We all have them. Memories that we wish we could forget…things that we wish we could banish from our minds. Imagine that writing down your worst memory will free you of it. What is it? Why does it haunt you? What could you have done differently? Write it down and let it go. Let’s keep it to 600 words or less.
In the late 1978 she made the striking decision of leaving. She took only her red crock pot to the doublewide trailer she now shared with a mentor. I visited sometimes on the weekends, laid out with his three boys watching Saturday morning cartoons.
My father took a one-year teaching position at UCLA. She followed, not to Los Angeles but to Riverside, California where my grandfather lived. I visited her at his house, happy to splash in the kidney-shaped pool whose edge I learned to dive from.
Before my father and I headed back to Indiana she called me on the phone, “Should I get an apartment that accepts children or one that doesn’t?” I heard the real question, “Do you want to live with me?”
I was confused. This had already been settled between them. “One without I guess?” I say hurting her.
She retreats behind a stone wall mortared with silence. My grandfather continues to bring me to Riverside for vacations hoping to soften her resolve.
Five years later, on my 13th birthday a dozen pink roses rest in the middle of our coffee table. “They are from her,” my father tells me.
Thirteen is a big year for a Jewish girl, though I am only Jewish through her blood.
I go to see her. She says, “Now that you are beginning to develop a mind you are more interesting.” It stings. The residual tingle serves as a warning and a reminder.
Yet, still in my teenage years I go for short visits hoping to pave a way forward.
“What are you hoping to be in the future?” she inquires.
“Why? Everything has already been written.”
I am older and have learned to block her.
I get into first choice college and fate giggled that day.
“You are shooting above your station, you don’t deserve to go there,” she says.
My mother had wanted to attend the same school, but my grandfather couldn’t afford it. This was long before student loans. Her resentment fuels my pride.
There is no communication from either of us the four years I am at school, even while she and my father battle over the tuition she’s supposed to pay half of. I learn from my grandfather who remains desperate for me to establish a relationship with her, of the divorce that he and my grandmother obtained while she was away in Germany studying abroad. He speaks of my difficult grandmother and how after the divorce the two women never spoke again. A history of women having children they didn’t want or love, and the price extracted.
After I graduate I take a year off before heading to my internship. During this time of sleeping and self-refection I decide to not perpetuate the cycle of resentful, muddled silence and write her telling her what I’ve done, am about to do, what I hope for. I do it for my grandfather.
“I have no interest in having a relationship with you as your mother or otherwise,” she writes back, to my surprise.
She sets me free. There is no room for wondering or confusion. It is stark, harsh and bitterly real. But, it is a battle I don’t have to fight because it cannot be won.
Now, twenty years later, her name is attached to emails regarding the settling of my grandfather’s estate. “Interesting, she kept my father’s last name after all this time,” is all I think and with that I finally understand the enormity of her gift. Of all the time, energy and love saved and I hope that when she set me free she set herself free too.