Cold War Cinderella
by Adrienne D. Wilson
writing as VB-Demoiselle Nanowrimo 2016
Where to begin to find my mother?
I’ll have to tell you the story of myself and it’s so long ago now I can hardly remember what she must have gone through holding a tiny baby with the threat of a nuclear bomb going off at any minute. Sparkle dust in the air, clouds of twinkle, the handsome 1960’s President, the war over when she was just a teen. It’s how it ended though, that she must have carried forth through the womb that stretched out under my French father, fresh from the streets of Switzerland, pure resistance, shattered, the boat over, life anew in San Francisco.
She was a Cold War Cindermother, and so I can say I was born of that, conceived in North Beach in a cold water flat she said she adored, to a father I never knew, in between Tati films and the Jazz underground clubs they frequented together. Born into Beat poetry is what I’ll say now. Maybe we all were. Maybe we are all as lost as our parents were those years, maybe we have all been adrift like little bobbing boats looking for moorings across endless waters.
Dear Daddy, I want to say. Dear second Daddy. This one is for you and all the things I never was able to say back then, about how much I loved you even though she couldn’t.
I’m afraid, Dad. I’m afraid like I was always afraid in life because you left right when I needed you most in that 13th year and you were just gone because she had left you for someone else and now I see it was a pattern looking at myself at eight that year you were over in the big waves with your cameras. On the big island. She saw you surrounded by bright Hawaiian leis and hips shimmying and all your boys on longboards in the sea and girls in bikinis and your cameras. The endless loops of film on reels that caught you and her brother up in lifelines looking through lenses at life. In the meantime out over the sea the mushroom clouds were rising and rising and rising off the atoll. Pacific drift. That sparkle dust that landed in the sea I ran toward as a child, shimmer sand under the waves moving and twinkling.
I didn’t like the men she left you for. Not the first one and not the second. They were writers and she loved that, wanting to be one herself but never making it to the page because the cocktails drowned it out too fast. There is so little left of her handwriting now. I see it and sometimes I’m startled, finding some amidst the photographs. What she always said about you Dad, was that you were the only one she ever loved. There was one constant thing for her then, in that life of fragments. I guess it was you.
I started life as one of her accessories.
I started life as one of her mistakes.
I started life as a product of the streets that were San Francisco where she met a French artist of the underground.
All of her mistakes.
Her parents paid the price for those, and later so did I. Everything she needed was constantly and drop everything at once for her – like a black hole void inside that everyone had to fill. Maybe that was because of Hiroshima, but I’ve never thought of it that way until this year, with the noise of the jets flying over the house and the idea that we might be on the brink of war again, so much anger directed at us from overseas it’s hard to tell.
I wish you had been there Dad. I wish you had held me through the loves that weren’t really love. I wish you had walked me down the aisle with the strongest arm holding me upright. I wish you had been there to judge the men, one by one, where I looked for all the love I never got or ever found.
It’s cold outside and the light has changed. I went out under the stars, and it’s dark, and I looked to the heavens while the jets rushed over, too high to make out the rumble, too high to even see. Someone down below is preparing for war. Somewhere on the planet there will always be war, even thought the world wanted nothing but peace on earth. My generation did.
The bones of the house my husband brought me to have nothing to do with me. It’s cold in here inside his childhood. I’m supposed to feel lucky or grateful the way women are told to feel, right? I loved our house, the one we bought when we married, and it seems so long ago now, that I looked up into the shimmering leaves of the trees turning reddish amber at Thanksgiving, the flutter-fall of them on the breeze, so much beauty. It was warm there. Warmer, like that love we had together once.
He wanted to be here, after his parents passed, and now I’m trapped in a world I never wanted in a house that reeks of the cold sitting here on this hill with the horror of concrete blocks from the fifties and Mid-Century light pushing against the metal windows. It’s so cold I can’t get warm. It’s so ugly I can’t live. And now there is the threat of war. Cold. War. Cold. War. It seems the marriage was always that – the fight for place. I was his third wife. I was his third wife and I didn’t want to get married. It was something he wanted. It was something I just did, because it seemed the thing to do, because he wanted it, and for so many years now I have lived under colonial rule that I can’t even think. I’d like to remember who I was once, Dad.
I want to roll back the tide of the years and find myself again, or reinvent myself as something new.
It’s one of those autumnal mornings when you need to see the dawn and so you look for faint colored streaks through the trees, as if the rose will paint things bright, and it’s light now, rising up from the grey where it’s coldest. The house makes me shiver with the pressure of the walls that were his mother’s. It’s her house. He stopped wanting ours and then he tossed it away like a husk, as if the empty husk of our marriage mattered less than either of his others. Most of the time I look at myself and think I failed. Not failed as a wife, because that was never my plan to have that be the end all of my days and ways, but failing at leaving some kind of mark that I had even lived.
The thought will pass. It’s just too cold here, and life isn’t over yet. I’m going to wait for the rose that appears in the dawn and think of other houses I was happier in. It’s so cold and the grey sky is lit finally from within, as the dawn clouds float across it. The first birds have begun to sing, like they always sing in the mornings, and these are my first memories as a child. Birds hopping in the Spanish courtyard where we lived. I was little playing dress up in my mother’s shoes, wearing roses splashed across a dress my grandmother must have picked out. They had me in little costumes all the time, like the doll I started with. The Barbie dressed like Bardot, in her zebra looking one piece.
This is what they had us believing, then. We were dolls like that, in the soon to be inhabited dreamhouses they were constructing for us. At least it seemed that way at six or so, clomping around in long beads and your mother’s shoes and waiting for your little brother to be born. When he arrives she seems happier at first, and Dad is there.
Maybe she conceived you to tinkly ripples of Jazz, you think later. I was born of Jazz and Kerouac and the smell of the salty sea and the fog, and the city lights, and the fluffy camaraderie she found briefly with post war Paris, and that was you Dad. The sperm only father who I never really knew. It must have been like nuclear fission between the two of you, hand in hand in love in the big city. She never explained anything of you to me. You were her mistake, you were the man she left, baby in tow, barely months old when she headed back home to her mother in the safer foothills of Los Angeles. She must have handed me over and said, “here.”
I was a Cold War Cinderella. One of the millions of babies born after the war was long over and the suburbs were expanding to fit us in, so that we would have proper childhoods on bikes with mommies and daddies who loved us ever so. But that isn’t what happened, not exactly. Nothing they did lasted, except us.
We are Ferris wheels and Merry-Go-Rounds and painted horses and red balloons and all the endless bubbles we blew looking at the iridescent insides of things. We are beaches and finding shells and trotting on our little ponies as if nothing bad can ever happen.
The day that it does all come crashing down around you as the mirror splits in shards is the day you look behind the little leather case she keeps the photos of her parents in and you pull them out, so innocent at thirteen wanting to ask her about the birds and the bees and three pictures are hidden inside. They tumble into your hands and you only recognize two of them.
“Who is this, Mom?” you ask her.
“That’s your real father.”
She’s leaving you that year Daddy. She’s leaving you and you were the man I thought was my father. But you weren’t. You were just another of her secrets she planned on keeping. You were something in that black void of darkness she called a soul.