It soon became a wrestling match of the wits – one snappy one-liner following another. We thanked each other for the little things: for the resident athlete’s three blaring alarms, set to 6:00 each morning; for the midnight theft of chocolate-covered almonds; for the stream of show-tunes sung at full volume (oh, you do a capella? We had no idea.). In short, for the little absurdities only your closest friends endure.
“Hey, Hayley, your chiropractor called – yeah, he just wanted to say you don’t actually have a spine,” my friend crooned as she recalled my, ahem, reflective (indecisive?) nature. The room burst into laughter, fingers snapping with approval. It was funny, and it was true. But this collective wit served as only a light veil for criticism, a term often reserved for harsh professors and bitter peers. If Yale is a community of scholars, why indulge in bad Regina George impressions?
A roast is an exercise in forced social transparency – it’s an aggressive loudness, not in sound but in thought. It is a communication of the inner narrative, unmuted and uncut for the rest of the world.
A week earlier, I had sat on a bench outside JE and called my mom for the first time. We had relied until then on monosyllabic texts and kitschy cat photos to verify the other’s existence. She had called me, once, when I was in class, to confirm that I wouldn’t be coming home for Thanksgiving. I texted back “yes.” When she answered my call, after the first ring, I heard squeals of delight and a voice several octaves higher than its usual timbre.
Ten minutes after exhausting the howareyourclasses and howareyourfriends and howistheweather, my mom stops to blow her nose. In the silence, I am left to imagine the scene: the tissue falling to the ground, settling atop a mountain of other tissues. I see my mom, pressing her flip-phone to her right ear, leaning against her bedpost with her head hung and a ziplock bag of Twizzlers in hand. Feet crossed, without a bra. I smell the aged cat piss that hangs in the air around her. I hear my grandfather’s cane glide across the wooden floor downstairs as he refuses to close the bathroom door, even when he shits.
I hear and see and smell all of these things, and so does she. But, before either of us can verbalize them, we drown the other in small talk’s cacophony. I listen desperately as she described her new diet for Quentin, our cat. (Only one low-sodium meal a day, and no more “human food” at dinner. Results forthcoming.)
I wait for my mom to ask why I called. She doesn’t. I pause before hanging up, and mumble the question I’ve had for thirty minutes.
“It’s dad’s birthday today, yeah?” I ask.
“Yeah,” she says. Another pause.
“How old would he have been?” I ask.
“…fifty-seven,” she says.
Over the summer, I had read Roberto Bolaño’s 2666 while perched on my childhood bed. I remember Bolaño writing about semblance — this idea that we are left only with a funhouse likeness of reality, a distorted after-image and nothing more.
This idea terrifies me. I want reality in all its ugliness. I want my friend to call me spineless, because I am (sometimes). I want my mom to talk about more than our cat. I want to know how old my dad would have been, if he had made it past my fifth birthday.
So I propose a toast to the roast. To ugly truths draped in humor and to relationships bound by honesty. Giving thanks has never been so satisfying.