"Of course." I want to know my mother's life as it was. I've had enough with speculation and myth making.
This is a warning for me to be prepared. My grandmother as a suffocating presence or as Carol adds a piece of work is not a surprise. I certainly wish her comment didn't resonate deeply as truth but it does and yet with this searing observation, I am strangely excited. I already feel like Carol may offer up something meaningful.
"Your grandmother and your grandfather were both heavy drinkers. They were always boozing and often your grandmother would lock your mother out of the house. She'd come to my house in the middle of the night needing a place to stay. Then my mother would call your grandmother in the morning and tell her what a horrible thing she'd done to her daughter. Your mom had one hellacious childhood."
My grandmother as an alcholic. I didn't know this. While I was growing up, she seemed to be disgusted with excessive drinking. Then again, she did drink and get drunk and she was not a merry drunk. But an alcoholic? I always associate this with my grandfather, who was a fall down drunk regularly dragged home most weekends and left lying on the floor in puddles of his own vomit and piss stained pants. Then one day when I was about 4, I waited until he woke up on the old brown carpet in the living room and I yelled to him from behind the old brown chair that I would never talk to him again if he took another drink. And he didn't. Not one. I thought my grandmother would be happy as she always complained about how he pissed away his whole pay check on the drink but instead she grabbed my face hard and said, "Only for you. Never for me." And with this, further lines were drawn between us.
I share with Carol my dread in climbing the stairs in that dark hallway and finding either my grandmother waiting for me with a slap-ready hand or a door that was chained shut and no amount of shouting or pleading would bring her to open it. "Carol, did she talk about her relationship with my grandmother? What was my mother like? What was most important to her?"
"The stuff I remember about her life is really through observation, not what your mom told me. We didn't talk back then or confide things in each other. I can just tell you that your mom and grandmother had problems, a lot of them."
The stories my grandmother told me of an intimate connection with my mother were not true. Though part of me takes some comfort that the failure between myself and my grandmother was not personal to me, the thought of my mother young and ill with just my grandmother to offer support gives me no comfort at all. My mother must have hidden her fears even deeper because one thing my grandmother could not tolerate was jagged emotions spilling out, even though hers tumbled forth more than anyone's. Though I am pleased to learn that, instead of scrunching herself into a ball on the landing outside the door as I did, my mother had a refuge at her friend's home. I only wish that someone could have also taken her into their heart.
"Your mom resented how strict your grandmother was with her and was always rebelling. We went to record hops with Linda, Marlene, Carol and Pat three times a week. We were just typical teenagers. Whoever could get a car would drive. We often went to the Greenfield Armory. I think that's where she met Andy."
"Your mom met a man named Andy, and really hit it off. Andy made her happier, he was a really great guy, really good for her. They dated for a long time. Years, I think. And then something happened. If I remember right he was in the guard and he had to go away for a while and I don't know what happened. I don't know if she dated people while he was gone and he found out and broke it off with her or what it was. But once they broke up, she had a personality change. She was angry and resentful whereas she was always so sweet and easy to be with."
My mother was on the verge of happiness when something was exposed. What was it?
I tell Carol that the onset of the Huntington's was likely in her late teens and she begins to wonder. "All I know is that your mother had a bad life growing up. Very sad. It sounds like you repeated her life with your grandma. But your life now is good, so that's all good. Your mom would be happy to know that."
With this hazy memory of a lost opportunity for my mother placed into me, I am circling the edges of her once again. Tonight I picture her at these dances; round and round she goes in my mind. This is the place for her, where she is as vast as the armory. Here she can be anything and everything. Here I linger with her listening to the music. I watch my mother as this girl who perhaps still believed in a future for herself. She is so beautiful here in this brief respite from the concerns that must have dimmed her a little bit more each day.
I was a dancer in my childhood, and took to it quite seriously. On the stage with the music playing, my mind was silent. I was no longer worried about all I'd lost or would lose. There was the music and my ability to move my body in the way that I wanted with strength and speed and rhythm and passion. In the lines of my body were the emotions I never dare communicate with words; and in the lines there was also no words--just desire and liberation and belief and hope. I never wanted the music to end because in the music I was whole, perfectly whole, and so I see my mother also transformed by this music and movement--the words she did not want to share transmitted through another language that spoke of happy endings and dreams fulfilled.
So tonight I will watch her dance all night and I will move beside her in this space and smell her youth as we turn together side by side. And I will watch the men desire her, men that may love her for what she is in this one moment and men that may love her even with the fate that she will face. And I look for Andy among the faces and try to draw him forward so that I can understand how his love reached her and then slipped away.
Andy, who are you? Why did you leave her? Did she tell you about the Huntington's or what drove the two of you apart? And mother how did this loss lead you to marry a man a year after your graduation that your friends have never heard of? Who was Chester Kovalski and what were you doing in South Carolina and why did you annul your marriage with fraud as the reason?
Can I enter this story, mother, and understand you or is wanting to know everything about you a trap from which I will never free myself?