Day 15 | Dry as Dirt | Three Snickers Are Under the Dryer in the Basement | Down 5 pounds; 61 to go
My copy of Without a Backbone (Map, I mean) is in Wellesley College’s Book Recycling bin.
Hall wrapped-up the book in the face of recognizing middle age and mortality (some beautifully-written prose). She talked about a river in Greek mythology, called Lemke, the River of Forgetting. She pledges to forget how badly her mother and father shamed her, ostracized her. Then she discusses the hard work invested in building a cabin with her three sons for her residence in the remote woods of Maine. No indoor plumbing and there’s bear tracks on the outhouse.
How could someone so scared of the intricacies (and simplicities) of life, hang out by herself with bears about?
The Lemke River. I can’t forget what my mother did, the breakup. I get older and older and it’s still there.
I was tempted to bring the subject up with my dad.
The 79-year-old, whose body is ravaged by aggressive cancer, was breaking down our yard debris with pruning sheers yesterday and tossing it into a barrel.
[Incidentally, when my dad was first diagnosed with kidney cancer, my mother said to him, “You’re ruining everything.”]
I say to Dad, in a lazy stupor brought on by standing in the hot sun, “Was Mom ever nice?”
The question does not startle him. His mouth doesn’t twitch; no blinking at half-speed.
“You’re mother was very immature when I met her. She was nineteen.”
[The dawning of their meeting in the history books goes like this: “Mom, what did you think of Dad when you first met?” Oh, it was love at first sight. “Dad, what was your impression of Mom when you first saw her?” She was stacked!]
I ask him, “Was she kind?”
“She was very young.” [and stacked and gorgeous]
I step into the shade and conceal my own enormous breasts lacking any harnessing whatsoever beneath a flimsy sundress by folding my arms. Dad’s mincing a tree limb into smithereens. He says, “Her mother and father died two weeks apart. Her dad before our wedding, her mom after. Even the dog died.”
I already know this, I want to say. Gimme something I can dig my teeth into–was she ever ‘nice?’ Like, before her parents passed away.
My mother was gorgeous. She was a popular cheerleader in high school. I used to wear her cheering uniform for Halloween and despite being lean, the waistline of the skirt used to cut off my circulation.
My dad says, “She blew up after having you.”
“Blew up” meaning, got heavy.
I say, “Why, do you think?”
I do know why. She continually grieves and consumes food to kill the pain (the apple doesn’t fall from the tree). There was no therapy in the early sixties to help her. Counseling was only for the very rich of New York City and the mentally ill (of New York City).
My mother stayed in bed for days after marrying my father, suffering profound loss. Near the four week mark, Dad pried her out of bed and took her to the doctor who issued the type of advice that’d have Steinem cocking an AK-47.
“Get her pregnant,” he told my father.
Words of wisdom incorporated into action that buried the grieving “nice” and deep.
On May 8, 1964, four weeks following my parent’s wedding, I was conceived. I know this because I’ve counted the months on my fingers to figure out if Mom and Dad did the wild thing before getting married. They didn’t (or took appropriate measures). The conception fell neatly in the interim between the wedding and the doc’s knock-it-outta-the-park advice.
During the pregnancy my mother deliberated on the chances of delivering a healthy baby and surviving the birth herself.
When she was a teenager, her sister died in labor due to renal failure. The baby got poisoned too. It didn’t make it.
Inside my mother’s womb, her broken heart could not fully replicate my own. When I passed through my mother’s legs and into the open world, my mother rejoiced at the sound of my cries. Crying meant I was alive, her being able to hear me meant she was alive. Two for two. But I didn’t make it into her arms. I was placed in a CCU neonatal incubator, where wired for sound, I erratically beeped and blipped for ten days with the heartbeat of a lagomorph.
Her father and mother and sister continue to be survived by her person. She has not drown (obliterated) the grieving in the Lemke River and moved on. Survival is a central theme for her. She may not know it consciously, but I think it’s what makes her super-critical and at times, a Cat-5 hurricane to reckon with. She needs to be the one in control, have things her way.
In other words, shaking shit up makes her “not nice.”
But hold on.
Why would a mother inflict that type of grieving—the kind that remains in the pit of your stomach, flaring, burning—on a daughter she loves ardently? Knowing the impact and outcome of inflicted loss? Can the threat of almost losing me be mitigated throughout the entire future, the grand scheme of things, by this one single enforced act of self-preservation?
What is our capacity as humans to process and move out of the sting of grief?
What the hell is the trick?
It’s not the River Lemke, not for me.
Not for my mother.
[Note: The river is actually called Lethe, I just looked it up. “Lemke” is found in Urban Dictionary. It’s defined as: A girl that is a total tease. A huge flirt. A girl that asks a guy out to a party and then also invites at least 5 to 10 other guys.]