The conservative philosopher Hobbes describes a world which needs a central authority, a society without this was like a body without a head. Society, according to Hobbes, needs a king, a Pope or a God. Without a central organizing authority society could not stand, became sick and fought itself. Hobbes, like the liberal philosopher Locke has some truth to his thesis. My strong, hyperactive cousins needed a head to their kingdom. Our parents were off finding themselves, I think; be it as free wheeling Republicans, unchained from Protestant self-effacement or as feminist divorceés experimenting with sexual freedom and encounter groups.
My mom showed her disapproval of small town conservatism with many discrete acts of disobedience; a peace pendant, a continued allegiance to her ex-husband’s atheist tenets and a fanatical commitment to family planning. It didn’t occur to her, as it did me at the time that this could be understood as an existential critique of her brother’s children and at times, even her own.
Wrong place, wrong time. We; my mom, my brother and I were good foils for the inner conflicts of the socially conservative yearning for objects of disdain or exemplary moral decay; my mother, corrupted by east coast intellectuals and divorce; my brother, weird and feral, an eight year old unable to sit still or cease pontification on Bobby Fischer or Karl Marx or Picasso. Me, too young to choose a side but already groomed to dispense with princesses in favor of the runaway or vagabond. From our arrival in Whittier, my mother and brother wanted nothing more than to escape this judgmental place. I was torn. My grandmother’s suburban complex–built during the depression with a swimming pool and patio garden added later– was where I learned an algebra of meaning: reading in Grandma’s living room was the formula. Outdoors was the alchemy of a semi-tropical environment where fantastical flora and unnatural fauna invited a paradoxical belief in worlds larger than our confined and dissolute suburban life.
My mom would have been stymied by the idea of her going back East after
the divorce; The divorce wasn’t what she wanted but she was desperately
glad to be out of the snow, formality and isolation of the east coast. On
many levels, she was determined
to leave the cold behind.