One of the things that I want to work on through my blog is a series of short stories. Sometimes inspiration just hits me at truly odd moments. Today, I was in the shower. Maybe it was because she was downstairs making me breakfast (I didn’t smell anything cooking nor did I ask for anything, I just know her) or maybe it was because she has been staying over all week taking care of Livie while I’ve been at my MFA residency. For whatever reason it may be I have decided to write short stories about my mom. They will be stories from her life as told by her. As amazing people go, my mom rises above that label. I hope that you will see my perspective is not biased as you read them…let me know what you think about this style of writing.
My life began at “-1”. Most couples when they are expecting a baby express their delight by saying “.5” as in “we have 2.5 kids.” They are generally happy to announce their soon to be bundle of joy’s delivery. For me, my parents were neither happy nor delighted. In fact, my mother’s family probably wished that she would have subtracted me from their lives before I could add to it.
See, my mom was not married. Being unmarried “with child” in the 40s was a no no, to say the least. The day she sprang the news of being pregnant with me to the family her mother threw a pot of boiling water at her and kicked her out into the streets. How’s that for a reception?
To make matters worse, my mom was never 100% sure of who the father was. To this day – and I’m 72 now, mind you – I still don’t know who my dad is.
Sure, family decided who they thought my dad was. A few thought some guy I never met that my mom dated after I was born was THE guy. Hello, the math doesn’t add up on that one. They didn’t like him though because he never tried to marry mom but he was better than the alternative. Others in the family – and this is where it gets hairy – others think that it was between two men. And they were brothers too, go figure – both married to women not named Alice.
That’s my mom’s name. From what I’ve been told, my mom Alice was one of the sweetest women that ever lived. “Lived,” past tense of course because she died really young. She died at 29 from cirrhosis of the liver. See, after she was thrown out of her mother’s house, Alice started drinking. She drank so much that some of my first memories were of the three of us sleeping on park benches in the middle of downtown Waterbury, Connecticut. Unwed mothers didn’t get financial assistance from the government back then, remember?
That’s the word. She was shunned by most everyone in the family. No, women like my mom were pretty much on their own depending on whether their families accepted them back into the fold or not. Ours obviously never did.
“Three of us.”
Did I mention I had a sister? Dorothy. “Dot” is what I always called her. The family loved Dot because mom had gotten married first and then got pregnant. So that made them happy. Dot was always the favorite. I was always the black sheep. I always wondered, how could anyone hate a little girl who had no say in how or why she was born? Anyway, they definitely had a love hate relationship with me through the years.
When strangers noticed the drunk lady with two little girls living on park benches in the city, the state finally stepped in. And we were taken from mom. I don’t have much of a memory for all that but Dot remembered it. She remembered one time in particular when mom passed out drunk while smoking a cigarette, setting fire to the sofa that we had been fortunate enough to sleep on during some winter storm one night. Yes, I suppose it’s good that I don’t remember that. I only vaguely remember going to the state home. I tell you what I do remember though. I remember the first family that the state gave us to. The couple already had a son but also wanted a little girl. You don’t really want to know why, I’ll leave it at that. Anyway, Dot and I were a package deal, that’s how they placed us. I remember distinctly that couple making us stay in the dark basement while the three of them ate dinner. When they were finished, they gave us scraps. Literally. Scraps! Imagine that.
That’s where my fear and dislike over dark rooms comes from today. That basement. No, I need windows and plenty of them! Else, I feel like I’m being buried alive.
The nerve of that couple though. One day they decided they didn’t want us anymore. So, they packed our things. Dot and I both had one tiny suitcase apiece, a few items of clothing, and our overcoats. Oh, and Dot had a doll and I had my stuffed teddy bear. The wife made us sit outside on the front steps in the rain – imagine that! In the RAIN! – until social services at the time came to pick us up. I remember clear as a bell my suitcase accidentally opening up, dropping my things, my bear! into a puddle. I cried and I cried, begging Dot, “Why doesn’t anyone want us??”
Dot, mind you, was pretty strong for a 7-year-old girl. She remembered a lot more about the time with mom and even with that first couple than I do. I was only 3. A baby still, really. She knew and remembered everything that I either don’t recall or blocked out of my memory. I do remember Dot picking up my things that day, my teddy bear, rubbing his face with her little hands, and giving him back to me. She sat down next to me on those steps, put her arm around me, and said, “No one is ever going to hurt us again. I won’t let them.”