I am most honest when I write. You have to tell the truth, the whole truth. Writing will teach you that. It is impossible to deny a lie’s existence when you face the permanency of pen to pad, how the deceit subtly distorts the letters, warping each sentence until the paragraph screams out perjury. The truth may be complex, but the veracity of the words you choose one by one to form each sentence are not. They are simply true or false. It is utterly exhausting- to be that diligent to truth. For someone like me, it can take hours to create one honest sentence.
But now, as strenuous as it may be, telling the truth has suddenly become more urgent, more important since the birth of my daughter, Maya. I now find myself driven to write it down- everything- all of it- the truth of it, in case I die an early death from lung cancer or from ovarian cancer like my mother’s mother, who at forty, left her four children motherless. I write so that my own daughter Maya will have some small record to refer to when I’m no longer able to tell her all that was before her, before me. I write to leave her a history kept in a box under her bed or maybe on a shelf in her closet, a history she can carefully unwrap page by page when faced with the vacancies of pre-memory and in those spaces that will inevitably become suddenly dark and vacant again because the mind will remember only so much-because so often it becomes blurry and disappears before you can even know to whisper to yourself, “This is important. Please, Mind, remember this.” I write so one day when forgetfulness finds her, she will still know her great-grandfather’s eyes were blue and how her great grandmother always smelled of rose water.
It is easy enough for me to detail her life, a million photographs labeled “First Ice-cream- August 2013” and “Knoxville Zoo with Mama Grand- February 2014”, a million tiny moments captured in long hand on 3×5 cards organized by date, or in a soft red leather journal embossed with a simple heart chronologically detailing the discovery of her shadow, her first bike ride with training wheels, her love of strawberry yogurt and her refusal to wear anything but her ballet leotard and cowgirl boots. Right now, it is not hard to tell the truth where she is concerned. It is brilliantly concrete- fresh and uncomplicated. I write it all down out of joy, for my own heart’s selfish love for it. But I also write it down in the ridiculous and futile hope of leaving her the answers to all the questions she may possibly want to ask about her childhood when I am no longer there.
But what of those more complicated truths? What of her mother’s life? What of her mother’s history, the stories that the umbilical cord failed to deliver to her forming body? The stories that will disappear when I am gone?
So I write it all down.
I write it at 2 in the morning in the back of books. I write it on receipts at red lights. I write it down on anything with the hope that if I am honest, we will both be able to find some needed solace, some tangible connection, some complicated truth squeezed out between the typed words whenever we find ourselves in most desperate need of it.
And I hope. I hope I can tell the truth.
It could be because I am a single mother, that I am more possessed to get out of bed at 3 am to frantically scribble it all down before it disappears. Maya will be my only birth child. I do not have a husband with whom I have lain in bed with for twenty years sharing the private intricacies of our lives. I do not have that intimate history. There is no guarantee that I will ever have that. As of right now, I have no such witness for the past or present. Her dad will never sit her down over lunch when she is thirty and tell her anything about the life of her mother, no stories of her mother’s people- no anything she might need from my bloodline to help her make sense of something gone horribly wrong, to comfort her, or to give her strength. Even if he wanted to, he would not have but a highly edited sentence or two, no more.
And, yes, there are those who have always loved me, those who have and who will always love her, those who would gladly sit down with her, those who have done their best to pay attention, to be a good witness. But, in the end, they too would have only the small peripheral pieces, the spinning details as they remember them. It was not their life, their responsibility. It would be asking the impossible. So I have begun to try and write it down, bit by bit, one excruciating word at a time.
It does not escape me that all of this could simply be my ego’s narcissistic need to stay alive after death has claimed its natural right, to have its version be told, to remain ever so important to at least one person- beyond the ashes- that I have only dressed it up and paraded it around under the guise of a mother’s natural right to the sentimental. The truth is, I don’t really know. I don’t have the energy nor the inclination to get to the bottom of it. Either way, if she is ever compelled to read them, the writings will undoubtedly provide some answer. So the words must not lie. They must remain as true as I can carve them out to be. It is a terrible responsibility to assign oneself and at the same time so utterly presumptuous. But they will all be there- folded up and divided into labelled envelopes. Dated and sealed with the words, “For you, from Mama”.
Audra Coleman currently lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina and is working toward her MLAS at UNCA. She has enjoyed having several pieces published in WNC Woman and is looking forward to seeing her work in print in the upcoming issue of the 3288 Review and Kestrel.
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