I didn't know how long my mother would live. Like most children I never really thought about it. She was my mother and she'd be there always, whenever I needed her and probably times I didn't want her to be there. I loved my mother. I counted on her. She was older than everyone else's mothers. She had gray hair and was a little overweight. She was 40 when I was born. I didn't know I would only have her in my life till I was 23. I am 70 and now have lived longer than my mother. I was a bride twice; a mother three times and am a grandmother. I never knew any grandparents. There was something missing I heard other people talk about – a kind of loving. I would find out when I was about 15 that my mother had 3 children before me – a stillborn, and infant crib death and a miscarriage. No one knows how long we will have each other in our lives and so we live a bit carelessly, taking it all for granted.
In all honesty I do not know how I got from the day of my mother's wake and the funeral the next day, June 14 1968 to my first day teaching in a high school 40 minutes and a world away in a blue collar factory town along the Housatonic River. My brother and his wife stayed a couple days and then returned to their lives which left me alone with my father, who in his own grief (and maybe guilt as to what a terribly cruel husband he'd been) asked me, over and over, to describe what my mother's body looked like when I came to, what bones were broken etc. He went off to the office, being a radiologist, saw patients, had lunch with friends, even saw a woman psychiatrist while he never suggested I see one, I who had been driving the car. My car was totaled. He agreed to buy me a car. We shopped where he knew someone and I really don't remember why but he bought me a Pontiac Firebird with an overhead cam (an automatic). I don't remember when I knew I had to start driving again. I knew I couldn't stay in the house where I hadn't lived since I was 16 (having been away to boarding school, college, graduate school and summers finding work in a summer theatre in Virginia).
My mother's things were everywhere. Her life. Her taste in things. Her paintings. Her hairbrush and comb. Her perfumes. I was an intruder going through her drawers, but knowing if I didn't my father would and it was better I discover if she had hidden anything there she wouldn't have wanted him to see. That was how I found the crucifix hidden in the handkerchief drawer, one rosary there, another in her paint box, and another in the glove drawer. I found one in the pocket of one of her fur coats. In her desk there was little to find except for stamps and letters to and from her "girlfriends," address book, check book, those metal department store charge cards, and greeting cards. My mother was always buying birthday cards, sympathy cards, and congratulation cards. She was always ready to send someone a note on an occasion. There was scotch tape and scissors and pens and pencils. I went through her jewelry box, which was filled with pins from Cartier and Tiffany which she rarely wore. They were large and gaudy gifts from my father, and not my mother's taste at all. Her scent was everywhere. I would steal into my parents' room after my father went off to the office and open mother's drawers and feel the silk slips and open the Shalimar bottle. I would go into her closet and look at the suits she wore, her shoes, and her purses. I would stand in the front hall closet and cry between her coats.
Excerpt from The Mermaid in the Cornfield
I am still in search of that something, that ineffable translucent something that I have glimpsed now and then , an understanding perhaps– as I turned a city street, came around the bend of a river, saw in the lift of the wind as I moved the tiller so that I heeled the boat and rode highest into the wind, in the lighting dark of those monk hours I relish, in the darkening light of the blue hour when my heart becomes filled with a sorrow that has no name, in the middle night of loneliness when I reach for – not a light – not a book – not a hand I know isn't there – but for those words that I hope will somehow take me out of the despair that is my closest companion, who knows me so very well, hides my truth and my lies, who secrets my weaknesses and whispers over and over that I am only human and humans will always be lonely and isolated from each other -that a touch is a moment, a soft word is a second, the brush of a kiss is a reminder that closeness and being known is still impossible, that I will never be innocent again, that I am burdened with this body, this mind, this time and only words will free me from the torment of the darkness of the middle night and see me through to the lighting of the dark, see me into the expression of the confusion and then daily stumbling, I will continue to look for a glimpse of that something that frees me into a love so strong I sigh.
There are moments alone in the twist of light, when there is something in that light that is nearly timeless or transcendent, when everything seems understood and if not exactly understood inhaled and almost pure with a radiance of its own that almost gives me a place to be where being safe might happen.