Saturday, October 05, 2013

October Memoir Challenge Three

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.


  1. As a young adult, I tended to remember the happy times and my brother tended to remember the sad ones. In truth, there were plenty of both, and to say I would have been sadder or he would have been happier if..... well, it's just hard to say. When sad things happen, the little back road to sadness gets wider and longer in the brain, and if sad things happen enough, pretty soon there's a freeway built. Even though we can (with the right personality and cognitive ability) choose to use the back roads that make us happy, in a crunch, the brain uses the quickest route and if the route that's been build is a superhighway to sadness, well... My own mothers struggled with histories they did not make plain to me until after I was grown. The choices they made were much clearer once their backgrounds were understood. Similarly, my own life choices seem less free choices and more like unseen patterns once I perceived the longitudinal trajectory of my families. We are all affected by our upbringing even when we think we aren't.

    1. So true, Deb, about our brains building pathways. I went through a period of PTSD and built a highway to sadness. The good thing is, our brains are flexible, we can always build a new road, and travel it so often it, too, becomes a new highway. I've built a highway to happiness since then, and although I can still go to sadness quickly, I more frequently go to happiness, strengthening it every time I do. But what is built in childhood is so much harder to rebuild in a different direction. And what we do when we're locked on the wrong highway so often has long-reaching repercussions.

  2. It must have been a tough conversation you had with your mother about marrying this man. It's fortunate that you're able to speak honestly now, even if you couldn't speak up at the time. This must have been a really frightening experience for you as a child. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    1. Amanda, It was surprisingly easy because my mother 1) wanted to hear what I had to say and 2) was able to see how, in spite of her mistakes in my childhood, we had both grown so loving and close since then that it didn't matter in the long run. Yes, it took a lot of mutual work but we are in such a good place now, the love has definitely overshadowed the pain.

  3. This is such an interesting post, Satia. I've often been struck how I and someone else can remember the same event or experience completely differently. And isn't it true that children are very wrapped up in their own experiences. I feel so sorry for your mother, and for you, that this period wasn't equally good for both of you, and had ended differently. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Jane Ann, Thank you. It is odd how I did not know my mother was so unhappy but it does make her marriage to this man less confusing. One doesn't marry an abusive person when in a good place emotionally. I can only imagine how hard my mother worked to keep me, as young as I was, ignorant of her unhappiness. It obviously worked.