“Is there anybody going to listen to my story?”
— Girl by The Beatles
“It seems to me,” she began, “that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t be the ones throwing stones.” As her righteous indignation rose, she climbed up onto her soapbox of morality – like Moses on the mount – and let it be known to everyone gathered, to the shock, laughter and amazement of everyone, all the misdeeds that my uncle had inflicted on humanity over the past 20 years.
My uncle’s formerly prideful voice was now but a whimper as he tried to defend himself, but many a hot argument has been cooled by cold facts and Mamie had all her ducks in a row – complete with names and dates. She was relentless.
When he finally realized that this was one fight he probably should never have started, the crowd gradually parted to allow him room to back out of the lioness’ den. He had seen, much too late, what everyone assembled already knew; no one was going to inflect any kind of abuse towards the ‘babes’ in her care… certainly not under her own roof.
Recalling it now, I suspect my aunt paid restitution to the neighbour for our misdeeds and arranged for a man to fish out the new tires. We were never punished.
Years later, at the funeral, in the sad shadow of Mamie’s passing, I could find no words of comfort or consolation for her sisters, especially my mother. Such is the tragedy of misguided loyalty practiced in the name of love. I had been too afraid of my father’s condemnation to talk lovingly to my own mother. I had been raised to believe that accepting my mother’s love meant I was denying my father’s and that I had to choose.
“As soon as you’re born they make you feel small,
By giving you no time instead of it all
Till the pain is so big you feel nothing at all”
— Working Class Hero by John Lennon
Looking around the cemetery, I felt transparent, as though Mamie’s relations could see right through me to what I had become – a puppet, with all strings attached. They could surely see that I was totally incapable of giving or receiving love. What they couldn’t tell was how much my heart wanted to reach out; I just didn’t know how to bridge the gap of those lost years. I could see things so clearly at the tender age of twelve, but by eighteen I was like a dead man walking … a heavy heart, encased in cement.
“There are places I’ll remember
All my life though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain”
— In my Life by The Beatles
And, facing them at the funeral, I realized just how twisted, inside, I had become. I didn’t know who I really was. I remember the thought coming clearly to me at the grave site: if people are to be judged at all, let it be by showing how much they cared. That would make Aunt Mamie a saint – leaving the rest of us very much human and so much less than the angels.
I could almost sense her always re-assuring presence and felt her words, “I understand,” pressing deep down on my heart.
“But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one who compares with you.
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new.”
I drifted for years after, emotionally lost, and then she happened: a young lady who would become my wife, my lover, and the mother of our children – a testament to a new life – my springtime hero. It took someone else who cared enough to see the pain still within me … to raise me out of the ashes of my scripted past. And, after hearing my life’s story, she came out with a telling question, “What was it your mother did that was so wrong, except lose the love of a son, all these years?” It was then I realized the full extent of how I was not the only victim.
My dad has since passed away, as have most of the people from back then, and when I asked my mother recently about her years of heartache, she simply said the past was the past.
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy, are drifting through my open mind
— Across the Universe by The Beatles
As for forgiveness, she said none was necessary; she’d never stopped loving me. Humbled by this, I felt blessed. How could she feel this way? Or, perhaps the greatest question of all, why was I too blind to see? I guess I’ll never know: only love understands.
“In my life, I love you more.”