“I’m lucky,” he said. “Kind of lucky.”
“Yeah?” I said. He’d been nice enough to share a table at the coffee shop Joe van Gogh, after a young woman who didn’t smile grabbed the table I was going for.
Can we share?, I said.
I’m waiting for someone who may or may not come, she said. The younger generation’s way of saying, I’m guessing, “No.”
That’s when I was offered a space two tables down.
Soon we would strike up a conversation, and he’d tell me why he thought his stars were fortunately aligned.
I typed for a while into the wireless keyboard-iPod setup, which isn’t ideal, but it does get a lot of comments. I also had this huge file of papers gathered for the rewrite of my book, a memoir I’m launching this October in Ireland.
“That’s interesting,” said the young man. I didn’t know that he wasn’t actually as young as I thought, just fit. He was in town for the American Dance Festival. “Light to carry, but is it practical?”
“It’s not the best screen, I admit, but I don’t get distracted by the Internet and stuff when I’m just writing on one full screen on ‘Notebook.’” I said. I was pleased to be making good progress on Book 2 of the series, which is where I’ll start my story when I publish to Amazon this fall. I have a lot of reasons to start at not quite the beginning, but in what my 8th grade drama teacher called in medias res. I know she didn’t make that up, but I always hear her voice when I call up “in medias res” in my mind. The book starts with my elopement.
You don’t start off talking about death with people, when you meet, but it’s pretty amazing how fast you can get there once you start. I think people are craving chances to share real stories, eye to eye, and feel something in both the giving and receiving.
“My parents died when I was young,” he said. “Just a kid, so I’m lucky in a way, because unlike you, I don’t have to deal with oppressive parents.”
I pondered this point.
I’ve written a lot here on Kismuth so far about mothering, both the state of being a mother and also having one. Something threw the relationship I have with my own mother into sharp relief as soon as my son came into the world, and I realized as I made my own parenting choices and blunders how it must have been for her, and at changing gears depending on the mood to be forgiving or resentful along the way. Complicated. (Right, OakRitchie?)
But what the man visiting our town for a few weeks of artmaking told me shifted the plane of approaching this. I was bitter. I was confused. I shall always remain complex in my feelings about my mother. (And father, but I’ll save that for another blog/book.) But what I don’t have to consider is this: what would it have been like growing up without them?
My teen years.
My early college years.
My first few marriage years.
The first few months of becoming a mother, of feeling my way into that new landscape, of still trying to hold the balance between using my brain for some productive, meaningful work while also nourishing a new young mind in the making.
What if they weren’t there for that?
The truth is, they haven’t really been “there” in the way that I might have imagined, in a perfect world. Or a Bollywood film. They simply didn’t try to connect or receive any real emotional tie. It was, perhaps, not part of the system of coming to America and making it for yourself. Raking in as much dough as you could, and subordinating all other things for that purpose. Including the early years, when the new child comes, and those critical moments of bonding begin. But this isn’t a preachy blog about how to parent. It’s just what I think about, when I’m writing about the concept of “home,” which is lost on me, even though I’m back where I was living for the longest stretch of my life (16-25, minus a few jaunts to Japan and India). So what about home? What about comfort? What does it really mean to have family, to have roots?
My parents were around for me, at least physically they’ve been there. They write cards and send e-mails and try to get in touch by phone. They don’t respond when I ask if I can see my father individually, just to work out some things and catch up since the relationship with my mother is so warbled at this point. They also make it tough to connect, I think it’s about power dynamics, because when I do ask for help with babysitting, they suddenly have to go out of town. Even when they promised they would watch our son for a few days at Christmas while we went to Charleston, via train, at the last minute my mother backed out. We took our son with us, of course, and it turned out to be a lovely trip in its own way, but the promises are turning up empty all around.
“Move closer to us (we were in Seattle for six years), and we’ll help you out.” This didn’t happen.
“You can visit us anytime.” (Except when we suddenly decide to go out of town because you want to come over that weekend.)
“When you move here, you can stay with us as long as you like.” With a fifteen month in tow and Bell’s Palsy going on in my life, my mother and father humiliated my husband and me with psychologically damaging words about how we were failures, and told us to leave their house within 60 days of our arrival.
Uprooting to come to the East Coast had been, I realized, a deep mistake.
Except, it wasn’t.
Because we found a new family.
A new support network, in old friends and friends of theirs. We had lived here in the 1990s, and some folks were still around. And still the same.
And I imagine this is what happens when our parents die, when we are young, and we don’t have them to count on through our growing-up years.
Because even if we do have them, sometimes we really don’t.