The following is the second of 15 blog posts I'll--fingers crossed--be posting in the month of November as part of the October Memoir Challenge.
We were talking about moving back to the city, my mother was explaining to me. Larry suggested Greenwich Village but I will never live there again because the worst years of my life were there.
How could this be? My memories of this same time were all wonderful. We lived down the street from my Aunt Frances and within walking distance of my school, the local library, and even Washington Square Park. My best memories were here. I had good friends at school: Dorie, Alexia, Nikki.
Dorie, who had a younger sister, lived in a building south of Washington Square Park. Her father was a dentist and her mother stayed at home, a rarity in my social world. Dorie was tall, with red hair and pale skin and one time her father gave her a spanking while I was there spending the night, something that confused me but I still envied her a “real family,” especially her younger sister.
I envied Alexia because she was beautiful, with long brown hair that reached below her waist. One year, when we all went trick-or-treating together, my mother dressed me up like a witch, with layers of black and even a bat painted on my forehead, while Alexia was dressed as a princess. I had wanted to dress like a princess but my mother said it was too cold. One year, Alexia had a birthday party at her mother’s pottery studio and we made name bracelets with beads her mother had made herself.
Nikki was smaller even than I with short dark hair and she was often mistaken for a boy. Still, she had an older sister and a mother and another woman and they all lived in a loft apartment with impossibly high ceilings and drywall sheets that partitioned sections off to create bedrooms. Compared to the tiny apartment in which my mother and I lived, her space felt like a mansion. And I adored her, even though she was so quiet, almost invisible, because I didn’t care about anything else in her life. She was wonderful.
There were, of course, other friends, and they came over often. They loved our tiny apartment because there were so many amazing things there. We had two bunnies and some guinea pigs in a large aquarium tank in the hallway. We had two long haired cats—a white with gorgeous orange eyes and a brown tabby. We had a goldfish and parakeets. At one point, I even had a turtle and a mouse. For one brief time, possibly because my mother lost her mind, we had a collie, a large male that came and went before I could get used to having a dog.
How did we fit all of this into our apartment, so small that the refrigerator was in the living room? Why did we have so many pets? And what about the gifts given to me, the too generous things that the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus left in our apartment and in my Aunt Frances’ apartment too?
My life was good. But what about my mother’s life?
I was so young and know so little. She had lied to me about my father. She was fired from a job which, when you’re a single mother, must be just about the most frightening thing that could happen. Her brother died in an accident. She dated and eventually married which is how and why we moved away from Greenwich Village for good.
The marriage is that ended our life in Greenwich Village where I was so happy is telling, in that peculiar way that hindsight hints at truths I can’t directly define. Had my mother been happy, she never would have married this man. If she had loved herself, if she had been in a better place emotionally, she wouldn’t have wanted a father for me thinking that a man who could care for me could give us the home she couldn’t give us herself, by herself.
She never would have married Larry B. I might have remained happy. Maybe my mother would have found a way to be happy. We’ll never know. What we do know is that everything in our lives changed. Years later my mother asked me what the worst thing she ever did as a mother was and I said, “Married Larry B.” She didn’t disagree but, at the time, she thought she had no other choice.
I forget sometimes how much a product of her upbringing my mother was (and maybe even still is) in spite of herself.