You walk the beach and the sea-washed pebbles glisten underfoot.
There is comfort in scooping them up. The smallest of stones that millenniums from now will be grains of sand.
“You have to learn to just maintain,” your best friend says, passing it to you. But you’re laughing too hard at the sun and the light and the tiny shells the two of you collect and string. You sit on the old pier — it’s wooden pilings holding the two of you close.
She teaches you about cigarettes too. It’s so you can look cool when the two of you are out. It becomes a crutch for you, after. Part of the costume that you wear.
Taking five and hanging ten near Hammond’s.
The boys are surfing nearby, and the two of you watch as her big brother catches a wave and spins along it while the sea glimmers splash.
Years later you try and remember what it was to be given a guitar, or a violin and the way she smashed that out of you. Crushing that part of you that could make a sound.
Your little bedroom was decorated with powder blue and olive green and years later you drive by the house remembering the night she swept all your toys out the window in a drunken rage.
You learn to be unsure, never knowing when the rage might set in. Her face changes.
In the morning you tell your mother what she has done.
“It was my little emerald ring, Mommy.”
The ring your grandmother had given you.
You are only eight that night. She swept everything out the window. All your little dolls and toys and saved things. At your best friend’s house her bedroom still has childhood.
You learn early not to be attached.
It’s the moods of hers you have to watch out for.
It will be years before you and your best friend talk again about your mothers. You revisit it like chapters that got lost, somehow.
“What has she done to you?” your grandmother says. She’s standing at the door of your little room in Cambria where you are sent to summer. The beds have red bedspreads, pin-tucked, and you stand at the window looking at the pine trees and listening to the wind whistling through.
“Tell me what she has done, honey.”
But what are you going to say?
It’s not as if you can explain to your grandparents.
You can’t access the memories before age eight. You just can’t. It must have been bad, and so your mind blocks it. Your mind survives it.
“Your mother really did a number on you,” he says. He’s your therapist.
“So did mine.”
He lets you know what she did when his first play was released.
You learn the term for this, later, becoming a psychotherapist.
A negative mother. After she passes away it take you years to start sifting. You roll the memories around in your mind like sand shifting along a dune. Memories like pebbles, some shining. Some rock hard and not endurable.
There are dreams. Two dreams you want to remember, because you had them all the time. From the time you were eight. In the first one you are in the charred rafters of an orphanage crawling along. It’s as if you are in a gothic cathedral so high up you might fall, but you don’t. You creep along the rafters with the other children. They are blackened and they might break at any moment. You always wake up from this one, with a start.
In the second dream you open the door to the house where you live and all you see is empty space in a black void. There are what appear to be floating stage sets, or geometric planes that are spotlit with stage lights and your family stands on them like some kind of theatrical tableau. You can’t access them. They are too far out of reach, and you can see daddy and your mother and your little brother, but they are all so far away.
In those years your grandparents pull you.
“You can have a horse,” your grandmother says. “If you come and live with us.”
The dunes are where you feel most free, cantering, the waves splashing up. Your horse running, kicking up the sea in droplets.
* * *
Have some more, she says. “Just maintain.”
You smile at her. Your best friend knows so much more than you do about everything, it seems.
At your house the parties revolve around Artists and Jazz.
At her house she has a mother and father. Or she had, until this summer. The summer you are both thirteen and her world is about to fall apart like yours did when Mommy told you you could no longer see Daddy.
Years later you meet the surfer who knew you then. He tells you that you and your brother came over all the time with your dog Tiger, and he played the guitar.
“She was kind to me,” he says. “At the time.”
Suddenly the sun is out, illuminating the beach. The pebbles glint and flash and tumble.
Whatever was bad recedes.
You can close the door on whoever she ways, and whatever she did, and you can know another side of her — the one you never knew in childhood — because so many people loved her.
“pebbles” by Valentine Bonnaire — copyright 2010 — all rights reserved — from the memoir “whitegirrrl.”
*author’s note — on music:
When I was in Graduate school we had to write many papers. I once wrote one about this film for Lionel. I saw myself in the little blond girl, and the mother was much like mine. One day I will revist all those papers. It’s been long enough. now.