They have been talking to each other since we arrived at the restaurant, totally oblivious of my presence. I'm eating without appetite or pleasure, trying to disguise the weariness, the enormous boredom, I feel since I laid my eyes on their faces two hours ago. Sometimes I look at the tables around, just for a second, searching for something to distract me; someone equally alone and miserable (an ally of some sort: a distant and silent one but, nevertheless, an ally); in search of a sympathetic look or a supportive sign, a reminder that I’m not alone. Meanwhile: they’re talking, I’m forgotten.
But then, the most surprising thing happens: I start to talk, interrupting my mother at the middle of a sentence. She is complaining about some neighbor she caught on the elevator doing something inadequate or strange or repulsive and, suddenly, completely overwhelmed and confused, she stops herself, looking at me almost in shock, probably asking what the hell is happening, since when can she be cut off by me. Could it be an emergency?, she probably wonders, fearing some unexpected and unpredictable news.
“Do you remember when I was a kid and you used to took me to the park?”
They look at me, confused and bewildered; just as confused and bewildered as I am: this is, in some way, also a surprise to me. Why am I talking to them, for what purpose? Why don´t I just shut up, like I have been doing all my life? Why isn’t my mouth filled with food? What will I say next?
“I ran all over the place, wandering around in the swings and slides, or by the little lake, playing by myself, looking and searching and learning, imitating all the other boys, always wondering when would I start to feel excited and delighted and happy, just as I was supposed to.”
They’re still looking at me, astonished (at least, I think they’re astonished); looking for some clue, expecting some sort of explanation, trying to remain calm, to act reasonably. Maybe realizing, for the first time, that they don’t know anything (anything that matters) about their own son?
“And you were always spinning around me, remember? Always shooting at me with your cameras, both of you with your big and expensive and shinning and precious cameras; not just one of you, like the parents of the other children, but both of you had cameras pointing at me, pursuing me all the time, recording my shyness, my awkwardness, my loneliness. And I felt… Well, I suppose I felt ashamed and embarrassed but, most of all, I felt puzzled. Because I couldn’t understand the purpose of so many pictures, the reason of such commitment and intensity and obsession, as if you were in some kind of mission.”
Now, they’re listening, really listening; and remembering. So, I keep talking; I can’t stop myself; I can’t and I won’t. I’m talking to my parents, finally; and liking it: because they´re silent, they don’t know what to say, how to react; they’re just listening to me. And it feels good to taste the power of my own words.
“You never talked to me, never smiled at me, never asked me if I was tired or thirsty or bored, if I needed something. Instead, you just took pictures of me: hundreds and hundreds of photos. And then, when you were done with photographing, or maybe when your memory cards were full, I don’t know, you… Do you remember what you did?”
The restaurant is (seems to be) very quiet, very peaceful; nobody argues, nobody laughs, nobody moves, nobody cares. But, after all, what are all these families doing here, eating in silence and looking at the walls? Why they insist in remaining together, if there’s nothing more to say, to ask, to listen? What are they trying to prove? Well, I think to myself, maybe restaurants are some kind of public Prozac for family relationships: everybody’s watching so try to stay calm, to behave, to be reasonable; just take it easy, darling, we can (we will) argue at home, where nobody will listen or judge, where we can hurt each other in so many ways, for so many times. Now, please enjoy this small break and don’t make a scene. Ok, darling?
“Well, you just forgot about me. You went to some quiet place and talked about the pictures you took, comparing and discussing them. Do you remember? I do, I surely do. I remember how you stood there, laughing and talking, completely forgotten about me, showing each other all those photos, probably choosing your favorites, deleting the worst ones. You never showed them to me, you never showed me my own pictures. Ironic, isn´t it? Never, not once. And you never asked my opinion about them, either; they were your own business, just your own business, not mine. Those pictures represented me, they replaced me; they were, they seemed to be, a little, just a little, more important to you than me. In a way, you loved the photos, not the model.”
I look at them (first at my father then at my mother and then at my father again): and I smile. Can a smile hurt? I expect so.
“You talked about my pictures and about me, over and over, endlessly. Yes, I know you never got tired of talking about me. But you never talked to me. Never.”
I shut up, finally; there´s nothing more to say. I look at them as I remember those sunny Sunday mornings at the park; and I see myself running (sometimes falling: but never crying), I see my parents with their cameras, shooting at me (as if they were in some kind of hunt; hunting me down); I see them holding their cameras with care and almost tenderness, deleting all those failed pictures of me: pretending (fantasizing, believing, wishing?) that they were really deleting me from their lives and not just some photos from their cameras.
So: here we are, after all these years, at this silent restaurant. And now, what happens? As I wait for some reaction (no matter what, just some kind of reaction; anything), I pick up my fork and resume eating; yes, eating: putting food in my mouth and swallowing it; just that, nothing more; repeating mechanic gestures, like a robot; repeating animal gestures, like a puppy or a little cat; wondering, as always: am I just some insignificant part of the scenery? Will I always be?
“Anyone wants dessert?”
I look at my father, asking myself if he heard a single word I just said. And then, not a second later, I decide that it doesn’t matter, nothing really matters anymore (never did?), and I try to relax, I impose myself the obligation to relax, to let it go, to forget everything, to enjoy this little public Prozac. Then I look at my mother, who’s certainly wondering about dessert, and I start to think, to think very very hard, as if my life depends on my decision, which dessert to choose. What will it be?