teaching

fool’s gold — a chapter from my feminist memoir “whitegirrrl” — #amwriting #feminism #women #hardchoices #heirlooms #americanwomen #marriages #jobs

“Contrast is everything in life.”

This is one of your mother’s favorite expressions.  She keeps on telling you that over and over and over.

“It will be like you never lived there.”

She says that about houses, and years later you will drive by some of the ones you grew up in.  The mansion on the hill, the one downtown that was an adobe where you had your own apartment at fifteen, the Craftsman where your brother had the fabulous screened porch for his bedroom.  You learn there how your mother plans to survive her second divorce.

She follows you when you move back to the town where you grew up.  You never got a chance to be really on your own did you?  It falls to the eldest child to take care of the family, usually.

But not every child feels this way about their parents, do they?

Not every child has any intention of taking care of their parents or taking their parents to the end.  That burden fell to you.

The lion inside your mother, the Leo, comes to the fore in you when you need it.  You can roar if you want to can’t you?  Shaking your mane around and saying “that’s enough.”

“Enough’s enough.”

This is a place that everyone in your generation gets to at some point either in their jobs or their marriages or their relationships.  You learned this from your own mother because she showed you how to have strength in the bleakness, even though she needed you so desperately she would never let you go into your own bright world.

If only you hadn’t had to worry about her so much, but you did didn’t you?

Almost all your moves were informed by her needs, weren’t they?

She liked to collect things.  She liked to collect people and objects and there was never any shortage of those flowing in and out of her life.  When she was desperate for money she sold things off.  There were always more things to be had, later.  All of your life she talked about her inheritance to you as if it was a ship on some far off horizon.  This was something that was going to fix absolutely everything.  In reality things solve nothing except to cover up all the empty places inside a person.  She was generous with her things though, giving them away to poor children.  She taught you how to be unselfish, didn’t she?  She actually crushed any selfishness you might have had, didn’t she?

“I can’t believe I sold that Linenfold chair for three hundred dollars,” she’s saying.

“I needed the money that year.”

You feel guilty about being her child.  Her life would have been so much easier without you she keeps on stressing.  She doesn’t understand how much she is wounding you when she says this.  It makes you wish you had never been born, sometimes.  She doesn’t want to be a grandmother and she doesn’t want you to have children, does she?  She likes to call you “mother,” and then admit it was a Freudian slip of the tongue.

Your brother escapes at seventeen.  He runs, heading to the surf miles down the coast.  He’s just looking for some kind of normality and so are you.  You like the stability of your grandparent’s life.  You decide you want to live like they do, don’t you?

It occurs to you years later that he saw you as a workhorse.

He saw the way you worked so hard for everybody else at that newspaper didn’t he?

You were pretty to boot.  You were a prize like a diamond, weren’t you?

What the other men were thinking was, “he’s fucking that.”

What he doesn’t understand is that you inherited the most important thing of all from your mother.  Breeding.

Breeding, dignity and her leonine spine.  It’s all Horatio Alger isn’t it, if you are an American?

You thought you could believe in him when you took those vows didn’t you?  For better or for worse.  To love and to cherish.  Till death do you part.  It doesn’t work like that when it comes to self-preservation of your own soul does it?

You remember how your mother left, and how your best friend left.  They left their marriages because they were in too much pain not to.  Psychic pain.

You remember how your mother would never see a child be without a toy, or hungry, or how she helped her friends and how she had the spine to leave when things were really tough.  These are the things you carry in your veins too.  Your mother was half of you and she raised you.  You’re her daughter.  She taught you to be Katie Scarlett from Gone with the Wind, by watching the movie.  It’s the Irish part of you that has the fight, and it’s that part that keeps you alive, because of your heart.

You’re looking at your grandmother’s rose gold bracelet from when she was a little girl.  It’s been in a jewelry box for years and years gathering dust.  You need some money and it is either sell this or?  What?  You’re asking yourself?

You need to raise six hundred and twenty five dollars.  You are wondering whether the gold in the bracelet is worth that much aren’t you?  You remember your mother telling you that flesh was the most important thing in life.  This time you’re thinking of your own hide.  You’re thinking of yourself for the first time aren’t you?  You’ve got that luxury now, haven’t you?

You need that $625 because there is something you want to do, just for yourself.  It has nothing to do with him.  It has nothing to do with marriage.  It has to do with you.  it has to do with something you want.

You wanted your grandparent’s lifestyle and you thought he was like your grandfather at first, didn’t you?

You thought he had that kind of heart inside him, didn’t you?

He didn’t.

Easy come, easy go.  That’s how she raised you.  Irish.  It’s all about the shamrocks and the rainbows and the clouds full of silver linings.  Until she got her inheritance she played the Irish Sweepstakes.  She never lost herself or her dreams, did she?

Like you she was part of something in America that is gilded.

She had a heart of gold, just like you do.

For years she carried that little piece of fool’s gold, didn’t she?

She said, “If I believe it is, then it is.”

It’s your mother’s strength you can draw from in the hardest times.  Her inheritance to you was that kind of gold.

~

“fool’s gold” — copyright 2011 — all rights reserved

*author note music