"I still don't see why I have to wear a tie. I'm not applying for a job and all it's doing is cutting off oxygen to my brain."
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"You have to wear one because my parents expect tonight to be formal. Sunday dinner is very sacred to them, and they notice the smallest inconvenience in a person's personality if they don't dress appropiately."
"Out of all the damn days of the week you had to choose Sunday as the one when I get to meet your parents."
"Please, Sunday dinner with them is beyond atrocious. They decided the day, not me. Comb your hair and let's go. If we're late it won't look good."
Sandra kissed my cheek and rushed into the next room, scavenging around for a little cross neckless that her parents got for her when she was twelve. I didn't understand how this woman, so open minded and acceptive of diverse beliefs, has put on a charade for her parents the better part of her life. She wasn't even very religious. Sure, she believes there is a possibility of a higher being to exist, and she prays on certain occasions, but for the most part, she didn't get involved in much religious activity. Now me on the other hand; I'm the liberal athiest every die hard republican in America wants to place on death row. But for tonight, I'm a church going, God loving, Bush supporting southerner that Sandra's parents have always imagined me to be.
"All right, let's get going." I said, already exhausted before the night began.
"Cheer up hon. It'll be quick and painless, I promise."
We had to speed through taffic to make time. Nearly running two red lights on the way, it's a shock we weren't pulled over. The cops around here bust speeders like they're having an inside competition.
Once we arrived, I started to feel nauseating, and my armpits began perspiring as if I was running in a marathon. I'm not a very nervous guy, but once I came to the realisation that these are the people I have to ask permission before I can marry their daughter, I knew I couldn't fuck up. Even though we've only been dating sixth months, we were madly in love, and the thought of growing old with this woman felt like the ideal life.
"Babe, you are pouring sweat!"
"I think I'm having an anxiety attack."
"Here," Sandra handed me a handkerchief "wipe yourself off, take a deep breath, and once this is all over, I'll give you the best sex you've ever had."
Damn! This woman always said the right thing. I was succumbed to her overpowering spell, possessed by her ability to make me do anything she wanted.
After we sat in the car a few minutes, and I dried off, we took our first steps out of the car and towards the house. No matter how slow I walked, the house approached me at amazing speeds. Finally taking our last step onto the porch, Sandra opened the door, and a gust of anticipation and anxiety had re-entered my body. Thankfully I didn't start sweating like a circus monkey again, but I was having uncontrollable shakes. The thought of having to shake hands with Mr. Johnson only caused me to shake more.
I stood and watched mother and daughter hug and kiss, silently waiting for father to expose himself. And before I was able to introduce myself to Sandra's mom, there he was, towering before me.
"You must be Ryan. Nice to meet you." He extended his monstrous gorilla paw and gripped my hand like I was dangling off a cliff.
"Nice to meet you sir." As we shook hands he gazed into my eyes, either trying to intimidate me or to weigh the amount of respect I had, wondering if I would look at him or look away. I stayed fixated on his eyes, and he let go of my hand.
"This is my wife, Linda, and my name is Paul. Dinner is served, so I say we begin eating."
"Sounds wonderful father, let's eat."
When we walked into the dining room I knew I had to start impressing the parents, so the first thing I did was pull out a chair for Sandra. She thanked me, I gave a nod and took a seat next to her. The plates, silverware, napkins, and food was already set out. Everybody was seated, and I knew what was coming next. Paul bowed his head down, and we all followed accordingly. I took Sandra's hand, and Paul's monstrous paw, but this time his grip wasn't firm nor intimidating. Paul led the prayer, and at the end we all said "Amen" simultaneously.
I proceeded to keep my mouth shut until spoken too, and awaited Linda and Sandra to serve themselves. They passed the bowls around and Paul and I started in on them. Once the food was served, silverware was picked up and everybody began chowing down. It stayed quiet for a while, an awkward and uneasy quiet, until Paul cleared his throat and wiped his mouth with a napkin.
"So, Ryan. Sandra says you're into web design and graphic design."
"Yeah, I make websites for small businesses around here who want them. I try to locate small shops who don't have one and then I make a proposal. If I set up a site for them I get paid monthly as long as they don't want to shut it down."
"We don't have the internet in our house." Linda butt in, with a high and mighty attitude "I hear a lot of bad rumors about the internet, and it always makes me feel uneasy."
"This is true. The internet has a lot of downsides to it, but it is a very vital tool in the progression of mankind. Being able to process information at incredible speeds and being able to purchase everything you need to live on, online. It's changing a lot of things at a very engaging rate."
"I don't think people should sit at home all day and buy stuff online. Nobody goes out in the sun anymore! Summer days just pass by while our beautiful sun stays neglected." Linda added, once again with an attitude that only her opinion matters.
"Well, I was just giving an example of the many things you can do. I would safely assume that the church you attend has it's own website." I really hoped I didn't just invoke a debate.
Unexpectedly Paul took lead of the conversation. "I agree with Ryan. Even though it has many downsides to it, if great things like churches are using the internet to their advantage, it must be reliable in some sense."
"Exactly, Paul. You have to try your best and ignore the flaws, so you can see all of the good stuff this wonderful technology is bringing to the world." I joined in, doing my best to defeat Linda is a non-hostile manner.
"The only thing I don't see eye to eye with you Ryan, is the fact that you are creating a career out of it. How do you plan on making good money in the future with a job where you have to search out small shops to generate business?"
