Don’t Weaken, No Matter What
by Georgia Hardstark
It wasn’t until the end of the movie, during the scene where Little Edie is infuriating her mother by ignoring her pleas to stop singing, while Little Edie flirts with the camera and dances around just out of reach of her mother’s cane, which is now being swung by the owner of said cane in a vane attempt to shut Ms. Beale up, that I realized that Little Edie isn’t crazy. It was at that moment that I suddenly, completely and fully, felt all the sympathy in the world for the younger Beale and realized, with a few bad decisions and enough of a psychological beat-down from the one human who’s capable of delivering such, my mother, that I could end up just like her.
I knew at that moment that I had to watch Grey Gardens again. When I initially watched it, you see, I saw both women as equally crazy, and the whole documentary as scenes from a nuthouse. But with that scene, as Little Edie flits and twirls through the room, setting up breakfast and fetching items as her mother demands them – all the while berating her daughter for singing – I realized that Ms. Beale was doing what she could to preserve the sanity she had left in the only manner that worked: driving her mother crazy.
I learned this was an effective means of retaliation a long time ago. Somewhere around 5th grade I stopped idolizing my mother and saw her for what she was: human…and a bit of a nutty and volatile human, to boot.
My mom is scary when she’s angry. She’s a lovely woman when she wants to be, but truly terrifying when you have Wronged her. Aside from vowing never to be like that towards my future children, I realized that it was best for my psyche to avoid fights with her at all costs. When it dawned on me that it drove her absolutely mad when I laughed as she yelled at me, or pierced my own eyebrow, or the most anger-inducing thing of all, spoke under my breath, the fighting in my household all but stopped. She still got angry with me, of course, but reacting to being yelled at by barely look up from the TV, or putting a hardcover book down the back of my pants so that, when spanked, the spanker would hurt her hand (no, seriously, I did this), always left me with a feeling of being in control.
Edie hints at a life away from her mother, and the viewer can almost see her living a messy but exciting life in New York City. A little apartment in a brownstone with a record player constantly on, tacky scarves draped haphazardly over lamps, and a parade of flamboyant gentlemen with pencil-thin mustaches dropping by for a drink throughout the day. Sure her life would be in a bit of disarray – she’d probably be broke, inevitably be caught up in some drama or scandal, and, let’s face it, still slowly going a bit crazy, but we can picture a different person than the one she’s become at the Grey Gardens estate, a person who could even find that Libra husband.
Instead we find Edie ruminating about what could have been – the husband that never was, the trips not taken, the life that could have been if it hadn’t been for the circumstances she was faced with. Or maybe I’m taking it too personally. As I write this I’m sitting in my little apartment, listening to the whoosh of the Hollywood freeway outside my window, perfectly content with not seeing or talking to anyone for the rest of the night, hell, probably for the rest of the week. Happy being in the company of my Siamese cat with whom I share little conversations with, cringing every time the phone rings, hoping that I won’t have to turn another friend down so that I could stay tucked away in my little corner of the world. They’ll stop bothering to call eventually.
Grey Gardens scared me, because I could see a bit of myself in Little Edie. When the photos of her as a young girl, an intensely beautiful girl, panned across the screen, I found myself willing that Edie from the past to run away. What could she have been, had she realized her own potential and asserted herself as that “staunch woman” she assured us she was, the one who didn’t weaken, “no matter what”? But a lot of nerve I have, ruminating over someone’s lost future while I whittle away the last of my twenties at a desk job that sucks the very soul out of me – and a writing career that I’m sure would materialize, if I had the chutzpah to devote more of my precious free time to it. Was Edie scared of the same things I am?
Failing at the thing you want so badly, despite your best effort? Wondering if that the old adage of it being better to try and fail than not to try at all is utter bullshit, because once you fail at the thing you convince yourself you want and need, what else is there? Little Edie’s incorrect quotation of Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” speaks louder to me than the actual poem itself.
Two roads diverged in yellow woods,
and pondering one, I took the other,
and that made all the difference.
But the quote I liked more, the one I wrote down on my tattered yellow notepad the moment I heard it was one that endeared me to Little Edie from the beginning of the film: “You can always take off the skirt and use it as a cape.” Dear Readers, I always want to be the sort of person who would transform another garment into a cape. I don’t mind seeing myself in Little Edie, I just hope I take the other road.
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
The hair makes the man in No Country for Old Men.
Venus and Serena remind us of the future.
John C. Reilly’s beautiful singing voice.