has the want to actually dig through the mess of subtext to locate the actual truth, it’s like you’re digging into a block of iron. You need a hand – or a shovel or a pitchfork or some other kind of farm-like digging apparatus – to get in there, but some people simply aren’t willing to get at what’s real.
I don’t live in the World of Hidden Emotions & Cloaked & Misplaced Anger. The weather there is far too unsettling for me. Instead, I live in the Regular World – and it’s often a strange place to inhabit.
Will my sister and I make amends? I’m sure we will, and I already know it will be me who will finally reach out to have some superficial conversation with her to get back into communication. We’ll also talk about how our mother is doing while she starts her recovery process from her hip surgery.
“She is feeling more pain today, but she slept for two hours. I brought her sushi,” was the text I sent to my sister yesterday. I refrained from calling her a “total asshole” in the moment, because the moment was not about the fact that she had behaved like a total asshole. And since I am not a total asshole, I was able to separate my residual anger at her from the actual situation at hand.
“Give her a kiss for me,” she texted back, and I was almost impressed that she sounded normal. She will be with my mother all day Thursday as she is transferred to a rehabilitation clinic, and that kind of thing is what my sister is very good at. She is a good caretaker. She likes organizing things. She will have my mother set up in her new room and comfortable and will make sure that anything she will possibly need will be within reach.
Look, my sister has some great qualities.
Unfortunately, she behaved the other night like a total asshole.
Again, we will move beyond this moment. We are sisters; we kind of have to let this go. But we will never have an honest talk about it because she will hang up the phone on me or walk into another room if we are having the conversation in person, sweeping grandly from the kitchen to the couch like she doesn’t have it in her to deal with my bullshit.
(Pssst: “bullshit” is the code word for “honesty.” Pass it the fuck on.)
But as I was driving home from visiting my mother last night, I got to thinking that if my life were a reality show, that fight that she and I had would be fodder for weeks and weeks on the show and it would be replayed on the reunion episode where we would both be wearing fancy dresses because nothing says “Let’s brawl” like a good sequin. She would be wearing something pretty and probably flowy and I would be in something short and probably strapless and she would give me a complement like, “That’s a nice dress. Is it new? How do you sit in something so short?” because simply saying, “You look beautiful,” is not something she has ever been able to pull off when it comes to me. And I would smile at her with my mouth closed – toothy smiles are reserved for people who actually like me – and I’d manage to sit in that dress without flashing my clitoris and I’d tell her that she looks really pretty, because she would in fact look very pretty and I am capable of pulling off an honest compliment.
I could see, though, how exacerbated and drawn-out a fight like what we had could become in the hands of crafty producers. The reality of reality television is that the participants are asked to continually rehash something that was hurtful or anger-inducing – and when you’re born human and not genetically created in a mutation lab to become a Real Housewife or an employee at Sur, the restaurant featured on Vanderpump Rules – you will invariably just grow more hurt and more angry the more it is all discussed. And then, as per reality television code, you will be contractually obligated to attend some ridiculous event like a brunch to celebrate some person’s new line of designer cactuses, and you will be accosted in the bathroom and as you innocently try to reach for a pig in a blanket about how you feel being in the same room with your sister after the Big Fight and then you will be told what she said about you behind your back and the whole thing will go around and around until you both skid to a halt months later when the two of you have to band together to collectively hate somebody else.
I feel like the participants of these shows have to know they are being poked and prodded with some version of a cattle prod that was maybe created in a workshop for low-level story editors who work in the genre of reality. They must realize that they are being manipulated and that no normal adult can sustain a fight for so long, what with having to go to work and having to exercise and having to eventually turn off the anger so you can live happily.
But then on the phone last night, I had an interesting conversation with my best friend.
“I have to go,” I told her after talking for over an hour about my writing and about her writing and about what a good aunt her sister-in-law is and how my dog Wookie peed on her pillow while I was at the hospital with my mother and that I thought she really looked ashamed to have done so.
“Are you going to sleep?” she asked.
“No. I’m going to watch what I can only hope is the last episode of that True Tori show, because I can’t not watch it now. And it has moved beyond simply being a terrible show in my mind. It is now a grab-bag box of awful, where each week I think that a person cannot possibly come off as looking crazier and more hunted than she did the week before – and I’m always wrong. Seriously: this show and why these people agreed to film it and what I get as a viewer from watching it have raised all kinds of questions in my mind. I literally wondered if there was a God after last week’s episode. I’m not certain I have ever had such spiritual and existential battles with myself before this nightmare of television programming, but it’s bringing up the big issues. The first, of course, is what the hell is wrong with me for watching? The second, third, fourth, and eightieth are about how such a misguided thought process even develops in the first place that tells you that brandishing your family’s pain and your own inability to so much as drive your kids to school without being stricken by emotionally-induced bronchitis is a great idea.
And I will get back to what Becky said on the phone last night, but first I’d like to include an actual string of words Tori Spelling put together in her mind and then said out loud last night on her show:
“Kate, can I please just have my crown?”
Kate is Tori’s friend.
Kate clearly thinks her buddy is married to a piece of dogshit that has the consistency of diarrhea because every time Tori’s husband says anything, she looks away and rolls her eyes.
