A few days ago I was talking to my mother. She brought up a surgery she'd had a long, long time ago for a chronic condition which I shall not name here because it would be "indelicate" and when she mentions this surgery (which was not successful and she suffers mightily from the chronic condition to this day) she always says, "And that's when you were in the hospital and I had to spend all those hours sitting there in a chair beside your bed and it was torture. Do you remember that?"
I do, as a matter of fact, remember that. I almost died so yes, I remember.
And I never know what to say when Mother brings this up. Which she does. Frequently.
"Sorry, Mom. Sorry I was in the hospital because I was maybe dying? Sorry you had to sit by my bed?"
This is a part of our family history. These are the sorts of stories that are told.
They are...painful. Pain...full.
And I was thinking about this. About how I swear to you, I can't remember one time that we were ever together, my mother and me, or my brothers and me, for that matter, when we said, "Oh, do you remember the time we...?" and that the story was one about having fun.
And when I wrack my brain to try and remember times that might have been fun that we had together as a family, I am stuck.
Every memory I have is tainted with some horrible sorrow.
And I'm not meaning to say, "Oh, poor me." I'm meaning to say, "Wow. That is so weird."
Every memory. Am I revising history?
Okay. Here's a memory I have that was fun:
It was when we were living in Roseland and for some reason, my mother and maybe another younger woman who lived in Roseland and I and some other kids were outside after dark and we were playing in the road. Let me explain- there was only one paved road in Roseland and there was literally no traffic after dark. Every one got home and stayed there. So we were playing in the moonlight and I don't even remember what we were playing but it was silly fun and I remember thinking, literally thinking, this is fun.
My mother was lighthearted that night. And I have no idea why.
But as to bad memories, oh, I have a million.
Fleeing my father, searching for my father with my mother in bars, my father leaving us in the car while he went into a bar. My father being too drunk to drive. My father screaming at my mother, my mother taking my brother and me to a neighbor's house so he could sober up or something. There being nothing in the house to eat but potatoes. You get the drift. I was only about four or five but I remember.
Then after we left my father, arriving in Roseland where my grandparents lived and Mother being so sick she had to go to the hospital leaving my brother and me with my grandparents whom we didn't know. My mother's crippling sadness. Her depressions. The time a child in her class at school (she taught at the local elementary school) got run over by a delivery truck when he ran out for recess. More and more desperate depression. Mother burning her wedding gown in a burn pit. Mother getting married again, then the abuse began, she got pregnant, she lost the baby, the gory details of all of that. I was nine.
The move to Winter Haven, the abuse continued. She got pregnant again. This one stuck but before she want to the hospital, she showed me the new pink sheets she wanted me to put on the bed before she got home...if the baby lived. That's what she told me. I remember standing in the bathroom in front of the closet where she had those new sheets.
If the baby lives.
I was twelve. Barely.
I don't know what the fuck I was supposed to do if the baby died.
The baby lived. That was joyous. That was.
Except the abuse continued. That house was the scariest place in the world.
She got pregnant again. I remember her being so tired. She was forty years old. I remember her lying on the couch, holding her hands as if in prayer, her eyes closed.
I remember my real father, kneeling in prayer beside a bed when I was a tiny thing, praying, pleading with god to take away his thirst for drink. Crying out to god.
I remember praying by my own bed for god to please make my family happy, to make my stepfather quit coming into my room. On TV, Billy Graham had promised that if I got on my knees and prayed, god would answer my prayers.
I remember reading the Bible straight through, forcing myself to read every begat so that maybe god would know I was serious, worthy of having prayers answered, also hoping that maybe the Bible would act as a shield against my stepfather.
Ha. On all counts.
I remember listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones in that same room on my radio. The Beach Boys. The Turtles.
That was the purest happiness I knew.
Saved my life. Over and over and over again.
Maybe god gave me rock and roll to save my life.
Anyway, I think of all of this. I think of all of the fear and the misery and the way each and every family gathering was somehow tainted/painted with blackness.
I think of how my mother talks about past events and says, "Do you remember?" and oh god, yes. I do.
Sometimes, on the other hand, I have asked her, "Do you remember?" and she has said, "Oh Mary. That never happened."
I had a therapist once, a very, very good one. She asked me why I am so attached to suffering.
I had no answer for her and I have been pondering that ever since.
Where did this need to suffer come from?
And finally I do realize. It was all I knew. It was all I saw.
Mothers suffer, fathers suffer, children suffer.
Life is suffering. Suffering is The Way.
And yet, I know it's not. I believe powerfully that as a species, we are no more meant to spend our lives suffering than the birds are. Or the magnolia trees.
Yes, suffering happens. Horrible things happen.
But why suffer if they are not?
Why do I continue to stew in a bath of suffering when there is no need? When I have everything that a human being can ask for?
Listen- I do know that suffering as a child gave me the ability to recognize suffering in others. To be quiet and listen to stories of suffering. To not be shocked.
There are people who have suffered far worse than I did but that's neither here nor there and I refuse to believe that there is a scale of it, suffering, and that we should be able to pull ourselves out and be happy people if our suffering was only a seven on a scale of 0ne-to-ten.
Or something like that.
Plus, some of us are born with an innate sadness, I do believe. That's just the way of it. Depression runs in families.
And this is what I am thinking today, even as my roses bloom, even as there is plenty to eat in my refrigerator, even as I have those grandsons, even as I have this life.
"Do you remember, Mary?" my mother asks. "Do you remember my suffering?"
Oh yes, Mother. I remember.
The problem is, I can't remember anything else.
Sometimes. Sometimes I can't remember any...thing...else.