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.
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