Kate is not basing her feelings on nothing; she listened to her friend say again and again that she was married to a cheating-addicted-suicidal-emotionally-crippled dick. See, you can’t tell people things and then just expect them to forget because you have chosen to pretend that you’re wiping it all from your own mind. Willful amnesia is not something you can actually expect from a friend like a ride to the airport.
But Tori, crippled with yet another debilitating migraine, wanted to remove the ice pack from her forehead and put her black feathery crown back on top of her blonde head so that she could head downstairs to where her child’s birthday party was currently being filmed. And, migraine be damned, she needed her crown to make the rest of her outfit (feathery false lashes and huge black wings) complete.
All fairies wear crowns, Kate. Stop being such a bitch.
It was a rough day for Tori, though. After all, she invited to her child’s birthday party the two women she says she has the most complicated relationships with in the whole wide spinning world: her mother and her husband’s first wife.
“Why would you invite her?” asked another one of her friends about the ex-wife.
“What do you mean?” asked Tori, genuinely puzzled that her friend didn’t seem to understand that you make all kinds of questionable choices that will impact you, your husband, your children, and perhaps the birthday cake itself when you are the producer and star of your very own reality show. I mean, why would she not invite the people who gave her the highest levels of anxiety ever measured by modern science to her three-year-old’s fairy themed party?
God, Tori must have thought. My friends are such imbeciles. First I had to deal with the crown thing, and now I’m asked to my face why I’m inviting a woman to my kid’s party after each of us wrote books that both served as the verbal equivalent of punching someone in the throat? Will anybody ever understand me?
Thankfully, her interaction with the ex went off without a hitch. Sadly, the dynamic between Tori and her mother came off as stilted and awkward.
But here’s the thing: I know parent/child relationships are complicated by a bazillion factors. That said, perhaps the whole dynamic at the party felt even more rife with conflict for Tori because she had been asked question after question by producers before, during, and after the party about how weird it felt being with her mother. Could that constant harping on the negative possibly lead to anything positive?
There was more, I guess. Tatum O’Neill showed up to the party. That was weird. There was a pretty cake, but I’m off sugar these days and I turned away from the fluffy frosting like it was made out of ground-up puppy. And there were more fights between Tori and her husband, like the one they had when he decided to hire a woman he met in rehab to be the temporary babysitter for their kids.
Hiring someone with substance abuse issues to be your children’s caretaker? That argument I’ll give to Tori. Her concern there seemed more than valid.
But back to Becky and the phone call.
After we hung up, she was planning to watch the new episode of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, but she sounded almost morose about it.
“I just don’t enjoy the show anymore,” she sighed. “It’s not fun and it’s not interesting. The problem is that these people are so fucking stupid. They don’t fight effectively, and since all they do is fight, I’m left watching dumb people muster up some really bad comebacks to insults. It’s exhausting. Are you still watching Vanderpump Rules?” she asked.
“I am,” I told her with a laugh, thinking about how I would never eat a morsel of food in the restaurant those people worked in because I’m quite sure I’d contract HPV just from being served an appetizer or a glass of water with lemon.
“Okay,” she said. “Then you saw how Jax accused Katie of cheating in front of her boyfriend. And Tom just sat there as his girlfriend was being told that their relationship was a joke and that she should leave the restaurant because nobody wanted her there – at the table she was sitting at first. And all she could say back was some version of ‘You’re a liar, Jax. Shut the fuck up.’ I would have eviscerated and destroyed him. He would be at that table in tears because of the words I would have smacked into his face. I just wish these people were smarter because watching the show would be so much better if they could fight intelligently.”
“I don’t think smart people go on reality TV,” I said back to her.
Now obviously there are some bright people on reality television, but I’d venture to say that most of them are on competition-based shows like Top Chef or Shark Tank or Survivor. But as far as the follow-my-life-because-I’m-just-that-awesome branch of reality, I’m willing to go on a limb and say, at best, 1% of them are members of Mensa. And maybe 1.5% of them have heard of Mensa.
But it’s not just about IQ when I’m making the whole only-stupid-people-do-reality assertion. I could care less about IQ and SAT scores and all that. What I cannot ignore is that being a cast member on a reality show forces you to wade into the ponds of filth that you would normally simply jump over with ease just so you will continue to fight about things you should have already moved beyond. You are forced to relive pain over and over again. And there seems to be no cathartic burst of understanding and acceptance in the process, because there is no resolution; it all has to be hashed and rehashed and then hashed again by others who probably weren’t even there when the whole thing first happened. It’s the definition of unhealthy cyclical behavior, and these people are being paid to remain psychologically damaged.
And speaking of bad behavior, I don’t regret calling my sister a total asshole. Perhaps it wasn’t my most refined moment, but I stand by what I said. And I stand by revealing that I said it. But as far as I’m concerned, on my side anyway, the whole thing is done now. I don’t expect an apology from her. I will not apologize either. I’m not always right in an argument, but this time I was. But we’ll move forward somehow and it will probably be due to the natural course of passing time and our simple desire to just finally get along. And we may not end up getting an endorsement deal for toaster ovens or for a wine-of-the-month club and neither of us will ever snag a Bravo spinoff. But we might just end up walking away with our sanity.