This is something I need to do! It certainly isn’t funny, not meant to entertain. Some facts have changed in the eleven years since I wrote this. If I were Rupert Murdock, I’d print this in one of my zillions of newspapers simply to clear the air. I’m not. This is MY blog and the post is angst-ridden and self-indulgent, but dammit, here it is.
“Dear Mother: May 1999
I can’t call you Mom any more, because the word implies an intimacy we didn’t have. I wrote one of these to Daddy—it’s around here some place—and it brought me, to use a tired word of the day, closure. (Cold word, that.) It brought me to my senses. Writing that one last letter to Daddy put him just where he belonged all the while: in his place, in perspective, out of my way and my mind.
I’d like to do the same for you. For myself.
This letter is not going to be about YOU. That’s what the whole fucking burden was about: YOU. I wore your disappointment inside me like a flak jacket, like a full metal jacket, like a strait-jacket: ME never good enough. Our relationship was always about YOU.
Before I go on and leave you completely behind, let’s talk about me. Yes, I was big and awkward—in the same delightful way colts and Great Danes are–in the ways my Granddaughters are. They are tall, leggy, long-torsoed, graceful, wonderfully-made children. They are like my grandsons in all of these spectacular ways. I could never see myself until I’d gained some distance and saw the artifacts of my life: my children, my grandchildren. Fully being themselves. One way or another, fully me.
Maybe it is like when you looked at me, maybe you saw yourself: pregnant at 18, married at the point of a shotgun to a man who was made to marry you, but would not live with you. Did you see yourself—baby boy farmed out to some family member—with another guy in the only intimacy you knew—legs in the air in the back seat of his car, only to become pregnant again? When you looked into my oval, slightly cross-eyed face, did you see your failures—your flaws—your moral deficiencies—and find a place to place the blame?
You can see, can’t you, that my life, my value, my being is not about you?
Yes, I’m different. I’m not whatever it is you idealized. I don’t want to be that—although I bought into your psychopathology for a long while—hating myself because I wasn’t whatever you wanted—because I wasn’t the template you laid over me, then found me lacking—it was easier to cave in, to agree that I like the mythical her more than the actual me.
How do you know that I’m not the mythical “SHE”? You don’t know me. What makes me laugh? My favorite color? Was I afraid of the dark? Did I sing myself to sleep, as a child? Rock myself? Did I suck my thumb? Can I wear wool? Am I allergic to chocolate, or feathers? Do I like to read? When I was late in learning to read, was it because I was dumb and “stubborn as an ox”, or, as I discovered when I was 35, was it the fixation disparity that prevents my eyes from focusing together, that caused the problem? Am I creative? Do I like to paint, to write, to sew? Are my chocolate-drop eyes too much like my father’s? When you looked into them, did he look back?
The deep cut on my hand while washing glasses when I was 12–did it leave a scar? Did all those nights spent on oak pews, the slow fan blades spinning up in the top of the sanctuary peak, did they bear fruit? Did I come to Jesus? Did Jesus come to me?
Do I still have freckles? Did I learn to swim? Can I speak a foreign language and balance my checkbook? Do I have memories worth thinking about, or do they make me flinch? Do I have good taste? Could you have had something of my father by loving me? Or, maybe, something more of yourself?
Sorry; you made your decisions uninformed. Before all the players were even here, you had decided Butchie was your blue-eyed boy, meant everything to you. You decided that Gary and I were excess baggage. Now that all of the men you threw open your legs for have come and gone, as it were; now that all of the men at whose jokes you threw back your auburn head and heartily laughed have had the last laugh and are gone; now that your cleverness, your tight skin and firm body, your self-assuredness are long gone, might you like to revisit those decisions? Now that your beloved only child came to your aide when your 4th or 5th (?) husband died, hoodwinked you into signing over your house, your car, your bank account and moved his neo-Nazi wife and her unstable children into the home you spent your life earning—now that he forbids contact with anyone who might incite you to reclaiming your life—now that you are sagging, colorless and old—what do you think now? You see, Mother, we need all the love we can get in this life. This surely must be a sad realization for a woman who repeated behaviors, expecting a different (read: better) outcome each time.
