14 January 2012

Thoughts on Twelve, and I Remember Mama

72 hours ago, I came to an interesting realization about my long-departed parents and thus, some insight about myself. As someone who is approaching 50 years and has pondered 'what makes me tick', 'who am I?' 'why am I here?', this was akin to finding the lock that an old key fits.
An old friend of mine would be throttling me now while saying 'STOP Navel-gazing!' It's true: I over-analyze. Thus, I blog onward.

The number 12 holds a unique place in my life. I was born on October 12. Thursday would have been my mother's 84th birthday. She was born January 12, and died on June 12, when I was 12. This month marks the 24th year I've lived in California. What all these 12's mean, if anything, I've yet to find out.

My mother, whose favorite movie was 'Valley of the Dolls', died of a drug overdose: her 'problem' or 'struggle' was in a time before the Betty Ford Center, before it was de rigueur to announce one's addictions. In fact, my family announced that she'd died of a heart attack, while privately blaming my father as the 'cause'.
Meanwhile, the 12 year old me blamed myself....illogical as that sounds, but nonetheless true. And I don't recall anyone talking to me about it. I continued to blame myself...and quite frankly, I'm  still forever trying to 'rescue' people: with no thought to my own self-preservation, it seems.

It was the summer of 2000, I think, and I was back in Texas, visiting my cousin Marcie in DeSoto. How the subject came up, I don't know, but I do remember her saying, in her wonderful plain-spoken drawl: "Oh, Hell! We all knew she was using drugs in the 1950's. In fact, we were surprised you weren't born with two heads!"
My mother worked for a time for a Dr. Green. Most likely he gave her something; Mama always had a very poor self-image of herself. But there was more to it than that. I asked Marcie her thoughts and her response made sense.

My mother would not want to be thought of as tragic or a victim of her times. I remembered Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft had said this about their mother, Judy Garland (who also died at age 47 of a Seconal overdose).  I paraphrase when I state they felt Judy lived her life as she wanted.

I thought of my mother: the youngest of 5 children, living in the shadow of her older, glamorous sister in Duncanville. Although Mama would re-write her backstory to that of a poor farm girl picking cotton, fact was her father had sold the farm and was working at the Federal Reserve Bank. Mama married her high school sweetheart, but this marriage ended in divorce. Mama thought Dallas was the ultimate big city, and she moved to the Oak Cliff neighborhood as soon as she could.

She met my father and they were married in 1959. He was 24 years her senior, had been divorced twice, with two grown children and was very much A Man With a Past. Daddy bought my mother diamond jewelry, large homes, two restaurants to run, a new Cadillac every two years and so on. Of course, material goods don't buy happiness, but the attention must have been fantastic.
Most importantly, I feel he gave her freedom. She did not have to work, she did not have to clean house(we had 'the help'). She gave him a child, me, and I remember her telling me that having a son was her goal in life. Not travel the world, not became a congresswoman, not to win  the Publisher's Clearing House Sweepstakes.

Freedom can also become a prison. I never recall her telling us she wanted to stop knocking herself out with painkillers. Or that she even had a problem. She was busy planning my adult life: Medical and law school, marry a virgin have 3.5 kids, and I would hire her to work in my office. Mama really was into the Perry Mason scenario: a mink coat and leather gloved Della Street, racing into the courtroom with that all important file right on cue. She laughed at herself, could imitate anyone and worshiped Jackie Onassis. And I've realized that, given the choice, she wouldn't have changed anything.

Ironically, her death and that of my father's soon after gave me freedom: and that is their legacy. I miss them so very much, yet I would not have this life had events played out differently. And that freedom has served me well, and also imprisoned me.

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