Posts made in December, 2009

The Joys of a Misspent Youth

Posted by on Dec 8, 2009 in Reckless youth | 0 comments

My symbol of my youth was my brown suede jacket. I wore it until the lining was tattered to shreds and it had a lot of bare places on the suede, plus some water spots I couldn’t remove. I bought it when I was in college in Georgetown using the checkbook my Mother gave me. I don’t actually remember when I got rid of it. I guess it was a casual thoughtless farewell, just like I gave a lot of other things I wish I had now. I associate the jacket with places I went and things I did, like sitting on the grass at in San Francisco watching the fireworks explode over the Golden Gate Bridge. I wore it during my first pregnancy until the cold wind of New York became too bitter, and my belly a bit too round. The picture up there is me wearing the jacket and holding my first born on my hip. I remember dropping the jacket on the floor in a pile, right inside the door of a tiny apartment carved from an enormous house on Monument Avenue in Richmond. The room had had pre civil war windows that reached floor to ceiling with curved glass that had been pressed into that shape before my grandfather was born. The kiss I gave the man who brought me there that night wasn’t as historic the house, but it was a milestone in my newly single life.

I still had the jacket when I met my current husband, although it was a bit the worse for wear. Without my mother’s magic checkbook I had been unable to replace it over the years. I didn’t wear it the night we met because even though it was February, the weather was unseasonably warm. I was quite comfortable in my black sweater and those famous purple pants. We went for a ride in a car he hoped would impress me, a less than pristine 68 Mustang convertible, the symbol of his youth. He took me to an artesian well that was set in the center of the city, in the midst of a park. I remember walking along the wall that was three feet above the level of the spring and him stepping down, and then lifting me after him with his hands circling my waist. I skittishly backed away when my feet touched the ground and missed the kiss I’m sure he intended to give me. The car would have impressed me more if the seats hadn’t had an inch layer of dog hair on them, but he only found that out many months later. He sold the car before our first child was born with great wailing and gnashing of teeth. It was something he felt he had to do in order to grow up and accept the responsibility of fatherhood. I never really understood how much the car meant to him or I would have insisted he keep it.

I decided to go shopping for a new suede jacket, but as I walked down the aisles where every type and variety hung in abundance, I didn’t buy one. I admit I was looking for my jacket, the one I tossed so casually aside, and something else that was not hanging in the store, my freewheeling youth. Over the years I have heard my husband lament the loss of the car. I asked him one day not long ago if he would consider buying another one. He got a far away look in eye and turned unusually serious for a while. I knew if he didn’t have that mustache I would have seen the corners of his mouth turned down. “No”, he said sounding sad, “I couldn’t replace it.” I knew what he meant, and I knew why I didn’t find the jacket I wanted too.
I made my nephew a stuffed rabbit when he was a baby. I used scraps I had from a yellow crepe dress, and odds and ends of orange wool and some brown velvet to dress it in a waistcoat. He had long floppy ears, a rakish look about the eyes, and sat alert and smiling on his haunches with a soft and friendly appearance. Who knows what attracted my sister’s child to that particular animal with all the other toys he had in abundance? I’d like to think he recognized the love and time I put into the crafting of the bunny, but we know children have no such concepts. In fact, I made my niece, my brother’s child, a beautiful little rag doll with several changes of clothing, requiring hours of time I did not have. She told me later that she hated the doll. Children are honest that way, so I wasn’t offended. I was delighted that my nephew fell in love with “Rabbity” and would not sleep without it snuggled next to him. One day my sister called me in a panic. “Rabbity” had been lost and was there any way I could make another so her child could get a good night’s sleep? At that point in time the scraps that I had made him with were long gone, and while I did try with other material, the new bunny was immediately rejected. Some things once gone are irreplaceable, like my suede jacket, my husband’s blue convertible, my nephew’s rabbit, and the days when we were young and sometimes careless, spending life as if we were millionaires, never even asking for the change.

