@ 2014 Mary Anderson Parks
I awake stunned into silence, my baby daughter’s face in front of my own, lodged there as if it means to stay. After awhile I rise from the bed carefully, not jostling the little hurt face in front of my eyes, and go into the kitchen barefoot and begin to make breakfast for myself and my husband.
I have not made breakfast in a very long time. I hear him in the next room moving quietly, listening, not wanting to ruin things by speaking and I am grateful for the space he gives me. But soon, after he eats the breakfast, I will tell him to go because I cannot bear any presence in the house now. I turn the oven on high, stir eggs and milk and flour in a large blue bowl and remember the pinch of salt. I melt margarine in a pie pan, stir it sizzling into the egg mixture and return the whole thing to the pan to bake.
My movements are slow because I am moving underwater, seeing my baby daughter’s face and the hurt in it that I put there. I squeeze a lemon into a bowl and set out the sugar, and I remember to make coffee. He comes in and smiles. His eyes though watch me and worry.
“I will need the whole house today,” I tell him. “All day. There must be no one else here.”
“Do you plan to do something to the house?”
If my mind were not full of the face of our daughter, I might laugh. For a moment I wonder: could he help me, should I be talking to him instead of ghosts?
Why have I made Dutch babies of all things? I give him his half and he doesn’t begin eating until I take mine.
“No, I plan to roam around the house and sit in different places and if I see someone I will scream,” I say. For one instant I let my eyes look right into his and I see that he knows I am not better. But I am! God, or whatever, heard my prayer last night and let me find myself, but to show me it’s complicated brought this memory from the bottom of the ocean, dangled it in front of my eyes. I suppose I asked for it. Inviting the ghosts. When he is gone I will see it more clearly perhaps, but no, there are no words for it, so best to say nothing. Can I be forgiven?
“What?” I ask.
“I said the wind is very strong today.”
“Yes, it is windy.” I try to answer kindly. This is not his fault. I was a flawed mother. He might take away the love that holds us up if I tell him the memory that woke with me. Our little baby girl, small and defenseless, unable to tell on me or maybe even to remember. Crouching in the corner, stunned, where I had thrown her. In frustration because I couldn’t stop her crying.
Ready to go to work, he stands looking at me and I walk into his arms to be held. He puts down his briefcase and I press closer, comforted by his sane smell. My own is furry and fruity. I stay as long as he’ll keep me there in his arms.
“You want me to tell the housekeeper not to come?”
“Please, please, yes.”
“Thank you for the Dutch babies.”
“Oh, it’s the least I can do.” What can I do to help the baby daughter now? Can I be forgiven? Who can forgive me?
The front door closes and I am alone. I stare at the dishes he piled in the sink. I picture myself flinging each plate and cup and saucer against the window, smashing them and the glass. I had thought at least I was gentle, but the memory robbed me of that and I can barely keep from smashing everything I look at.
Something rises in my throat, makes it hard to breathe. I don’t know what to do. My daughter tried to remember and instead it is I who remembered. “Was I ever abused by anyone when I was a child? My therapist said to ask you.” She had not asked me anything for so long or even called and then she did and that was what she wanted to know.
Everything now will be false if I keep the memory here in front of only my eyes. I will have to talk around it and look through it.
Who helps little defenseless babies whose mothers are too young, unready, not confident or happy?
Who helps mothers who remember that they abused their daughters? Why do I say it as if there are more than myself? Don’t try to find comfort in numbers. You have to face what you did. You are becoming aware now of yourself, the power you can claim, but you have to claim all your past actions too. Then you can at last be part of the world, feeling all the feelings because you are part of the abusers and the lovers and the seekers and hiders. There is a little piece of everything in you and that doesn’t isolate you, it connects you! The wind rages outside, wanting to fire up the dry brush and fuse everything, but you did it first! You fused memory.
You can hide in all the secret places. I know where you are. Now you have gone into the parlor and are lying on the velvet pillows, the rust-colored velvet pillows, and you are there on the velvet couch and you hear the wind, an uncanny wind that could destroy everything, but don’t let it blow consciousness away. Don’t let it drive you crazy that it is too late to help her.
The pain wants to ride around on you and wear you down.
What if you could start all over again?
No! No! I don’t have the courage. And anyway, I can’t.
You are afraid, aren’t you? You are afraid you will be punished for what you did, flinging your defenseless child away from you. Did you also shake her? You remember and are shamed. Stay in that place until some other part of you tells you to come out.
Ride the pain.
Ride it like a horse over the mountains. Come out on the other side.
But you are not ready, are you? I see you shrinking there, behind a chair.
Could you help other mothers, you were wondering. But you would have to tell them what you remember. Even if you could, would you have any words that could help them?
I am frightened by the wind, the memory. The rhythm of my life gone, jerked away.
Memory returned me to my whole flawed self. Can I live with that self?
In the garden when a stone is turned up, bugs run out, frightened and confused.
Would the gardener hate me if I told him what I remembered?
Will the garden ever look the same to me again?
It’s odd how the wind rages outside and in my mind.
You thought you would listen to the small voice from within, and what? Find beautiful truths? You found truth, but beauty? It was in your daughter’s face, but pain too. Can you accept that you put it there?
Now you have moved into another room. You sit at a table where there is a little warmth of sunshine that you want to turn into hope.
Are you going to wait for the small voice? Or are you afraid now of what it will dredge up?
Are there more ghosts?
Things are breaking into pieces.
I run out into the garden, take the gardener’s trowel from him and turn up earth and stones. I lay my face against the upturned earth, one cheek touching and accepting all that is there in the dirt.
“Are you all right?” he asks.
“No, no, I am not all right! Neither are you! Nothing is. Why are you gardening in a wind like this? Go home! Have you a home? Of course you do. And I will stay here under the wind, next to the heart of my mother and try for forgiveness. If I am lucky, tears will come out of me and the earth will know I care.” He stands watching. He does not go away. So after a moment I get up on my knees and he pulls me to my feet and lifts my dirty face to his and touches my mouth with his and for a long, soothing moment he kisses me. But then he stops (remembering who pays him?) and that is the end of the kiss, but not the end of everything. I can emerge from the garden and go anywhere and do anything.
Will the little face be my companion? I want to learn from it and give it love. It’s not too late, is it? Please say it isn’t. Someone say that. There must be someone I can give the love to.
I begin to breathe. For most of my life I held my breath. My daughter told me. She took classes and learned how to breathe and she wanted to teach me.
There is time still to breathe, to take the next step.
“There are other people who have hurt someone,” I tell the gardener. “I see them sitting in rooms doing their jobs around images of pain.
We could all band together and sing of pain. Or yell it out alone. Best, wouldn’t it be, to cling together with those we hurt and feel the pain together? If only there were still that chance!
Right now people are hurting each other, being hurt, creating memories of pain.
Take the guns and bury them.
Take the young mothers and teach them.
Hug the children, even if they are thirty-one.
With each breath make your heart full of love, for yourself, too. Don’t be afraid to love yourself.
Don’t be afraid of the small voice when it dredges up truth and brings it to you.”
The gardener’s eyes smile into mine.
“We could dance,” he says. And we both know the steps, what a miracle! We do a grapevine through the daisies and then some kicks and swings, and he twirls me and I twirl him, and we hold each other by the fingertips. Our breath comes in panting gasps.
“I must go in now. My love will come home to me. I feel it here in my heart.” And I touch the gardener’s hand to my heart. “Do you have a love to go home to?”
“Then go! Go to your love. We will meet in the garden when the sun shines.”
See? I am strong after all.