The Lovers of Discordance

October 24, 2011
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My mother and father met through a disagreement. He was, and is, a devout Muslim. She was, and is, a devout Protestant. They were both attending a lecture on theology.
From the moment they met, they argued. They argued about religion. They argued about philosophy. They argued about politics and music and books and TV. In between rebuttals and passionate outcries and the occasional string of profanity, my father asked my mother out on a date.
They argued about what restaurant to go to.

They are the kind of people who can debate with vigor and passion--about anything. When my mother gets going, it really is quite beautiful to watch. She’s a small, tough, weedy woman with hair bleached the color of corn silk and skin the color of cream, and she chugs up her opinions like a soot-blackened, over-determined little steam engine. My mom is religious and has been since she was twelve, when she claims to have seen God in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, although it’s entirely possible she’s joking. She deadpans to the point of outright lying, although she doesn’t see it that way. But however she got there, my mother is the kind of religious person who believes in a hippie Jesus who loved everyone, which seems like the best thing to believe, in my opinion. My mom’s a bit of a hippie herself. Every so often, she’ll let slip some piece of reminiscence involving transsexual beat poets or something, and then clam up when she notices I’m listening because she does, on occasion, try to be the Proper Mother Figure.
Still, even though she is the most accepting person—she’s accepted gays and atheists and Jesus and doesn’t care what the mainline church thinks—she did her best to convince my dad that his religion was wrong. I don’t think he minded in the least, considering he did the exact same thing and they both knew neither of them really meant it. I’m not quite sure how it works, to tell the truth. Their words roll off each other like oil on water.

By the second date, they had moved on to other topics, God knows what. Some couples kiss; my parents pummel each other with words. They beat each other to death in debate and they fall down laughing. They argue about anything and everything, even though really, they’re on the same side.

For a long time I couldn’t imagine them marrying. My father seemed too stubborn to propose and my mother seemed too contrary to accept. It happened somehow, though, because they have the certificate to prove it.

My mother introduced my father to her family soon after they got engaged. Grandmama says she didn’t know what to think, what with the way my parents talked to each other. Still, she was a wise woman, and she saw clear as water that they loved each other and there was nothing she could do, or should do, that would get in the way. So she grew to know my dad, and the same thing happened when Mom met his parents.

When they found out I was swelling in my mother’s stomach, they didn’t know what to do. How would they raise a child when they couldn’t agree on anything? What religion would I follow? My mother said that since she would be the one cooking me in her belly for nine months, I should take her religion. My dad disagreed. The solution came soon enough—why not all of them?

When I was born I was a lump of browned butter, with molasses hair.I looked like my father’s side, but I had my mother’s cheeks and mouth and hands. She says, at least. My dad says I have his aunt’s face. Her eyes, certainly, a pale kiwi-green. Still, though, I think they’re lying. When I look at my baby pictures, I don’t see my mom or my aunt or anything but a baby. Pudgy, red, crying and crinkled.

My parents had not forgotten their plan, and they raised me on religion. All of them, true to their word. They read from the Bible and the Quran, the Book of Mormon and the Torah. They taught me about Confucianism and Buddhism and Taoism and Hinduism. Hell, they even taught me about Sky Kingdom and Pastafarianism. But at the same time, my parents whispered slyly to me, talking up their favorites. It was a game to them, because deep down they both knew I would believe what I would believe, and be none the worse for it. And so somehow, I never felt torn between Christianity and Islam.

I chose neither—or rather, I chose all of them. I actually think that there is only one religion, and we’re all following different faces of it, the same way we’re all one people, but have different looks and languages and customs, and so it makes me sad when I see fights about religion—that aren’t my parents’, of course. It’s when people have stewed in their own hate for so long, they’re as blind as the creatures that live among the rocks of underground rivers. Thinking about violence, these twisted cruel acts committed in the name of God—it makes my head boil and myheart feel sick. I’m sure everyonefeels sad and filled with anger, but it’s even worse—it’s ironic—when you believe they’re really on the same side.

I’ve told my parents this. I tell them everything I think, as long as it’s interesting. They do the same, except not so much about sex or drugs. And then my parents will argue, but never with me—only with each other. Some couples ask where they left their keys; my parents argue.

Many people are perfectly horrified when they find out what my parents are like. They call it abusive, unhealthy, offensive, and wrong. I think it’s more like the old man down the hall who hates everybody. He’s sort of mildly racist and sexist and misanthropic. He can’t stand the young or the old, men or women, artists or scientists or even the people he freely admits are just like him. He shouts insults at everyone, in a kind of general, good-natured outrage that nobody really takes seriously, because that’s not the point. I’ll take him some cookies or something every so often, and he huffs and cusses quite politely, really. He calls my mother a shameless hussy and my father a milk-livered lout.

There’s not much you can say to insult my dad. He’s a tall, broad man with gentle eyes and rough hands. His voice is like a slow moving river and everyone likes him. Everyone trusts him. He’s ferociously clever and can be quite cutting when he needs to be, but most of the time he’s calm and reasonable. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him truly angry. My father reminds me of a boat tied to a dock—bobbing up and down with the waves, but steady and sturdy and safe. He goes with the flow, because he doesn’t see any reason to fight against the weirdness. He embraces it, which is probably a good thing. My dad is a duck, or an iceberg—calm and steady and manageable on the surface, with a lot going on underneath.

The way we live—my parents and I—isn’t like anyone I’ve ever met, and I live in New York City. There are plenty of characters here. And every time I see my parents yell about the best way to deal with the oil crisis or who the NCAA Final Four will be, there’s this look that passes between them. Like they respect each other as equals and worthy opponents. Like they’re just having a laugh at the world’s expense, because even if no one else understands them, they do. Because it works. And even someone like me, who has the romantic experience of an angler fish, can see that they love each other. And I hope that I’ll have that, someday.

For now, though, I’m happy to bask in their eccentricities.

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