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Friday, July 23, 2010

Letters From The Dead

There's a brown legal envelope stored in a white cabinet in my office. Inside the envelope are letters postmarked from the '70s, almost a decade's worth. The letters are from my mother. She wrote them while on her "walk-about". She wrote me from various places she lived -- friend's houses, halfway houses, hospitals. Sometimes her handwriting was shaky. Sometimes she wrote as a mother. Sometimes she wrote as a child. She'd ask for my opinion, and I'd feel silly. I was ten. What can a ten year old tell a thirty-four year old? She'd tell me about new men in her life which was always a doomed thing for her -- relationships. She'd meet these guys at Alcoholics Anonymous and their demons plus her demons just made a hotter hell. It never worked out. She'd tell me about brawls she got into or that she'd seen God while she was in the hospital. She often complained about money, how she didn't have enough to see me or even call. Letters were all we had for nearly a decade.

We saw each other once in a while but not often, and there were times she'd say she was coming then something would come up and she wouldn't show. She once disappeared for three months -- no letters or phone calls. Then when she did come around, it happened fast, like a phone call from out of nowhere and, "Can I come pick you up in an hour?" My heart skipped around like I was meeting a lover or something. Complete longing.

I read her letters every few years. I draw a map of her life as I read, rebuild her memory, start the tape of us. It takes a while to hear the soft lilt of her words, to see her frosted mouth speaking. I study the paper she used, pretty stationary or cheap thin white pages. I put the pages to my nose to look for her scent. I follow the path of her ink, place my pale hand on hers as it writes. She crossed her "T's" with a diagonal line through the base. I've never known anyone else before or since my mother who does that. Her other letters were loopy and straight up vertical. They look like lost children to me. Like her.

I think I'll post a few of these letters here. No harm. Her voice is a ghost now. She's been gone twenty-six years. It's strange to hear her voice again, which makes me feel like a child again. It's emotionally dangerous because that longing returns and a heat behind my eyes. My heart races and I'm ten again, she's called to say she's on her way so I pack a bag and wait on the front porch. But she never shows up.


  1. I love the description of her writing, very poignant.
    You sound so matter of fact about her, which I am sure I would struggle with if I had been in that situation, and I applaud your recognition of emotional danger - why is it that recognising it never stops us doing the dangerous thing?

  2. I can honestly say that I am completely in love with the way you write about your mother.
    I love and appreciate the lack of sentimentality one would expect, not because it's not there, but because you've somehow transformed the obligatory emotions into complex versions of themselves.
    Your ability to balance facts and feelings is outstanding. I think for some writers the choice is either, a cold, removed telling or a romanticized version, you somehow manage to do both beautifully while being the closest person to the story.

  3. Yes, what F/F/S/B/B said - that balance is what draws the reader in, and where truth is revealed. I'm hooked.

  4. Sometimes you have to feel every last dangerous thing.

  5. Teresa~ This makes me so sad for that little girl. I cannot imagine the loss - both before and after your mom's death. I simply cannot imagine; and I hope you are healing. Your writing is magnificent for the tone, the words chosen to bring us into your life. Congratulations on this excellent work.