I won’t get over having you as a Mother, but I need to move on. Spending my life sorting out yours isn’t what I want to do. That would mean that my life was an extension of yours, just as you thought. It isn’t.
From this point forward, my life is all about, ta da, ME .
No, I did not suck my thumb. I did learn to comfort myself with food, which eventually I unlearned. At night, I put my thin little foot on the pleasant cool of the iron bedstead and, setting a rhythm, pushed ever so gently until I rocked myself to sleep. I did that every night.
My earliest memory is a happy one: I am a baby sitting upright in a flannel-baby-blanket-lined cardboard box, right in the middle of things.
I remember being carried on Granddad’s shoulder through a snowstorm the winter after my first birthday; we were catching the bus to California up at Raymond Graham’s drug store where the Greyhound Bus Line stopped.
I remember my fourth birthday. A watermelon chilling in a #3 washtub full of ice blocks and water. I cried for a cake with my name on it—where did that notion come from—Uncle Junior pulled his pocketknife out and carved my name and Happy Birthday into the melon’s slick green skin.
I loved running. Running until I almost didn’t need to touch the ground, making great, long strides so I was carried swiftly forward, the way a rabbit runs cross a field — more flying than touching.
For years—when we lived in Wellston—I was 8, 9, 10, 11 or 12—hundred of times, I had a recurring dream that a German Police Dog was snarling, throwing slobbers, snapping—and I could fly just high enough that he couldn’t reach me if I pulled my legs up against my belly in a tight ball. Then he would catch the ties of my dress and try to pull me down. It took all my strength and will to urge myself higher and higher, just out of reach so he couldn’t kill me. Then the dream would be over. I slept, exhausted, night after night.
I loved singing and talking. Loved listening to family stories around Grandma’s supper table where I learned telling stories and tales.
I still do. I take no pleasure telling this one.
My children are wonderful—not only the one you took time to know—but each of them. Mitch is the constant older brother, taking care of everyone—a good son and father and husband. Doug is a gentler spirit, but with plenty of backbone. A patient father and long-suffering husband, he writes music to ease his soul, loves poetry. He is careful with detail. However, he’s an awful packrat. Christopher loves to organize and sell: loves talking people into doing what he wants them to do. He, too, is a good father and is good to his father. He wants what I’ve always wanted: cash in the bank, blue skies, chicken on Sunday, and someone worthwhile to share life with. India is complex—and fragile—and for all the doubt I had about her marrying Jason, he does ask a lot of her. Who knows, maybe he isn’t a worthless bastard. She is loyal, as are they all, devoted, affectionate. She is everything to me that I longed to be to you.
Nevertheless, healthy people seek healthy environments; meaning: places they are safe and will grow. I am not safe with you and your only child; I’m sorry for the choices you’ve made; but it’s still goodbye. Goodbye to what never was. I don’t need or want anything you have. I’m sorry your life hasn’t been better. It’s unfortunate you didn’t let it.
It turns out, then, that love is a decision and I decide to give my love to the people who inhabit my days—my family, the poets and other writers whom I’ve come to love and who have insisted I give my best.
Equally, happiness is a decision—and I decide to be happy with the funny-looking, too tall, funny-boned, smart, generous, compassionate person I am. I decide to be happy with the man of my youthful days, David—deciding that his flaws, if he has any, are his concern. Not mine. He snores. That comforting night music of long marriage helps me find my directions in the dark.
In putting you aside, I wish you well. My benediction asks that you receive a greater mercy because you have greater need, that God–if there is one–will shield you from what you have missed so your final years will not be years of regret. I pray something will protect you from your beloved son and give you peace. Moreover, that I will forget that I was never what you had in mind. Until we are in eternity, when we see whatever eternity turns out to be,
Your once and future daughter,
A few updates:
Mother died in 2005. She was buried in an undisclosed location.
Her only child, Raymond Lester Qualls, Jr., died 2010, friendless.
Jason did prove a worthless bastard. India kicked him to the curb and has since married a man who adores and deserves her. Bravo
Chris has remarried. He & the woman of his dreams have given us FOUR more tall, delightful grandchildren (see previous description). Luscious.
I’ve grieved NO MORE for either my father or mother.
Life is good!
2010-12-26 » Kate