A few days ago I got a letter from my mother. She was sending me an old photograph of myself that I had sent her almost thirty years ago. I knew because I turned the photo over and there was my cheerful Christmas greeting from 1980 when I was twenty-three years old, living in Los Angeles, thinking of suicide most of the time. My mother was sending me the photo because, she said in her letter, she doesn’t want to leave a “big mess” behind when she dies. Not that she shows any signs of going any time soon, but she’s preparing.
Her letter went on to say that she’s read a few chapters from the book I’ve been posting on-line for the last couple of months. I write about my years in an ashram with a guru, a place and a person that my mother knows well. She says in her note that my writing is too “serious” for her, that she was grateful to the ashram because it was such a respite from losing her house to bankruptcy and the awful chaos of her life at that time.
Then she writes for a page about having to clean out her fridge because a new one is being delivered.
So I called her up. It was time for a call anyway. After a few sentences I took the bull by the horns, “So, you’re reading my book?” This said in a nice cheerful tone.
“Yes,” says my mother, her tone almost forbidding. I know that tone, or where it can go when it’s full-blown. I feel fear. “You’ve ruffled a lot of feathers, Bim,” my mother says. “I think it’s important to have some tact.”
“Oh?” I say. I am polite. The only thing I don’t do is make this easier for her. I also don’t say, “What the fuck are you talking about?”
Somehow the conversation goes into other things, the usual things. As we are about to end the conversation my mother asks me how I am. I give some kind of stock answer which is what I have always done. I have never told either of my parents how I am. My mother has called me “private.” She says that now. “Oh, you’re so private,” she says. “You know you can tell me if things are rough. I can take it.”
My mother knows that I have wanted to be a writer all my life, that there has never been anything that I have ever wanted to be. And I have written a book. It is not my first book, but it is the first one she knows about.
It scares her, this “ruffling of feathers.” Not that I’ve written anything terribly damning. I write my story about being in a cult very gently. I go through it slowly.
My mother has mentioned a few times in recent years that I don’t confide in her. Here it is, my memoir. It happens with my sisters too. They don’t like what they see. They don’t like this Bim. They like the other one. The one that joined in the masquerade that this was just a happy, jolly family. With a loser of a father of course, but the women were wonderful – they were all best friends: imagine that. Three sisters and their mother. How quaint.
I read this morning about covert incest and immediately recognized myself as a victim of this. It begins with a parent who abdicates, a “shadow parent.” My first memories of my mother are of her in the shadows of the kitchenette in the little apartment I was born into in Yonkers, New York. And then the other parent turns to the kid for what they need. And boy did I give it. Boy was I good at that.
This memoir that’s on-line right now? It’s just the beginning.