Last week I carried out the futon and frame that my mother gave me when I left the ashram years ago to move into a writer’s cottage in the woods – the futon that she had slept on for about ten years, the futon that wasn’t comfortable as a couch and which, because it was so low to the ground, had become Tamar-the-black-dog’s perch in my office, not mine. I’d been thinking about getting rid of it for a long time and hadn’t been able to. My mother’s bed? A gift from her? Not easy to leave on the street with a duct-taped sign on it saying FREE FUTON. Which is what I did.
This week she sent a $20 bill folded into a Valentine. She always sends one, one that’s cute and funny, with no signature, just question marks. I remembered the year I was just back from having disappeared into Europe for four years – I was back and behaving, working as a strait-jacketed legal secretary on Park Avenue, and of course I sent her a Valentine. It was witty and made her laugh. So much nicer for her than not knowing where I was.
I thought I owed her a lot because I’d been gone all those years without being in touch. Of course, all those years I’d been living practically with a gun to my head, captive to a vicious guru-type who slapped me around, convinced me I was mentally disabled and so ugly and useless that nature would never let me reproduce. But when I managed to run away from that and return to the States, all I was was worried that I’d been mean to my mother.
I did not thank her this year for the Valentine or the $20 bill inside. I always make sure to thank her for what she gives me. This time I called to make sure she was okay after the snowstorm though I knew she was. There was another gun to my head telling me to call anyway. I kept the conversation brutally short. I didn’t mention her card or the money. I felt it hanging heavy in the air between us, especially when she described the heart-shaped cookies the neighbor had given her, but I said nothing.
I think I am carrying a great deal that I don’t need to. I am carrying my mother’s painful childhood, and my father’s -- childhoods that they will never admit were horrible. Instead, all that pain slides down into my lap and I too must keep quiet about it.
I’ve been a good soldier. I can keep quiet about anything.
I can see that the new land ahead – if I want to keep striking out for new land and it seems I always do – will mean doing things differently. Maybe even hurting other people’s feelings. Or making them furious. Things I have always avoided at any cost.