I’m astonished how much I’m learning about life, my own, and Life with a capital L, by writing this book. Looking at my own life stories in a sort of flyover, as a curious neutral observer who looks down upon all of these people who were the cast of characters, including me no more than anyone else, and wondering about it all.
Some things I discovered: My birth-mother was a kind and decent woman, who for some reason nobody knows, got chosen for the role of sad loser, the one left behind. She deserved better. It turned out that she was the key to the puzzle of the many paths my life would take, though neither of us knew it. She was an alcoholic, and as a child I had no way to know how hard that was for her. Since then, I’ve witnessed many real-life stories that either started or ended with this “scenario of 10,000 forms.”
I’ve written a chapter called The Family Circus, but I don’t know where to put it. I may even end up leaving it out of the book. I’m undecided. It talks about each of us in thumbnail sketches, but its real purpose is to express a truth about family and relationships, connections, and failures to connect.
There’s more than one kind of family. You can have a Family of Origin, or a Family of Choice. A Family of Origin has only one style: blood relations, biological ties. Or you can have a Family of Choice, which can be anything at all, all sizes, shapes, and colors, held together by a choice and commitment to love and nurture and share with each other. My story had both, and I had, in a way, two mothers. A birth-mother who could not love me or much notice, as her mother had been to her. And my true mother, who was simply a gift of grace that I can never be deserving of. She fell in love with my dad, she met me, she liked me, she wanted to know me, and she chose to love me. She rescued me from a hopeless life. That’s how a part of my story went, though it’s much more complicated of course.
My birth-mother never really knew me and I never knew her, until I began to write the book and discovered that her story ran deeper than anybody knew, and I wanted to know. Our severed connection when I was thirteen had left a lifetime of unfinished business of the heart, and that was the catalyst that urged me to seek the truth about us all.
In the last ten years of her life, we wrote letters to each other as a gesture of mutual respect. The letters were chatty at first, but then she shared a little more, and I began to get to know her. She lived quietly, died 40 years ago, and only a few people missed her. As distant as our connection was, I was the only “family” she had. She named me in her will, and it was my job to return to Texas (after a few life-tragedies of my own) to empty her apartment and clear away the last tangible evidence of her existence. That experience was heart-searing, and I began to realize: Unless I tell her side of the story, nobody else ever will.
So I began to tell all of our stories, tangled together by invisible forces of spirit and blood. The untruths we’re taught as children “for our own good” that stain our innocence, that forbid us to be who we truly are, and hold us hostage for life unless we find our own way to the truth. Then in the end, the family secret. Every family has one, but nobody talks about it, and everybody knows it but doesn’t know they know.
Of the trilogy, Victory Is My Name, Book 1: The Burning Barrel is now available from Internet or brick and mortar bookshops. The e-book is available at your favorite web booksellers. Search by author, Victoria Chames.
If you are interested in being a Beta Reader for the first draft of Victory Is My Name, Book Two: The West Bank, now in progress., please contact me through “Victory” at Darkhorse Press. Thank you.
The book is Victory Is My Name, a Memoir. This is a trilogy, and the first section, Book One: The Burning-Barrel launched in February and is available everywhere in paperback and e-book. Publishers’s sampler: http://www.darkhorsepress.com/sampler-victory.html
So far, in my own memoirs (which I’m writing piecemeal and do not plan to publish in full – although small segments have appeared on my blog and in a local anthology) I’ve avoided writing too many “truths” about my “Family of Origin”, most of whom ostracized me after our mother’s death nine years ago (for being “too close” to her, I assume; I never did really understand their motivation for turning their backs on me and vilifying me to others). I suppose it’s fear that keeps me from being totally honest about our “relationships, connections, and failures to connect” (fear that they’ll read it and be angry? or fear that they won’t – and don’t care enough to wonder what I’ve said about them?) Perhaps I shall rethink my approach. I plan to download and read your book; it sounds fascinating (and, perhaps, heartbreaking). I do love this quote from Anne Lamott: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” Food for though.
Thank you Margo. Yes, There’s always more to everyone’s story. The key to a great memoir, according to more than one wise and skilled writer/advisor, is to write it all, then choose-out what supports the portion and the values of your story that you want to share. It can also effectively clear your congested unsure head and heart to write it out, and rage totally selfishly like you didn’t dare to do at the time, howl and cry, and then you’ll feel so much better. Then you can shred that part and truly move on.
I’m so sorry you were rejected so wrongly by family, (I’m guessing out of jealousy because they thought Mom shouldn’t have loved you that much.) But keep on reminding yourself that what people think is never really about you. Unreasonable rejections happen a lot to writers and sincere people like you. Berry-pick the good stuff and let the garbage blow away. You really don’t need it.
(PS, my sisters ostracized me too after Mother died. I think we can both consider it a badge of integrity.) I try to pick my battles for my own behalf, and make the hard choices to refuse the ones that are unworthy of my time and care. We never know why things happen as they do. Just please don’t make the mistake of blaming yourself just because someone else did.
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