You could say I had three mothers. She was a doting mother to the babies. She was a controlling mother to the children. She was a cruel mother to the teenagers.
When I was a baby, then a toddler, she could be silly, loving, and fun. But the older I got, the more unhappy she became.
I was born happy.
And she seemed to hate me for it.
I sometimes wonder if my mother thought she could give birth to her rescuer. At least I, as the oldest, felt somehow responsible for doing that. But there were five others. Did they ever feel what I did? Did they have the same mother(s) I did?
Thinking about it now, it seems she wanted me, or us, to unring the cruel bells of her past. But she had shrouded them behind a curtain, and she refused to pull it back, to let us see. To know. To understand. Consequently, we had no clue what we were responsible for. But I, for one, wanted desperately to fix it for her. For us. Because the life we were living hovered above the deep end. At any moment it could drop and drown us all.
But what were my mother’s dreams? What had she wanted to be, if anything, before marriage and children entered her life? I often wondered, and from a very young age, whether or not I was conscious I was doing it, I watched for clues. Who, really, was this person who carried me for nine months in her belly?
She often sang softly to the radio, and her voice was beautiful.
In the early years she and Daddy would turn on the radio, scoot back the furniture in the dining room and dance to the music. They were amazing.
My mother was a singer.
My mother was a dancer.
She often would say that my first word was “pencil.” I remember her drawing for me when I was very small, and just learning to master putting lines on paper. Her drawings were charming.
My mother was an artist.
I can remember being very young, a toddler, and watching her put on her red lipstick and fix her hair every work day before Daddy came home . I was in awe. In my mind she was a movie star. A queen. She slayed me with her black hair and hazel eyes, her flirty grin when she looked at my Daddy.
As a teenager, I wondered if any of her talents pulled at her, if that was what kept her in such a dark place. But my mother was someone I could not talk to about deep things. I tried once, and her only response, between drags on her cigarette, was,
“If you keep thinking about things like that you’ll drive yourself crazy.”
Had she driven herself crazy? I remember a time, back when we lived on North Marion Street, that things were very rocky. I was about four.
Mother had a controlling friend who must have been incredibly overbearing. One day, this friend came into our house and rearranged my mother’s kitchen, without asking her. I think my mother was gobsmacked, had no clue how to handle the invasion, and had no idea how to stop it.
She resented this woman, knew she needed to break free, but felt trapped. Mother seemed to take it as if she was not smart enough, capable enough, to do anything. She fell apart. In the end, it seems it was a nervous breakdown.
The priest came to the house several times, and counseled my mother. Things got quiet for weeks, as if someone was sick, or had died. I was so young that the memories are sketchy, but Mother was either put to bed, or had gone away.
When she was ‘back,’ she brought a new normal with her. And things were never the same.
Even now I wonder what happened, exactly, during those months, that caused the shift. Whatever it was, it marks the time when the singing stopped. The dancing stopped. The laughter stopped.
The drinking started.
Mother is gone now. Daddy too. I can’t ask them anything. All I can do, or try to do, is write myself to a place where I find peace.
By writing it down, I sort through the wreckage of the past. I do what I can to organize the broken pieces. I hope to find some pattern, or even beauty, that illuminates like a stained glass window. Beauty from ashes. Magic from shards.
It happens. It happens all the time. And if it exists here in this life, I will find it.
If mother is watching, I pray she’ll help guide me to it. She no longer has anything to lose, if she ever did, by revealing her story. And it is so intrinsically tied to mine, that my story can barely be told, without knowing hers.