The Crucible of Cruelty
Stevenesque blackbirds, grey March sky, the starkness almost alarming and the buds are still tucked in their wintry hoods. Cold rains on the way, for days this time, a brew of broody weather. No moon in the sky, but there is one in my heart and it is setting, slowly setting. In that moony heart is the heart of the moody child I once was and I’m crying for her as I write this, sob after sob.
Why? Because she had crow’s feet under her eyes when she was born. Because I have a photo of my mother, the one who nearly killed me, taken on the day I was brought home from the hospital. Early July, ninety degrees in the shade and me in the crook of my mother’s arms with my face squelched up in pain. A piglet’s face and who could love a piglet, especially one who snorted tears?
Mother couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t. Abandonment at birth and her with the movie star sunglasses on, her beauty still apparent, a beauty that would be ravaged by the time she was my age, which is fifty-four. She looked like a stillborn monkey or a starving child in a third world country and would die two decades later, almost on the day she was born. She who beat me within an inch of my life and me who shoved pot lids and books down the back of my pants so the blows wouldn’t hurt so much, but that only enraged her further.
I loved my mother. I really, really loved her, much more than my siblings did and they weren’t abused. She dished out punishment like some old Testament God, then told me to remember my prayers, beg for forgiveness for all the sins I committed, the biggest being that I was prettier and smarter than she was and that my father desired me, not her. Figuring this out, then learning to forgive her and my father, too, has taken a good decade because the only thing I remembered was to forget everything and as Eudora Welty said, remembering is done through the blood.
Shortly before my mother’s death, there was a big family reunion. I knew I needed to see her, be with her alone. I knew—but how?—I would never see her again. Just before her nap, I took her bloodless hand into mine, gently, gently, looked into her bloodless eyes, gently, gently and told her how much I loved her, also gently.
Now I’m really sobbing. Now I really want my mother even though she’s been dead for a decade. I want a chance to love her all over again such that she might love me back. I was the one who knew how scratch her back just right. I was the one who played the piano and sang to her so she could take her afternoon nap on the old gold couch. She needed my love, desperately so, and in return I received the crucible of cruelty.
Was I destined for that crucible the way Christ was his? He whose beauty was forged upon the crucible, as was his love and mine as well. Should I be almost grateful for it, I who would become Plath’s Lady Lazarus? I don’t believe in original sin, but I was devastated as a babe and that devastation deranged me. Nonetheless or because of all the remembering I have done through the blood, I created an end to my derangement, turned myself from victim to victor.
How one might ask? Because I have a seventeen year old son, a child who was loved long before he was born, a child I adored the way I wanted my mother to do, a child I left behind when my long and much beloved marriage came to its nearly killing conclusion.
How could I do such a thing, leave behind both husband and son, move away from what was for me, hauntingly so, Sexton’s Newton? Even now I can hear the deathly hum of her car in her garage and I was suicidal at the end of my marriage, highly suicidal. I was dying to die, the way I was dying to die as a child.
My departure was almost heroic. I left Sexton’s Newton in order to save both my husband and son, to make sure that when they came home from school or work, they wouldn’t find me dead in a fetal ball from a drug overdose. That was two years ago, almost to the day and last May I did take an overdose and I nearly died, would have most certainly died is it weren’t for the intervention of a friend who somehow figured out what I was up to. In the end, a living mother who loves her son above all others is most certainly far better than a dead one.
There’s a beautiful, excruciatingly beautiful adagio playing on the radio. That is what my life has been—an excruciatingly beautiful adagio and I am a trained dance, know all the right steps, especially when it comes to performing the swan song. Down I go, all the way down, driven by crippling, debilitating pain that leaves me crying and screaming in the fetal ball, the one I went into as a child also crippled by debilitating pain.
Night is coming on and I want the flannel nightgown I wore throughout my childhood and well into my twenties, the one with the snowmen on it, the one that went from touching the floor to barely brushing my knees with its threadbare cuffs up to my elbows. I danced in that nightgown long after bedtime before my dresser mirror, a little Cinderella in one hell of a hell. I need that nightgown now. That and my one-eyed teddy bear with the forever silky ears.
Instead I have my son’s teddy bear. Because I couldn’t take him, I took his green bear, a bear he insisted I take with me when hospitalized—yes in psych wards—to use as a surrogate. Back in the house in the bed where he was conceived, he has piled all of his other stuffed animals on the side that was mine, a mother shrine.
This is the stuff of tragedy. A childhood annihilated by violence. A lost marriage and a beloved son I see only once a week. And yet—more tears—he’s happy. And this week I turn into a Frisbee Mom, will drive from where I live in Southern Maine back to Sexton’s Newton to attend his games, watch him fly for the disc—his golden ring.
And mine? The marriage band of course. The one with the tree of life engraved in it which sits on a tray painted, as well, with the tree of life. Why oh why did it stop bearing fruit until I was truly love-starved, wanted only to die? Why oh why oh my?
Stevenesque blackbirds, blacker sky and I’m back on that crucible, loving my dead mother, my only son. And I am alone, very much alone and lonely, too. I who was a girl Christ turned into a Mother Mary, bore the fruit of my womb in excruciatingly beautiful pain. I loved my long travail, still do, but my now ex-husband resented his only son at birth because, or so he said, of the pain that birthing brought me. Maybe just maybe, it really was because I loved that babe more than him and I did love my ex, devotedly so.
My middle name is Mary because my mother, good Catholic that she was, wanted to invoke the mother of God in it. And my son is my God, he who I deify with my pen. I had a mother who couldn’t love me and my son has a mother who can’t stop loving him. I was a haunted child—remember those crow’s feet—and yet I am the mother of my own beauty and beauty is love, beauty is love.