The Soap Opera

Written by   Elizabeth Reed
Jun 10 · 3 min read 

As a teenager I thought my strict Portuguese parents’ aim was to make me look as ugly as possible. But their ultimate goal was getting me to the altar, still a virgin.

They failed miserably.

Dad: “You’re not painting your face.”

Mom: “No makeup until you’re sixteen.”

On my sixteenth birthday my mother gave me a sad 1950’s style flip-up compact, with a mirror, a flat disc of face powder and powder puff. Who used a compact in 1974? I divulged nothing about the cases of makeup in my school locker.

. . .

Dad: “Bikinis are indecent.”

Mom: “There are plenty of nice one-piece bathing suits.”

I chose the closest thing to a two-piece, one that would become a trend twenty years later for post-childbirth women, the tankini. I hated the boy-cut style bottoms and high neck tank top. The only redeeming factor was the bright color, orange. We went to Portugal that summer. As I lay sweating on the beach in my swim armor, the Portuguese women went topless. My parents relented.

Mom: “Okay, you can buy a two-piece — but no cleavage.”

Dad: “And no lower than your belly button.”

I stuck with the tankini.

. . .

It was no surprise my parents were “disappointed” (cue: painful sighs and shaking heads) that I was traveling to Belize, WITH MY BOYFRIEND. My father visited me at my apartment, alone.

Dad: “Betty Ann — ” (Oh did I recognize that tone of voice, reserved for some egregious action like moving out at the age of 26, instead of staying home until I married.) “You’re lowering your standards. Your mother and I are ashamed to tell our friends.”

Me: “You don’t have to tell them.”

Dad: “And how do we look if they find out from someone else?”

Me: “Dad, I’m an adult. What I do doesn’t reflect on you.”

Dad: “You have your priorities backward. You’re taking the honeymoon before the wedding.”

I was 31 years old.

. . .

Fast forward a dozen years. I’m married and have 2 children. When visiting, my father wants to show me the new Portuguese channel he’s signed up for.

Dad: “Now I can get the news directly from Lisbon.”

He settles into his recliner and thumbs the remote.

But the news is over and a Brazilian soap opera pops up instead. The screen shows the silhouette of a house in the dark. A yellow light clicks on and raspy voices weave through the window. Breathy kisses, whispered naughtiness, the sound of a zipper like a DJ scratching some vinyl, a man’s voice saying take it off, snaps being undone and clothes thrown onto the floor, a woman’s voice saying lie down, then deep-lung gasps and trembling moans.

I sit frozen on the sofa, biting the insides of my cheeks, until I can’t hold it anymore. My father must have been doing the same. We roar with out-of-control laughter.

When I can form words again, I ask, “So this is the news report?”

Things change.

. . . 

Elizabeth Reed is a musician, author, political activist and traveler. She is writing a memoir about her adventures with her husband.

The Foreigner Blog explores the comedic side of being an immigrant, children of immigrants, and diaspora. Our experiences are often clouded in dark and painful realities, but here we find the light and the levity. Welcome!