Friday, October 3, 2008

What bare hands can build

I had just taken out the garbarge when I looked up at the sky and saw all those stars. This was about 15 minutes ago, early morning, and those stars were shining so bright that either the sky was especially clear, or the stars knew they would only be seen for another hour so they were really putting on the shine. My neck hurt a little when I looked up so I laid down on the walkway with my arms folded behind my head and took it all in.


"I want my Mom," I sobbed last night on the way home from the Al-anon meeting.

I was driving, crying, 33 years old and saying "I want my mom" over and over again. But I couldn't call my mom, and I couldn't ask her for help. For one thing, she hates talking on the phone so I usually just call with practical questions like "How long can ground meat stay good in the refrigerator?" Ground meat is something we can talk about without getting under the surface of things. I'm not asking her a favor or making her feel angry or guilty about anything.

My mom wasn't always like that though. Atleast, my baby's brain doesn't remember her that way. She used to come into my room at night when she heard me crying, stroke my hair and tell me to think about soothing things like Christmas, going on a picnic, or being with my cousins. She'd sing me "Silent Night." For the longest time I didn't know that was a Christmas carol. I thought it was a lullaby that Mom sang off key. She didn't show much anger then. This is the mother I want when I say, "I want my mom," that woman who existed thirty years ago, who was angry, insecure, and whose parents had (for the most part) neglected her. And when her dad acknowledged her he usually made her feel ugly and stupid. She just wasn't letting all of that out then. As I got older the angry, bitter part of her emerged as a screaming, wall hitting volcano of a woman who I didn't recognize as the same person who sang me to sleep. Even the tone of her voice changed. At times it was, I swear, demonic. My therapist once told me that we handle our emotional life with the tools we are given as children. People who were given no tools must build their lives with their bare hands. If that's true then my mother and father's hands must feel like old leather gloves.

My dad doesn't rage like my mom, and I must say on her behalf that this past year that she's been sober she's been much more patient and a lot less angry. Or she seems to be. My dad just blocks out everything. Since we have the same sense of humor, this works out great. We don't talk about anything heavy unless I bring it up (which I have a nasty habit of doing) and we joke a lot. I've always identified more with my dad's side of the family too. They muse over small things.

"See that branch?" my Dad asked me, pointing to the long, thin finger of a crepe myrtle tree. "I can look at that branch for a long time, and just marvel over the shape of it. I can't really explain why. It's the small beauty of it. Nobody really gets stuff like that except us."

By "us" he meant the Rheams family. We can look at things and really take them in, like a small branch, or a morning sky full of stars, and what's great about this is that for a few minutes I can stop focusing on myself and embrace something extradordinarily beautiful. It works like a comforting thought or a lullaby.

The gift of this is that those little things are everywhere. When I'm talking about the things in Al-anon that make me shake and cry, I can look at those things because that's a gift my family gave me. It's a tool. My parents were broken children raised by broken children, and my mother still managed to give me that tool.

I thought about that last night after I cried a while. It's what Mom gave me that helped me fall asleep. It's what lingered in the morning when I laid down on the pavement and gazed at the sky like it was something my dad had made with his bare hands just for me.


melissa bastian. said...

The beauty of small things, or maybe of simple things. I've often thought that my ability to have my breath taken away by a ripple in water or a particularly sparkley sidewalk may be the only reason I was able to get through some of the toughest times. I don't know where I got it though; it's totally absent in both of my parents, but oddly my sister has it too. I think somehow it may have come from my grandparents; my grandpa could be filled with delight at a kitten or a wind-up toy even after his life had become an empty shell. My grandmother while dying a slow and painful death of cancer found true peace and joy in making green things grow and bloom. Hard to say, though. I know that it is a part of myself that I nurture and cherish, because it makes me strong.

I often want my mom. But the mom I want is one that has only ever existed in the most brief and confusing of flashes. The exceptions to her normal line of "Melissa, why do you say things like that?" and "well I don't know what you want me to do" and avoid, avoid, avoid.

Lives built from bare hands... my parents too have hands like old shoes, no doubt. And I suspect that our hands, yours and mine, upon inspection would reveal deep worn callouses.

Oh Gen, sometimes I so wish that you and I could just sit down to a cup of coffee.

Genevieve said...

Dude, my master plan is to get an agent or a book deal soon. Like within a year. within this week. And they won't fly me up to NY, but I'll just HAVE to swing by anyway to check things out and shit. And we shall have coffee! Or coconut fudge!

melissa bastian. said...

Um, I'm pretty sure you meant to say coffee AND coconut fudge.

christina said...

Beautiful. Painful.

Send this somewhere-- to someone. In my uneducated opinion, this is publishable.

Zeller said...

The other day I was having a great day. Little stress at work, nothing bad on my mind, but once I got in the van and headed out to get the kids... WHAM! I was depressed for no reason. So, I get the feeling. You can't explain it, you just know that the chemicals in your brain have shifted and you feel like crap. I'm always surprised to hear how sad you get, because you've always seemed so happy to me. Thanks for sharing.