So I’ve been on this “fictionalized memoir” stance for a bit; thinking that it would be easier and cleaner within my family to go with a sanitized quasi-fake version of the story of my parents, my family and my life.
Then I realized that while I can do that, sort of, I’m really struggling with the aspect of falsity. I grew up in a world where duplicity seemingly flowed like water (and shaped my world and appreciation of truth); where obfuscation and deflection were abundant; and where gaslighting was the norm.
“How can I write my truths while filtering in fiction? How do I reconcile this?”
So I stopped. I had to. The content I’d created was good; I have no doubt it’s quality writing and is entertaining. That sounds arrogant — but you have to trust me: my source material is SO GOOD that I had an easy task: tell someone else’s story and let it go from there.
So I took a few weeks off — COVID19 and other issues — and then sat down last week and started again. Instead, though, this time: I was tearing off the band-aid. I was going to tell my version of my stories and that was that.
That in the beginning, I’d have to tell what were shared stories (those of my parents and I want to be careful with this because I am not an only child), and I was going to be very clear about how I am re-telling these stories as they were told to me and how I observed them as I aged.
Then, as I grew up, I’d naturally depart into my own stories of my own life and the family tree I’d planted with my husband. Then I’d have to be careful so as to not disturb and not betray the stories of my children. I have this strange ethos that makes writing a memoir almost impossible.
So I share these issues and conflicts and challenges with my therapist who has become part-time cheerleader and part-time head-clearer. I’ve gotten back into EMDR for some of the memories that are coming up because of the writing. She assures me this is natural and normal.
She tells me: keep going. Remember: you have the option of not releasing ANY of this for publication, ever. That said, she continues, your story is rich, and I know you will tell it brilliantly. (I gush.)
So I continue from my left turn at Albuquerque (I hope there are some Bugs Bunny fans amongst you) and decide to let what I’ve started sit idly by.
I go back to my new idea of starting a whole new book. This time from my perspective. No longer any “3rd person” narrative and trying to thread out who said what and where it went and the details of names, places, fake cities and whatnot. I was just going to start with my story. But my story has to begin with my parents otherwise, there is just me — and I didn’t spring from a flower in a garden or meadow, despite what you all might think. ;o)
So we go from there… and I’m humming along, really writing some heartfelt and authentic stuff. I am fair, but real. I am kind, but sincere.
A couple days go by and I decide to go through a box in my office. I have COVID19 to thank for this, I suppose: if I weren’t teaching yoga from home via Zoom, then I wouldn’t feel self-conscious about my “studio” and I wouldn’t have decided to take down a big yellow box emblazoned with my initials from my shelves. In that box were some keepsakes from my parents’ home that I’d sold just over a year ago.
In that box you guys, are love letters to my mom from the beau immediately preceding my father. So many letters — maybe 30. And we are talking marriage-level conversations. The phrase “when we marry” or “in our marriage” are actually stated. Also in that box were letters Mom wrote to me, that I’d never seen. Letters about growing up, being a good woman, being true to myself. Things that I never heard her say to me in person. Things that — who knows? — might’ve made the difference between a shitty choice and a safe choice in my behavior.
I never felt she was “there” for me, so I behaved as though I didn’t really have anyone cheering for me. My mother was an alcoholic and addicted to Xanax and other prescription pills. Way back when, I thought she was weak but what I know about Xanax now — holy cow, that is some awful stuff. Don’t take it regularly if you can avoid it. Truly limit your use to occasional and not more than three days in a row if you must.
Also included in that box was a journal of hers from 1987 when she suffered a gran mal seizure. At the time, my father told me that she was trying to self-detox from alcohol. The diary tells me it’s a lie: that she had overdosed on Xanax. Her doctor, Dr. Moon (my mom had such a great sense of humor — she called him Dr. Half Moon — lol) said to her, and she wrote it twice in the journal: “I am not surprised you overdosed. Your husband is an irrational man.”
None of that surprised me — other than that it was Xanax and not booze — my father was a highly irrational man. He died an irrational man. Hospice did NOT quiet or soothe his inner savage. What I’m realizing and remembering now is that Mom never said it was booze; she never really referred to it as a withdrawal from anything. Only my father did that — he was the master of spin for the family because any negative spin about Mom’s health made him look bad as a spouse — that whole “in sickness and in health” thing. Dad ALWAYS depicted Mom’s seizure as stemming from self-administered alcohol withdrawal. But he knew better. Mom overdosed on Xanax.
Now I can wonder and speculate all I want. I can play Colombo all I want. But I will never know. My gut is telling me that Mom was so sad that she wanted to end her life. She had threatened it many times when I was a child and a young adult. Often I would come home from school wondering if she was ok. That’s not ok.
And later, in 2009: she tried again. That is what spawned my first book, that is so far, unpublished. It was a known that Mom had overdosed on Xanax in 2009 — that shit is HARD to get off of; it messes with your brain, your senses, your intellect and your metabolism,
So I have all these letters now. I have her proof that her young man in law school loved her and planned to marry her. And that these letters explain SO MUCH of her continued mooning over him and wondering and when she was intoxicated why she asked — the ether — so much about him …
What do I, her daughter with a story to tell about my own life but that demands the backstory, do… ?
She’s not really a villain anymore. These letters are like gifts from the grave. I sympathize with her. My father was NOT her ideal match. But she was an adult. She chose to basically destroy my childhood. I’m not kidding. I could get hammered every day and ignore my kids, but that’s not my style.
The work I’ve done to get a sense of normalcy was hard and it continues to be hard. It’s ok though — because I’m breaking cycles. But what do I do? I want to be fair — and I want so much to write and get this off my chest and share how beautiful she was and how smart they both were… but I also don’t want to turn this into another Bridges of Madison County (despite the similarities).
I feel strongly that my mother died with (not of) a broken heart.
Any help would be really appreciated.
Thanks for reading. Xo