In 2009 I started a blog called 26-Minute Memoir and started publishing 26-Minute Memoirs–stories that describe the essence of your life written in 26 minutes–from students, friends, Facebook and blog followers. In my book Writing Is My Drink: A Writer’s Story of Finding Her Voice (And a Guide to How You Can Too), I encourage readers to write their own 26-Minute Memoir and send them to me, and they have! Below you’ll find Dana Laquidara’s 26-Minute Memoir. Please feel free to write one of your own. You can find instructions and links to other 26-Minute Memoirs here: http://writingismydrink.com/26-minutes/.
Dana Laquidara’s 26-Minute Memoir
A MOTHER ERASED:
My story of parent alienation
It was a warm September day, but my body froze when I saw my mother’s bright red hair. She leaned out of her black Ford Mustang and waved at me. She still recognizes me, I thought. I was only four years old when she walked out of our lives leaving my sister, our father and me behind to piece together a new life. My father remarried a year later and we’ve called his second wife “Mom” ever since.
My real mother, Lisa, became a family secret. She was never talked about, except for sometimes late at night when my sister and I shared our memories. We called her “You Know Who”, because we were afraid to speak her name. We would sit in our beds in the dark and whisper about the past. My sister remembered a big fight. She said there was a lot of yelling and crying and then our mother was gone the next morning.
I remembered our mother returning on my fifth birthday to bring me a present. We had our new mother by then and Lisa was not welcome. I wasn’t supposed to love her anymore.
Lisa parked her car and met me at the main entrance of the mall where I had been waiting. We walked together through the mall, looking for a place to sit and talk. We barely glanced at each other as we made small talk. Here we were, mother and daughter, and yet we were strangers.
As we sat down, I looked at my mother curiously. I wanted to absorb every detail of her appearance. Her eyes were the same bluish-gray as mine. When I was a young girl, I used to look in the mirror, staring into my own eyes, hoping to see the reflection of my mother. I had only one photograph of her which I hid from my father, knowing he had discarded the others. I was thankful to have found this one in an old bureau in our basement. It proved to me that my mother was real.
It felt like a dream to be seeing her again. I wondered how I would begin to ask all of the questions I had waited so long to ask. Then Lisa just started talking, explaining everything the way she knew it. After a while, she stopped fighting the tears. I remained emotionless and distant as I listened to her story. I would not be vulnerable again. Not this time.
Lisa had married my father at the age of eighteen, she began, because she was pregnant with my sister. They moved into the upstairs apartment of my father’s parents’ house. I was born eighteen months after my sister.
Lisa spoke of her tumultuous marriage with my father and how it had eroded her self-esteem. I felt a surge of anguish enter my body that would take years to dispel. The mental image I held of my earliest years darkened as my past became clearer. The grandmother who sent me cards I would never receive.
Then Lisa told me about her affair with a man that promised to take her away from my father. I remembered the man. His name was Bob. He was a big man with sandy brown hair and a ruddy complexion. I remembered going sledding together. Lisa told us that he was going to be our new daddy and that we were going to move far away with him.
“Your father found a letter from Bob”, she continued, “and threw me out of the house late at night. It was the middle of winter and I wasn’t even wearing shoes. I couldn’t face my parents, so when a cop picked me up I had him drive me to where Bob lived. I intended on coming back to get you girls, but your father had gotten temporary custody. His lawyer called it abandonment.”
I pictured my mother, hiding out with her lover, while my sister and I stayed at home with our raging father, not knowing if she’d be back.
“After that I had visitations with you on Sundays”, she continued. “You and your sister cried so much when you had to leave me. Your father told me it was too hard on you both. He told me over and over again that you were better off without me. I began to believe him. I didn’t fight for custody. I didn’t have it in me to fight your father. I just broke down. I was dying inside.”
My father wanted to start over. What he didn’t realize was that part of me had died inside, too. He thought he could replace my mother, sort of like a Christmas tree. You remove it from your home after Christmas. By the next year you’ve forgotten all about it and you get another one that you like just as much. Only mothers aren’t like Christmas trees. Once you lose your mother, your heart is not into finding another one. What would I call my mother now, the one with the red hair? Or the grandmother that would send cards and gifts I never received. At four years old my life was changed forever. I lost that little girl I once was.
When Lisa was done talking, I stared at my glass, stirring the ice with my straw. I was convinced that my mother really had loved me and somehow this felt more devastating. The stranger I once called “Mommy” wasn’t “You Know Who” anymore. She was a real human being who had suffered a huge loss of her own. She was sitting across from me, breathing, talking, crying.
“I became the best behaved little girl because I sensed that was all the adults around me could tolerate,” I told my mother. “When my own needs might have caused them any inconvenience or distress, I kept them to myself. I don’t ever remember mentioning you to my father, let alone grieving you. I went into a state of melancholy that others just accepted as my quiet nature.” I surprised myself with my own honesty. But I couldn’t allow Lisa to believe that her absence had not damaged my life.
Lisa looked uneasy and I would later learn that she carried a guilt that was so unbearable, it didn’t allow her to comprehend my pain. She needed to believe that I had been okay.
She walked me back to my car. After an awkward moment, she put her arms around me. She felt small, her grip almost frail. She was weak after all. Too weak to fight for me. Too weak to stand up to my father.
My parents had both failed me. My father for pushing my mother away so forcefully. My mother for collapsing under that force, for giving up. But at least now my path was clearer. I knew what I needed to do. I had to accept there was no going back. To acknowledge my pain and grieve my losses. And lastly, but most importantly, to forgive.
Dana Laquidara’s blog can be founded at http://musingsimplicity.wordpress.com/author/memoirmusings/