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Posted by on Dec 6, 2009 in Angst, anger, anarchy, Death and renewal, Mother | 0 comments

Slamming the door in anger was not allowed in my home. The punishment was to be spanked, and then with deep shuttering sobs shaking my body, I was required to go back and close the door gently. Sometimes it took three or four repeats to make the closing sufficiently soft to suit my mother. I think I was about eleven when I finally learned the lesson that my anger would have to be expressed more covertly. I do not think it was the lesson my mother intended. It was around that age when I started stealing money from one of her many pocketbooks on an almost daily basis. She carried a different one each day, leaving a wealth of change jingling in the bottom of all the others. It was money she never missed, money I did not need, money she would have given me if I had been able to explain why I wanted it. I did not care to explain even if I had known why. I took it and spent it at the drug store on cherry fountain cokes or strawberry ice cream sundaes, often treating my friends too, the ones my mother told me really didn’t like me because I was whatever thing she was annoyed about at the time.

We were at eye level by the time I was eleven but I grew three inches in the next year, making her the smallest, but still the most terrifying person in my world. Although we never spoke a word about the changes happening in my body, my mother’s tight lipped disapproval seemed to increase as I morphed rapidly from child to woman. It was that summer that I finally stood defiant and stared her down the last time she ever dared to punish me physically. I did not sob or even speak. I waited until she was finished shouting her angry triad and hitting me, and then I walked quietly to my room and shut the door softly, just the way I had been taught. Behind that closed door I sat dry eyed and felt the power grow in me.

I became a stranger to my mother that day, as she did to me. It was not that moment alone, but the accumulation of blows both physical and emotional that made me close the door gently, my rage sucked inside. Since that time I have traveled many miles and years from my childhood home, often being self destructive, very rarely turning my anger outward. I never realized how much I let it control me until the spring day in 1994 when my sister called me and said, “I’m afraid I have some very bad news.” Although Mother had been ill, the death was unexpected. None of us believed a woman so strong and fierce could actually die, especially not during what her doctor said was a simple surgery. I was numb inside for many weeks, but pictures of that time come to me in dream-like memories.

My husband drove the twelve hours to the place I once called home. My children sat in the front of the van, frightened, while I lay silent and almost comatose in the back seat. I wish I could say I tried to find words to comfort them, but I was an empty husk, moving only mechanically, unable to even hear their loving attempts at condolences. Sometime later that evening I sat in the enormous bedroom my mother shared with her husband of fifty eight years and listened as my family tried to figure out how to arrange a funeral without Mother’s supervision. No one asked my opinion. I was the outsider, a role I deserved, but there in the middle of my chest I felt the old familiar anger at my mother for bringing me to this place with these feelings. Right beside the anger was the grief for the mother I always wanted, and hidden beneath it all was a terrible guilty relief that I never again had to hear her tell me why I was a failure.

Thousands of people who loved and revered my saintly Mother filed past her casket where she lay so tiny in death. She wore an unfamiliar blue suit, my brother’s choice of clothing. On her cold left hand was the diamond my father had given her for her 50th anniversary and on the right the Eastern Star ring I had never seen her wear in life. My sister had insisted the jewelry be buried with her. Somehow in seating people for the funeral my family and I ended up on the second row, with me on the far end, directly behind one of the giant columns of the First Baptist Church sanctuary, while my father, brother, sister and all their children sat in front. It was only later I realized I had still been praying that in this last goodbye I would somehow finally be a child beloved, cherished, asked to come to the altar rail and receive her blessing. The symbol would be lost on her of course, because kneeling in public was a scorned ritual of the Methodist Church that I had joined despite her objections.

As the time without her has slipped by, I have shed my anger a bit each year, like a snake letting go of its skin in order to grow. In those rare times when I have lost my temper with one of my three children I have done my worst by going to my room and slamming the door. The boys accepted it and left me alone, but it always made my daughter furious to hear the noise, the closing off of communication. I have come to understand that my resolve to never spank my children did not free me of the curse of my own childhood. The slamming of the door is no more helpful in teaching them to deal with their anger than the blows from my mother’s hand. I had to invent a way of showing love, and allowing anger, and letting my children know how amazing they are to me. In those areas where I have done badly I have gone, pride discarded, and asked their forgiveness. Hopefully I have not made them suffer too much because of my ignorance of mothering. I do not want to have to die to set them free.

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