My brother Larry was under the illusion our mother was a good mother, but he had a different childhood than we did. My sisters believed otherwise: Carleen complained Mom was thoughtless and self-centered, Betty hated her for abandoning us, and Claudia simply thought she was weak—all of which was true by the way. I was never under the illusion I had a bad mother, I was under the illusion I had the wrong mother, and although I was not under the illusion she loved me, I hoped she might someday. Fortunately, I only lived with her from the time I was five until the age of nine. I figure that’s why I’m not completely neurotic. Or dead.
Writing our story evolved into a five-year journey. A magnitude of personal growth work put it in perspective; a writing class helped me get it down on paper. What follows is what I’ve been told, what I recall, and what my family claims I made up. Some stories I’ve never disclosed; some I’ve recounted so many times I can’t remember if they’re even true. But do we ever recollect what actually happened? Certainly we remember our version—and what we believe is true for us, so we better be careful what we believe. And does any of it matter? Only when we make it mean something.
This is the first of a series of Through Any Given Door, a Family Memoir. It was a group endeavor, and at the beginning of the book I thank my siblings…
To my brother: Until you read my first draft, you only heard what I read over the phone, and I often felt your pursed lips and folded arms. The day I received your edited copy, I was afraid to unseal the manila envelope and circled it for an hour, tapping it with my fingers each time I walked by the table, waiting for courage to open it. I didn’t want to risk our relationship; you’re the only brother I have. I cried when your note said my writing impressed you, and that you hadn’t known what had happened to all of us after you’d left home. You didn’t ask me to take anything out, except where you crossed out the swear words.
To my sisters: Carleen, thank you for being our mother when Mom couldn’t. Your home and heart were always open, and I might not be here today if not for you. Betty, thanks for putting up with me, patiently listening and correcting. I’m grateful you’re still speaking to me after I decided, against your request, to include some painful events that happened to you when young. I can only trust it was the right decision. Claudia, I laugh when we talk, and can feel your arm around me. I hope I’m not still “nothin’ but trouble” for you with what I’ve written.
What were a few vignettes turned into this memoir, reaching back through generations and growing into a body of work. I wrote it for you, and I wrote it for me. It gave me a place to voice what I wanted to say, it brought me clarity and tenderness as I witnessed my childhood, and it brought me back to myself. It also united our family in more ways than just these pages. I’ve always said, “If it had been up to me, I’d have kept the family together.”
Well, I’ve done that, and then some.
To be continued…