In that house the animals came and went. I did not pay too much attention. No one did. My mother did the caretaking – housecleaning, gardening, feeding us, caring for the animals. Not that the phrase "caring for” would have been used.
When Red, the dark auburn cocker spaniel, stayed out all night and returned with a bleeding paw it was my mother who wrapped the paw in a sheet and spoke of how he had bled through a whole sheet. Red lay in the kitchen. Maybe he went to the vet. He got better. And then he disappeared.
Puppy was the last dog I shared that household with. A bouncing barking short-haired dog my mother found through some ad. Puppy came with his name. I heard later, after I’d left, that Puppy would not stop chewing his tail. And Puppy too eventually disappeared.
Jeffrey, the boyfriend I lived with, got a kitten, a black kitten with no tail whom he named Golem.
I can’t write of these things. How Golem became the monster he was named for and why.
I was raised in harshness. It makes you afraid to be soft.
“Your kids are wimps,” my mother’s sister said to her once.
The harshness my mother came from was worse.
Her father, an angry frightening man I am told, is the one though who had the books and was not made to farm.
And the man my mother married must have seemed like a softie to her – a man who couldn’t fix anything or watch sports or shoot – a man who liked a good suit, who listened to classical music records, who could waltz.
She had two brothers, one who had some delicacy and education, and another who ran a paint store.
The first one died, the second one sends a Christmas card and my mother urges me to write back, but I just can’t do it. It’s hard enough to write to the people I know. Uncle Dick is all right, but he is not in my life and I am not in his.
I haven’t thanked my Hungarian aunt for the late Christmas present she sent, a book I will never read, a copy of which I already had.
Now that my father doesn’t exist anymore it is hard to maintain the thin thread of connection to my namesake. It does not really matter to me. I cannot make it matter more.
And yet I find myself envying others their vibrant families, the community of which they are a part.
Both my parents left their parents thousands of miles behind on opposite sides of the globe. No member of my mother’s family met any member of my father’s family. A few of them met my father once or twice. I saw my grandparents a handful of times – three or four times – in my life. Aunts and uncles and cousins, once or twice.
And yet they have a certain reality that other people don’t have. More weight. I have heard their names all my life.
The one person I talk to, the one I go to see is my mother. I have two sisters I have not talked to for about eight years. I do not miss them though something is missing. I don’t want to call them up. I don’t even want to hear their news anymore.
I hold onto my mother though. Mostly because the sound of her voice is so familiar.