These are the first steps you will ever learn to take all by yourself. If you are lucky your mom and dad will be watching and so you stride out, gleefully, towards that trusted figure with the camera.
It will be years before you find out the truth about him, and why your mother left him.
Probably she wanted to deprive you of happiness. That’s what you think later, sifting through photographs and trying to make sense of your own life. Your generation didn’t really have parents, did it?
Not the kind of parents you idolized.
It’s not as if they ever hurt you intentionally. They didn’t.
They didn’t mean to.
We all grow up with scars. Years later you will meet someone who is really scarred, on the outside. You will wonder how she managed to survive. She’ll be stronger than you were. Because her parents were there and they didn’t leave…
“I never thought you’d make it to twenty.”
She says this, putting down her gimlet. The scent of limes sweeps across the space between the two of you. You sit there holding that pronouncement and not knowing what she means at all. It’s just one of many like that, and she is silent afterwards — just looking at you.
You have had to figure your mother out, between moods.
Your child’s mind can’t quite grasp it.
You learn to watch the moods for swings, which come like clockwork, with gimlets. Or at her parties. You try and gauge what will happen. Or what will happen next. You can’t.
Daddy becomes a question mark, too.
Daddy is beaches and waves and surfers and trips down to Mexico and bullfights and cameras. Daddy is popcorn and carnivals and clowns and circuses and shoulder rides as he lifts you high above the crowd so you can see.
He comes and goes, often.
Too often for the little girl that you were that loved him — so much.
“Children should be seen and not heard.”
And so you never really got the chance to say it. Any of it. Not really.
Years later you will sift through photographs. Yourself at two. Yourself at twenty. Dozens and dozens and dozens of them. You will look for clues about yourself. Actually, you will be desperate to find clues because you can’t remember much from the years before age eight.
“I loved you so much, honey.”
He says this to you from his deathbed, over the phone. In your thirties. Your brother is with him. You recognize his voice as if he had never been gone. As if years and years hadn’t stretched between the two of you. As if you were two years old again, all of a sudden.
“You were so brave,” he says.
“I remember that day they told me I could never see you again.”
“You came out to the car and you said, ‘I’ll be allright, Daddy.'”
“They were all standing there. Your mother and your grandparents.”
“They told me I could never see you again.”
You absorb this. You try and fathom what it must have meant to be nine years old and all of a sudden your mother has decided with her parent’s help that you can no longer have a relationship with the man you call Daddy. All of a sudden you are crying into the phone realizing that he loved you. He really loved you and that she had done this.
She ripped the fabric of your life apart. At nine.
Years later you will meet the girl with the scars on the outside. She seems so whole, so in-charge, so everything. You look at her hands and on one of them half the fingers are gone. She wears short skirts and one of her legs has mangled skin. You wonder how she can show that. How she can just walk around in the world, so whole, and yet?
She tells you about her parents. She tells you about the accident, and the lawnmover, and you don’t know what to say. After that, her parents just loved her. Loved her. Loved her…
Your mother looks at you fiercely.
She has taken another sip of that gimlet and the glass is making a ring on the wooden Spanish carved table before her. Angelica is in the kitchen fixing dinner.
“You should write a poem,” she says. You slip back through corridors of time until you are eight again, looking up at her.
“Let’s call it, ‘On Mirrors.'”
Years later you will think about all the trains she put you on, or the taxicabs.
You will think about the books she wanted you to read and the films she wanted you to see, and that all of these things gave her space from you. All of these things allowed the vast silence between you to grow until you no longer opened your mouth at all. In her presence.
She was that large.
Instead you learned to funnel all those words onto paper.
* * *
copyright 2009 Valentine Bonnaire — all rights reserved
*note: this is a chapter from my novel “whitegirl” — I didn’t realize that somebody else had chosen that title already but I just found that out yesterday — so consider it a working title only! It is a feminist novel and coming of age tale/memoir…rolled into one.