I’ve been thinking about my mother lately. If she were alive, today, May 8, she would have been 87. I’ve been thinking about her beauty. Her coal black hair, deep brown eyes. The pale, creamy skin.
I’ve been thinking about her love of music and the way she sang along to the opera broadcast every Saturday morning while cleaning house. She would tell me the stories of Lucretia, Madam Butterfly, Tosca, her eyes growing distant as if the songs could transform her, take her far away from the small town in Ohio where she lived her entire life.
She gave me my love of reading as well. I still have books of hers’. The collected works of Shelley. Keats. John Donne and Shakespeare. All with annotations or asterisks next to her favorite poems.
She was gentle, but she was timid, afraid to step away from the pages of books and wholly embrace life.
And I can’t think of my mother without remembering my father. The harsh, mocking words. Glass shattering against walls. Dead, bloody animals in the basement sink. The hunter. The accountant who needed precision and order. But mostly the rage. Who belittled any laughter or joy in our house and replaced it with fear. And, yet, who was also one of the most generous men I’ve known.
Some people say we choose our parents. When my oldest son was four he once told me, “It was raining. And I looked down from the sky and I wanted you to be my mom.”
Did I choose my parents? A beautiful, frightened mother. An angry, violent father. And how far have I really come from them? Half a century on this planet and I’m still circling my parents, my childhood, the lake in Ohio. I’m still trying to find, to embrace and to love rather than run from and despise that frightened, dark haired girl who loved to swim, who took in animals and talked to trees. Who deliberately failed tests in school because she was afraid of her own intelligence.
This legacy of beauty and violence that is mine. Will I ever own it?