When I give my course on Transformational Creativity, I often ask people to write a letter to their parents. It’s a modification of a Gestalt practice and very effective. Working with suicidal patients I once asked them to write a letter back from their parents to them. Results were startling. The mind is exquisitely profound.
This letter to my mother was triggered by a memory and I gave myself my own medicine. Dear siblings via our mother, hugs prior to reading, if you do.
I was at Grandma’s the other day, the other decade, well thirty-odd years ago–with my first husband. Did you ever meet him? I can’t recall. I only saw you a few times after age twelve.
Grandma showed me pictures of you that made me smile.
You were sophisticated. A confident young woman, full of promise. You had dark hair, before you started dying it blonde, and wore a pretty dress. A look of sharp intelligence. Grandma said you were a journalist. You never told me that.
But then again you burned your dreams.
That day in Florida I must have been eight or nine. I knew it wasn’t right that all your beautiful anatomical drawings and your lovely stories and poems were on fire in the metal garbage can. I tried to stop you but you pushed me away. I watched The Leprechaun with Rose Coloured Glasses that you’d written for us go up in smoke. Later that day I got attacked by red ants, which happens in the Sunshine State. You had to hose me down to get them off.
Remember when we stood right on the edge of rain? We could stand in the dry air and put our hands in the sheet of fat wet drops.
The photos say it was good once. There I am with you and dad and Lulu and it looks all right. The American Dream. Right?
You’re both gone now and I wonder why I never asked you why you stopped the car that day. Dad got out and I watched, aged three as you pulled away and he got smaller and smaller. As tiny as a chess piece. The incredible shrinking man.
It’s all snapshots in my head now.
The Great American Saga of crazy. Long roads lit by headlights under midnight skies as we moved from place to place to place. Everything whizzing by.
We ate Spaghettios, Spam, PopTarts, Boscoe and peanut butter and jelly on Wonder Bread. A pastime was squishing the air out of a slice to make a round ball the size of a large pea. Fish on Fridays. Because your new husband was Catholic.
He would warn me when a storm was brewing but paid no heed to the warning bells I put on my bedroom door.
My step-father was a jazz bandleader with a velvet croon and we drove from gig to gig all over the States. First, us two kids, then three, four, five and six. Me, my brother and four sisters on a mattress in the back of a pink Cadillac with fins. Little Italys across the land, Nightclubs. The Silver Dollar with real silver dollars on the wall. Las Vegas lit up like the solar system, the Milky Way. One armed bandits everywhere. Reno, the smallest big town in the world.
I thought of you today.
You gave me a necklace when I was 11. A mustard seed in a small glass sphere. The symbol of faith that moves
mountains, a message coming back to me across the years. A hieroglyphic suddenly unravelling its meaning.
I know you loved me. My hair is brushed in the photos and my clothes are nice and clean. I’m often smiling. There are lovely looking birthday parties and dress ups frozen in time in the little frill edged 60’s polaroids. Loving photos with my brother and sisters. Then something happened. Was it a time released explosion from your early years?
My body and mind have finally healed. It took a lifetime.
It had been like hopping through life with one leg tied up.
Or a red-hot poker that hung like the sword of Damocles above my head.
An electric chair that goes off at intervals but never quite enough to kill.
You sang like an angel.
You made angel food cake and coloured the Easter eggs so beautifully.
You wanted to find God.
Downing Cutty Sark with milk, you painted in the kitchen until dawn, a canvas gold with fingernail gouges filled in red. Once you painted my fingernails all the colours of the rainbow.
You told me to treat truck drivers and queens with equal respect but you did not know why the sky was blue and all my questions riled you. It made you proud that I could say antidisestablishmentarianism.
When you told me my father was Hoss from Bonanza, I knew it wasn’t true. I look like Dad.
Sometimes you sang with the band, shimmering like a pale Hitchcock heroine. More often you were like Kali, but always a sort of goddess, Very tall and powerful. Emanating laser beams.
You let me stay up with you and watch the Late Movie and the Late Late Movie and sometimes the Late Late Late Movies until the keys rattled in the door.
That thing about the night visits. You knew, didn’t you? That was the real shockeroo. There are no screams when souls are stolen. But all the mothers know. Years later I found out you tried to make us safe.
I understand so many things now.
I also know what happened to you. Your brother told my sister a while ago, a parting gift at the farewell door.
My dear mother, I recognise the look in your young eyes and I wish I could go back in time and hold you close and tight and dear.
And I know what happened to your mother, my grandma.
When did it all begin? When will it end? Spare the rod and spoil the child. I heard it said. That must have been what you were doing. Right, Mom? You didn’t want me to be spoiled. So you left me like a rag doll on the floor, the I of me floating up above.
It happened to you, too.
You spun me out, Ma. I lived on the ceiling like a helium balloon. I saw many wondrous things up there that saved me, so who knows in the great mystery? And I still appreciate a unique perspective. Bodies were not safe so I took to the atmosphere. Souls can travel anywhere.
When Grandma was a girl she was locked in a dark cellar with scurrying rats when she got out of line. And she locked you in the barn to tame you. Didn’t she know you were running from a wound that had swallowed you whole? You ran and ran and ran away and sang in a bar in a green silk dress where my father met you.
Grandma and you both knew the names of every animal, plant and flower. You almost got into Ripley’s Believe It or Not at 5! Grandma made the woods and gardens come alive when we visited the farm. Queen Anne’s Lace. Jack-in-the-Pulpit. Bright blue Bachelor Buttons. Bellflowers. Jupiter’s Beard.
We were all a bit too alive, I think.
It causes trouble. It wakens the dead. It reminds people they have forgotten how to fly.
My feet are on the ground now. I made the journey and healed myself.
I live in a beautiful land. My beloved daughter is safe, whole, unharmed and surrounded by love. My grandchildren are being raised with intense love and stability. They are my triumph. My joy. My blessing.
It has ended.
All your children, my brother and sisters, are doing well. They are all deeply beautiful souls. You gave us life and you gave us much more, because life really did mean something to you. You could just never quite get a hold of it.
I send my love back up the river of women. You did your best. Life goes on. Beautiful life. And it’s all OK.
I love you Ma. With all my heart. And I am grateful.
The night after I wrote this something strange and amazing occurred. I was dancing with my family. The feeling was joyous, the music sublime. Suddenly I felt my step-father nearby. From wherever he now is in the universe I felt him send a beam of very gentle love that permeated me.
My heart responded with soft burning compassion. I understood. The ground of being beneath everything, the very fabric of life is loving awareness. How can we not forgive?
The Metaphysical Muse