chocolate is a verb

colors, flavors, whims and other growing things

deciphering Dorothy…

onion drawing by Dorothy, 1941My mother had no boundaries, told me things I was too young to know, intimate things another, wiser, woman might not tell her daughter. Now that I’m old enough, strong enough, to want to understand and untangle her story, I wish she had told me more, that I had listened more carefully.

Because her boundaries were so permeable, or absent altogether, the missing pieces are especially frustrating — the eyes in the jigsaw portrait.

This is what she told me, when I was perhaps 6 or 7: Before she met the man who would become my father, my mother was married to another man for four years. She took his name. (It’s that name, her new name, her other name, that’s written on the worn cover of the sketchpad in which she drew an onion in 1941.) He was abusive. She had an abortion. They divorced.

Without a single sketch or photograph to go on, I try to imagine him, to see more of her by seeing him. He is handsome, most certainly, because she allied herself with handsome men. He is, perhaps, somewhat taciturn, attracted to her gregarious opposite-ness. But now I am guessing: How soon he knew the marriage was a mistake. How quickly he tired of her neediness, her hunger, her self-doubting. How certain he was that a child would cement him to her, impossibly, forever.

Because she said so much, relied on my empathy, I see I have trusted my mother’s explanations. But perhaps she was not a reliable reporter. Perhaps she colored outside the lines, air-brushed her memories, turned them into stories that hardened into truth as they spilled into the air.

I want to know, but there is no one who can tell me, so I have to chisel into the stories, looking for ore, for the germ, for the clue to who she was. And who I am.

6 responses to “deciphering Dorothy…

  1. Lena Rivkin May 18, 2012 at 9:34 am

    Very poignant and beautifully expressed- as all your writings are.
    xo Lena

  2. Eric Solstein May 18, 2012 at 9:45 am

    Fascinating. I have done some looking at my parents’ past, found a few thing and had a few questions answered; my parents are both alive. Emphasis on “few” and the results haven’t been terribly satisfying. Some of their recollections are directly contradictory to mine, much has fallen through the memory hole or hardened into abbreviated rote and I’ve long ago misplaced the very few physical bits I might now examine with more care than when my desire for them was less thoughtful. The few old family photos are largely ambiguous, and my dad’s wartime pix, he trained as a photographer while in the Army Air Corp, I long ago fetishized into art objects, pouring my own meanings into them.

    One sense I have gotten through it all, is that I will not find “me” there. I have had more luck in that search by excavating my own old memories, engaging them and mindful of such, continuing to construct myself. I had a fairly lengthy hiatus in that self-construction process, but I’m back at it with encouraging results.

  3. jik May 18, 2012 at 9:53 am

    Thank you, Lena. It means a lot to me to know that you’re out there, reading. xo j

  4. jik May 18, 2012 at 9:58 am

    Ah, the memory hole… Your words resonate — the ambiguous, fetishized wartime pix, the hardening and abbreviation. For a long time, I heard my mother’s voice coming out of my mouth. Mindful, as you say, I think I’ve managed to extract that bad tooth, but now I see her when I look at myself in the mirror…

  5. arlene feld May 22, 2012 at 11:26 am

    Recently, a hole filled up….a sudden realization. How could I have not seen it before? So many times I’ve told the elaborate ritualistic birthday party stories, down to the tiniest matching details. Yet Mama was totally disorganized, had no common sense. So, how could she rent tables and chairs, organize a special cake, wrap prizes, invite a dozen kids and parents to perfection. The
    incompetent mother didn’t embarrass me…everything shined…for hours. Loved this one……..

  6. jik May 22, 2012 at 4:08 pm

    It’s a fine thing that we have these years to contemplate and repair and realize. Thanks to you. xox

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