About a week ago I wrote an email to each of my two sisters, letting them know about my new guru blog. I had never told them about the other blog where I post many of my weekly writings, though I had sensed they had found their way there. But I was splashing the news of the guru blog in every direction I could think of, pretending I’d just been published by Random House or something. This was not a piece of writing I wanted to hide. On the contrary. Since both my sisters are part of the Siddha Yoga community I figured word would reach them about this fabulous new book, the first of its kind etc. So I figured it might be better if they heard about it from me.
While emails pour in in response to the guru story there’s not a peep from my two sisters.
Until today when a long white business envelope arrives with Agnes’s handwriting. A letter. An actual letter. Aint seen one of those suckers in a long time.
Agnes’s first sentence is about how she came across my first blog in February and read it until the end of March when I posted a piece that revolved around the pinched card she had sent me. Now, she says, she will no longer read a word.
She refers only to the one or two or three pieces that she felt insulted by. She doesn’t like that I could write “my family doesn’t support me.” She really didn’t like the suggestion that I was all lined up as a convenient spinster, placed next door to my aging mother, ready to take care of her for the rest of her life. “We bought that house because you asked us to so you’d have a place to live when you left the ashram.” Her voice is shrill.
I don’t like her letter. I find it dull, its phrases all out of self-help books and the like. I am not convinced that Agnes has really touched any deep part of herself through writing this. I find it pretty easy to dismiss.
It is just so almost unheard of amongst the five of us – my two parents, my two sisters and me – for anything very real to get said. It’s very hard to say anything real in our little mini-culture. Even I didn’t say anything. But I wrote a lot.
Last week I drove down and had supper with my mother. It was a long light warm summer night in early April. I knew it would be an easy visit, a happy one. I took my violin and played badly, but at least I played something. And I gave her a birthday present I knew she’d love. And I brought her a bag of things on loan for her trip to Hungary – a laminated map of Budapest, a phrase book.
I asked her what she remembered about when I left boarding school. It’s a period of time I’ve been exploring lately, it seems it was a real turning point for me and I hoped my mother might help me remember. “Well, we came and picked you up and went to that hotel for lunch,” my mother answer pragmatically. That wasn’t quite the kind of answer I was after.
“Do you remember at all what I was like then?” I try again. We are sitting at her small table by the window that overlooks her patch of lawn and then the quiet road. “Because after that life got much harder for me,” I say.
“Oh,” says my mother. Now she looks worried. “I should have paid more attention. I didn’t know…” I see my mother veering down a road I don’t want her to go down. I don’t want her to start berating herself. That’s not what I came for either.
“Do you remember when I went to Switzerland with Dad?” I ask her. I went to Switzerland with my father when I was eleven. I have some disturbing memories from those few days and as I’ve thought about it it looks like from that trip on, over the next six months, my life went down like a row of dominoes.
“No,” my mother says, looking at me blankly. This surprises me. “Remember?” I say, “I lost my luggage?” This was the least of it, but it’s an easy detail I feel safe mentioning.
“Oh, yeah,” my mother says. “Did you stay with Helga?”
Helga is part of the difficult part of my Switzerland story, my father’s pretty rich Swiss girlfriend who even my mother apparently likes to continue to pretend was/is just a family friend. I am uncomfortable when Helga’s name comes up -- so blandly too – calling me to go along with the pretense. “Yeah,” I say vaguely. This drink is too strong for me. I back off.
I tell Martin my shrink about this event, this conversation with my mother. Martin sits in his chair, tall and thin, like a long skinny rectangle in a button-down shirt and pants. He questions why I didn’t just let my mother respond as she wanted to respond, let her have her moment of wishing she’d done it differently. “You say that your mother has a hard time getting to feeling,” he says, “and then when she does you steered her away.”
And then Martin asks something about if I’d ever told my mother about feeling bad before. No, I say. Never? he asks. No, I say. “In all those years of depression you never once said anything to her?” He is gently incredulous. “No,” I say. “That was the first time.”