In the course of my routine stroll through literary fields, I typically stay within the bounds of a few genres, mainly history or political theory. On occasion however, I may allow myself the vague impulse snag and pick a subject far outside the traditional realm. This presents something of a danger for me, as books can range from short and tolerable to long and brutal, or even those curt varieties which seem to endure past the life of a thousand generations. Still, there are times when I stumble across a perplexing title that, in its bizarre fashion, turns out to be wildly endearing,
The latest iteration on this front is Punch Me Up To The Gods, a memoir by the author Brian Broome. Even compared to others, the text is an odd choice, in that the author is gay, black, and a recovering cocaine user. Not exactly my go-to content creator profile, but strangely enough, beyond all its lurid degeneracy, the story was relatable on a level completely unexpected. As it turns out, Broome’s perspective during his childhood reminded me of my own, particularly in regards to the way he viewed the idealized American family structure on television.
Whereas Broome’s own home was a warzone of violence, alcoholism, and hatred, the flickering box offered a different angle. He watched shows where husbands loved their wives, and wives adored their husbands. Children were the light and joy of their parents, who never seemed to lack an ability to express love towards their offspring. Grandma was there to make cookies and be sweet at all times, while money seemed to never be a matter of concern. In short, Broome associated goodness and love with white people, similar to the author of I Love Yous Are For White People.
If only they were right. Though I can’t lay claim to the same degree of instability and abuse experienced by Brian (apart from much shouting), the visage of television provided a suggestive model that I looked at with some curious longing at the same age. In my family, “I love you” was a rare, almost endangered, utterance. It was more often replaced by positive actions, themselves welcome, but still distant from the speech dropped so readily on screen. Those other families. The ones who seemed to get it, for whom fitting in was a matter of natural course.
And then there was the grandma persona. Kind, open, ready to bake up batches of gingerbread and provide a reassuring voice. Never harsh, always gentle. A stark contrast with what I knew. My grandmother, for the time she was around, maintained a stalwart crabbiness and judging personality that would cause you to walk on eggshells around her. What you ate or said (or the manner of speaking), or even the way you smiled. Everything was grounds for scrutiny and condemnation.
In fairness, such behavior came from her own difficult childhood, imbued with poverty and struggle. So it felt wrong to wholly judge her back, though I admit to at many times deliberately avoiding her presence out of a desire to not call down the wrath of the “good old rage days” upon my head. This defensive strategy worked for the most part, but of course you never saw it on T.V. Again, normal people didn’t do that, because they had normal grandmothers.
I suppose my experiences growing up have prevailed to some degree and influenced the present day. My usual inclination is to be relaxed about what others think or do with their own lives, yet I cannot deny that at times I look back to the serialized family or current Instagram-styled behavior and just wonder. Are they not living the right way, like a better version of the Truman Show, whilst my own reality is a pale substitution, just “looking in” on harmonious perfection?
Perspective, always perspective.