The Lilith Blog 1 of 2

October 2, 2013 by

Putting My Mother Back Together

Really, I am just trying to put her back together. The woman I knew as my mother was dismantled, by illness and by fear and trouble, but there’s the person I didn’t know, ever, and I am trying to find her.

I made one phone call, to G, my cousin, the daughter of one of my grandmother’s sisters. I sent one email, to my uncle.  It took me a long time to do this, and I finally managed it in one of those middle of the night seizures of bravery. All you require is one moment of insane bravery, someone wrote. Or at least something that can pass for insane bravery.

The email I wanted to send to my uncle, my mother’s only brother, was something like, “Can you tell me what the hell happened?” Instead, it was kind of desperate, admitting to him that I had never asked her certain questions while she was alive (How had she met my father? Why hadn’t she gone to college after she’d been accepted? What else had happened to her in her life?), and hoping he could tell me something. The specific questions I had had no longer seemed terribly important. Anything he could do to fill out my hollow picture would do. 

The gist of my uncle’s email was this: My mother was pretty and smart and popular. She wanted to dance at parties. She let my uncle borrow her car when he went on dates. She probably did get into college, but he’s not sure why she didn’t go, it was likely because of health or money.

“To this day it bothers me that (my mother) and I didn’t have more time together as young adults,” he wrote. “She worked so hard to provide and never really had many vacations.  I use to dream that when she retired, I would have her come down here for a visit and she could lay out in the sun with a drink and relax, and we could finally have a moment of peace together that she deserved.” And then: “Don’t blame yourself for not asking more questions when you were younger. We all regret the same thing.”

When I called G, she told me to hold on for a moment while she called in Spanish to her kids. I couldn’t hear what she said, but it was probably something along the lines of, “Hold on, I’m telling Chanel about our screwed up family.” (Or it had nothing to do with me. Either one.) We have some things in common, G and I–our disdain for capitalism, our desire to avoid accumulating material things–although we’ve spent limited time together and she’s older than me by decades.  

My mother met my father when she was 25, maybe 26. (“They were incredibly in love, your parents.”) Their wedding had been a big deal, because my father was Jewish–another cousin had just married a C-a-t-h-o-l-i-c. The legend, which is that my parents tried for seven years to have me, is true, according to G. As is the story about seeking an adoption, being very close to the end of that process, and then my mother getting pregnant.

“Your mother was a very beautiful young woman,” G said.  “I always thought of her as being very stoic and handling a lot of pain, but she always made it seem like, ‘Oh, it’s nothing. Everything’s fine’.”

I’m getting closer to a clearer picture of my mother, although I still don’t know what that means. I share her tendency towards stoicism, but then, we both handled a lot of pain. If I keep going forward, finding things out, I might learn that I’ve been lied to, and then I have to deal with those consequences. Or I don’t. This is mine, after all. I started this.

There are other things, which I did not ask about, but were told to me. According to G, there was once a family who was always together, of which she has incredible memories. My great-grandmother made baked chickpeas and brisket and everyone sat around a  table eating them. At some point, there was cohesion and people loved each other. Somewhere in history was the family I imagine everyone else has. And then it broke. We don’t know how. Sometimes things just break. 



photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc