It’s been a long week. This sharing of feelings deep and chercher le mot juste needed to convey those feelings is, quite frankly, exhausting. It’s probably the primary answer behind the question, “Why haven’t more people opened up and shared their experiences?”
Before I come down from the memory attic though, I want to speak of forgiveness and forgetting. As in, one is possible and one (if we’re being totally honest here) is not. I can forgive and still live with the past as it occurred. But to forget? Well, that’s akin to a parent saying, “Look, you’ve learned a lot this year at school. Now just forget it all because it’s of no use.” For it is in the forgiving and remembering that we grow. Wisdom is a living organism and its roots take hold in the ground of memory.
The emotions attached to any given experience can weigh us down. Forgiveness is an opportunity to lessen our emotional burden. Remembering the experience allows us to expand our own understanding of the human condition and nurture our ability to feel compassion, empathy, and sympathy.
Broken. It’s a buzz word of our times. We’re all broken. In reality though, we’re all just human. And being born human, by its very nature, is to be born broken. We are not whole to begin with. We are one tile. One tile in the mosaic that will become our life. A mosaic that will, over time, define who we are. The most beautiful mosaics are a mix of light AND dark.
The remembering is two-fold though. In order to forgive, I also had to remember what the lives of those who caused pain in my life were before.I.became.a.part.of.their.lives. Take a moment to let that last sentence take hold.
My stepmother: She was a violent alcoholic. Without going into detail, suffice it to say that just recently another healed-over fracture from my childhood came to light. A few weeks ago, I attended a birthday party that was held at a roller rink. I used to roller skate a lot — as.a.kid. — so the lure of donning skates and skating around the rink was strong. (Of course, as a kid growing up in Detroit, my rolling rink was the city itself.) It only took me a short while before I had my skating legs back and I was really doing great skating close to the sides of the rink. Then, in a moment I can only describe as, “I’m thirteen again and weigh a mere 100 pounds,” I made a sharp turn and became one with the floor.
A few days later, when the doctor was looking at the X-rays of my wrist, she was concerned about the part of my wrist that wasn’t hurting.
“Do you feel pain here?”
“No, I feel it over here.”
“Are you sure you don’t feel pain here?”
“No, I feel it over HERE.”
“The reason I ask,” she said, “is because here (pointing to an area on the X-ray) is what appears to be a healed over fracture. I want to be sure it wasn’t affected.”
As it turns out, a bone was chipped in my hand as a result of the fall and I sprain my wrist — badly.
I forgave my stepmother. I never had the opportunity to do so in person, but I forgave her just the same. From what I could recall of her life BR (before Robin): Her only sister had died when my stepmother and her sister were in their twenties; she had once been in love and engaged to marry, only to be jilted at the altar; she remained single until she met my father when she was in her late thirties; she had never had children of her own (I found out much, much later that she had once been pregnant, during her marriage to my father, but miscarried. I suppose her addiction to alcohol probably played a big part in it.); she had survived the great depression; she had been one of thousands of women who went to work in the factories when all our men were called to duty during World War II; she had remained a working woman after they returned; she had friends she hung out with; she loved buying nice clothes; she loved having a good time. She was a person like anyone else before she became my stepmother.
I’ve also had to let go of her decision to make her nephew the executor of her will and, in essence, my father’s estate. The reality is that he was in her life after I left. He did nothing innately wrong. He was legally her executor. He lives now on land my father purchased. Land my father was going to build his retirement home — our home — on. Her nephew subdivided the property and built several houses on it. One of those homes is his. In order to access the houses, he had to have a street put in. He used my father’s name (my stepmother never remarried after his death), my maiden name, to name the street. In New Hudson, not far from the University of Michigan (my father’s alma mater) is a street name Keahn Lane. Her nephew owns the property, but I own the name. And I’m okay with that.
As children we don’t remember our parents before they were our parents. Funny that. And, oftentimes, when we have the opportunities to ask them about their lives before we became a part of it, we don’t. As adults, we don’t often take into consideration what others’ lives were like before we met them, before we married them, either.
My first husband: BR he had been a boy whose father abandoned him and his older sister; on returning home from school one day, his sister had found their mother had committed suicide by wrapping her head in a plastic bag; he and his sister had grown up being shifted from relative to relative; he had married young; joined the Marines when he was eighteen years old; served two tours in Vietnam as a tunnel rat and sharp shooter; his first wife cheated on him; he was divorced; he had two children he rarely saw from that marriage. What I didn’t know at the time I married him was that he had spent time at the Atascadero Mental hospital. That part of his story is not something I want to delve into at this time. However, it, along with the night-terrors he experienced from memories of children he had killed, unknowingly and via a direct order to shoot into moving brush, shaped who he became. Vietnam warfare was nasty and cruel. We separated two months before I gave birth to our twins. At the time (when dinosaurs roamed the earth), I didn’t know I was carrying twins. We tried a few times to get back together. He was broken, too. I was young, but mature enough to know that I could not fix him and could not trust his behavior. It was a wonky few years that followed, but eventually the permanent break was made. Did he love me? I think he did. Did he want to be a good husband and father? I think he did. He just couldn’t. He didn’t have the tools to make himself better.
I guess I should also note that my first husband was six years older than me. When certain songs would come on the radio, he’d ask, “Do you remember when this song first came out?” “No,” I’d reply, “I was too young.”
My second husband: BR he was the middle child of five. His mother was a stay-at-home mom; his father was a long-distance truck driver. His mother was quiet, soft-spoken, loving. His father was a philanderer. We were the same age. He was an immature twenty-one year old; I was a mature twenty-one year old, with children. We were just way more different than we were alike. He took after his father in behavior. Did he love me? I’m not sure. I think, perhaps, I was his excuse to leave home. Did I love him? I think I did — but I was lonely — and lonely has a way of making a lot of relationships look like love.
The most difficult person to remember BR was…
My mother: There were HUGE gaps in between our comings and goings in and out of each other’s lives until I was 42 years old. So her life BR came to me in bits and pieces. She was the eldest child of five. Five children from three different marriages. At a young age, she took on the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. She was a passive child. A quiet girl. A romantic at heart. She worked in a diner when she was twelve years old to help out with finances at home. She first met my father at the age of fourteen. He was twenty years-old and a frequent diner. She was smitten with his, as she put it, “exotic” looks. They first dated when she was sixteen. They married when she was eighteen. She was a virgin and extremely naïve. She attended what was then called “finishing school.” She learned things like fencing, the martial art of using swords, as well as how to properly set a dinner table. She took art lessons; she loved to paint. She was a creative woman trapped in a domestic world. She gave birth to me when she was nineteen. (Until recently she thought she was 18 when I was born, then we did the math. English majors can do simple mathematics when it’s important.) And then her world imploded. She was no longer interested in being a housewife. They divorced. She made some her own not-too-smart decisions after that.
At some point, she was diagnosed as Manic-Depressive. I found out about this diagnosis twelve years after my stay at Charter Oak. I’m thankful I didn’t know. I think knowing would have altered my ability to heal. It would have been a handicap, I think, to moving forward.
Forgiving her for (what was my perception of events) abandoning me as a child was extremely hard. It was a bittersweet struggle between logic and emotion. However, taking a step back and putting the broken pieces of her life together to get a bigger picture of who she was, and how she became who she is today, was instrumental in (re)building a relationship.
Being able to forgive all of the people above has, for me, made the extending of grace and forgiveness to others much easier. My life is too full to bother with grudges and bitter pills. I can only hope that others will extend the same towards me. Wait, what? Me hurt or offend someone? Why, yes. Yes, it’s possible I have. That human condition I mentioned earlier? I suffer from it, too.
At a time when memory is a cause for concern in light of dementia and Alzheimer’s, remembering is a gift. Used as a tool to forgive, you increase your chances of becoming better and wiser.
Now — Permission, dear reader, to engage in lighter fare?