I should have known his agreeing with me was only an excuse to come up with another question. He actually has the nerve to disrespect my career choice; this made me feel very uncomfortable and agitated.
"Well I plan on working my way up to bigger businesses. Web design is a difficult, but rewarding field, if you can become successful through it. Many large corporations are willing to spend hefty sums of money for a nicely designed website."
"I don't know, Ryan. This internet mumbo-jumbo sounds more like a hobby than something you can depend on as a way to live."
For a while the room was quiet again, and we continued eating. I was slightly dissapointed that Sandra never once joined in the conversation, and attempted to defend my argument. It didn't look good on me as a caring boyfriend, or her as a nurturing girlfriend. I starred downwards for a while, trying to stay focused on completeing my meal, but once Paul cleared his throat and wiped his face with a napkin, I knew another awkward conversation would ensue.
"So, Ryan. Who did you vote for in the 2004 election?"
"I didn't vote." Before I realised what I said, Sandra looked at me shocked, and Paul was silent. Then it hit me like a pebble being launched out of an air rifle. I had just openly admitted my political views.
"What do you mean, didn't vote?" Paul exclaimed, with a soft yet temperamental voice.
"I. . . Just couldn't decide which candidate was suited for office. Nothing peeked my interests."
"Then why not just re-elect Bush? It's best to keep the president who we went to war with, so we can finish it with him." I could tell Paul was becoming rather angry. Even though his voice stayed soft, his attitude was sharp and harsh.
"Well, I didn't exactly believe war was appropiate in the first place." I had already let the dog out of the bag by telling him I didn't vote, so I decided I might as well unleash the pound.
"Wasn't appropiate? They attacked our country and they killed American civilians. What else has to happen before it's appropiate to engage the enemy? And Sandra, you told me Ryan supported Bush! Were you lying to me?"
"First off Mr. Johnson, if you want to remain civil about this, I'm going to ask you talk to me respectively. Second, yes, we were attacked, and to this day we still haven't convicted the man responsible for it. And third, Sandra had no choice to lie, because if she told you anything about me you wouldn't approve."
"Well this is an outrage! My daughter's a liar, and on top of that she is dating a worthless hippy!"
"Keep your daugther out of this conversation. This is between me, you, and your biased opinions on politics and religion."
"Excuse me? Biased opinions on religion! What are you getting at son?" There was nothing I could do at this point to stop Paul from yelling.
"The way you look down on society for not living a religious lifestyle. There are many different cultures in this world Mr. Johnson, and not all of them are Catholic, but they still maintain a humble life of peace and good nature. God doesn't make the man, the man makes himself!"
"Leave my house immediately! I won't have your. . . Your hippy blasphemy disrupting my family dinner! You've corrupted my only daughter, and have made a mockery out of our lifestyle!"
"I would be honored to leave, but sir, it isn't me who made a mockery out of your lifestyle. It's you who made a mockery out of yourself, and the people who follow the same beliefs you do."
"I said get out!"
Sandra stayed seated in her chair, obviously too bewildered by the night's outcome, so I took the initiative of grabbing her hand and pulling her out of the house. Paul stood next to Linda, with his arms around her, watching me take his daughter away from him. I helped Sandra into the passenger seat, I got into the driver's seat, and I took off. We were free.
We didn't talk for a while, until Sandra burst into tears.
"I'm so sorry Ryan, I should have known something like this would happen. I'm such an idiot, what a horrible idea. I don't know how they have this power over me, I don't know. I'm so sorry Ryan, please don't leave me."
I took empathy on my poor girlfriend, coming to the new found realisation that she had to endure this her entire life. She hid her face in her hands, too ashammed to look at me. I put my arms around her shoulder and nestled her, until she calmed down.
"I have no intentions of leaving you honey. That never even crossed my mind! It's not your fault the night went bad. It's my fault for slipping up, I should be the one apologising."
I kept on driving, one arm on the steering wheel and the other around her shoulder's, but her face remained hidden amidst her hands. I couldn't help but think that the power she possessed over me, must have been gained from her parents. The only difference was that I admired the power she had over me.
We stopped at a red light, and I took her hands away from her face. She looked up at me me slowly and dramatic, like we were in a movie.
"Uh. . . I wanted to wait for this, but I can't wait any longer. Things didn't go as I planned, so I decided to make some changes."
I pulled a ring box out the pocket of my fancy dress pants. It wasn't a very good idea to haul the ring everywhere I went, but I couldn't help it. Anytime I left the house, I'd bring the ring with me, never knowing when I'd ask the question.
"Sandra, will you marry me? I wanted to ask your parent's permission first, but. . ."
"Yes! Of course I'll marry you! Yes, yes!"
Sandra jumped into my arms, kissing me all over my face, hugging me tighter than Paul's grip had been on my hand. I grabbed her by the back of the head and pulled her face into mine. We sat in the car kissing, for what seemed like an endless amount of time, until a car behind us began honking excessively. The light had turned green, so I began driving again. Sandra sat back in her seat with a wide grin on her face, the tears still glimmering on her cheeks. I could only think of how happy I was at the moment, even though a few minutes earlier I was enraged. After thinking about Paul's intimidating and powerful grip when we shook, I took Sandra's hand, feeling the soft, delicate, and loving sensation she always gave me.