Silence has enveloped me. All movement halted. I keep revving the engine but my mind won’t go. All sense of focus is shot.
Just writing this far has taken me some ten minutes of gathering wisps of fragmented- well, everything.
The universe, like any good writer, seems intent on filling out the backstory to my backstory little by little. Each time I think I’ve made peace with what I don’t know, embracing acceptance and moving forward, the answers are thrust at what feels like my unready heart. In truth I know that’s how things work- hence acceptance in the first place, and I know that my heart/mind/whatever is ready… though it certainly didn’t feel like it today.
It began when I was on the phone with Hubby. I’m a phone walker- I go in circles from one side of the house to the other whenever I’m on the thing. This morning was no different. I started in our room in the back, calling to let him know I was awake and starting my day as well as checking up on him, and ended up down the hall and in the kitchen looking out our front door before too long.
There in the snow was a white box, tilted on it’s side- sender side up. My eyes took in the name and a part of my brain froze. I finished up the call without saying a word about the package and went back to our room to get some warmer clothes on. ‘Oh god, oh god, oh god…’ A rising mantra in my mind as I made my way back out to the kitchen.
The sender, W, is an old friend of the family. My bio mother stayed with her for a but after I left her at age 15 and the social security checks stopped. W is such an honest kind soul but eventually, as with all wise souls, my mother wore out her welcome there too. I’m sure she left of her own accord but to my knowledge the friendship is no longer welcome unless she takes some drastic steps toward not being a using bitch… that’s basically what it comes down to. My words, not W’s.
Anyway, when bio mother left W’s she left behind an assortment of things. W and I had discussed me driving up there to pick them up and go through them but I’ve not gotten the chance in our two’ish years of reconnecting. She was trying to surprise me, bless her heart, but as soon as I saw her name on the box I was filled with dread.
It’s not as though I didn’t want her stuff… some potential answers hidden in her paraphernalia and I’d heard of some journals that had me very curious. It’s just that even after all these years away from her influence I know that even the most tentative of connections can rattle me. Some of it’s the PTSD and some of it’s being too damn smart for my own good and being able to absorb and work things out from what I see. Mostly it’s a reflex.
“Oh god, oh god, oh god…” The mantra was outside my head and splurging quietly up my vocal cords by the time I’d opened the door to retrieve the package and still going when I set it on the couch and left again to retrieve a knife to pry back the tape. I don’t know when I stopped, only that at some point I had and I was sitting there with the box open on my lap, shooing curious kitties away and bracing myself for whatever could be found.
I clearly remember telling myself that no matter what I found it wasn’t going to change who I am, who I was, who I’ve been. It wouldn’t change the past- the things that had happened. It had potential to change my perception but that was okay. It was okay.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
The mind inside me, always rushing on ahead, tripping over it’s gray matter had turned sluggish.
This moment I can’t rightly remember what I looked at first, only that I approached each object with caution and put certain obvious ones aside till the end- namely packets of photos.
I removed the bubble wrap- Cookie kitty appreciated this more than anyone else.
Four framed photographs. Myself and the step-family we nearly had, an old sin remembered, a wound I’m okay with but am unsure of having in my house.
Sunglasses, her trademark. A pair of my glasses, a reminder of enforced pink. A nightlight. Some pens. Innocent enough items left behind. A box of envelopes and a set of unused manila folders I remember well enough from her makeshift office of OCD like people categorizing.
Careful to check everything in case W had left any sort of notes or letters I found some photographs inside the box of envelopes. Bentley- her cat before my birth (I think). I only remember his burial and having seen these photos before. I tuck them back in, no thoughts of what to do with them. No questioning that they should be kept. Their only sentimentality to me being in that they are familiar in a vague way- which is more than I’ve been used to for years.
Some, what appeared to be, letters in handwriting I recognized as my grandfather’s hard to read scrawl. They didn’t appear to be written to bio mother so I carefully put them aside for later. For a moment, looking at the gel pen used, I half feared they would be the letters I had left her, collected together, and I would have to face my thoughts of the time all over again.
Death certificates. My father’s- I didn’t know his father had been from Scotland. My grandmother’s, I didn’t know her name. Some sort of form- I didn’t know my father had been in the Naval reserve. Some sort of license marking my grandfather as sailor- the second one issued, very fancy and framed. I put all these carefully to the side after raking over the details of each.
A map of a Detroit cemetery. If it hadn’t been for meeting my Uncle last year I’d have never known this map was pointing me to my Grandpa’s sister’s grave as well as his mother’s. I think for a long moment about visiting it and meeting them, sitting in front of their graves, reading their names. It would be the closest I’ve been to any biological family since meeting my brothers.
I picked up a stray photos.
I came to tears.
I was in softball when I was 12. They had baseball cards made for each of us. This was one of those.
I’m not sure why I cried or if it can even be called crying. No tears fell, they simply welled up. I walked away to grab some tissue, the last thing I needed was getting all messy while going through fragile things.
Beyond that there are no emotions I can remember.
There was a second stray photograph. Earlier, perhaps when I was 6 or 7. Pigtails, school photo, foster care. I remember seeing it’s ilk before and feel nothing.
There are other assorted items and papers or worth but little importance to me right right now. All that remained at this point were the two photo packets, a thin red box of slides (the predecessor to photos), and a large binder.
I started with the photos.
My 15th birthday party. The start toward the finish.
I remember all the faces. Those in focus are smiling, those caught unaware are not. Mostly they look bored. The bits of the house behind them are more interesting than they are. Shallow children who never tried to understand me, our connections being only that I knew their first names or we’d nearly been related to them- in that town that wasn’t saying a lot.
Now that I’m an adult with a younger friend who suffers from severe anxiety I can see the sharp angles of awkwardness and stress in the way I hold myself. I know from being inside my own head at the time that it wasn’t a good night- even before certain incidents, but being so clearly able to see it as an outsider… I feel like I’m looking at a stranger.
I see now what others saw when I could not and I see now that others must have chosen to be blind.
Toward the end of the stack there start to be more photos of the floor and dark shots of the walls. I can only assume this is the point where she started to get drunk… before the incident that lead to me leaving her.
I could go on about that night; how I raised the money for all the food by returning over 500 of her beer bottles or how she grabbed me, but this isn’t the time and as I looked at those photos I didn’t fall back into those moments. I felt detached. No thoughts, only a curiosity at myself.
The second pack of photos could easily be from the same camera.
So far so good.
The packet of slides has my birth name on it. It’s her handwriting. I’m not sure what to think about that so I don’t.
I hold each carefully up to the light and try to make out the tiny details. Most are undated and only a few written on.
I recognize only my parents and one of my uncle’s faces. Some of the slides show my eldest brother when at age 1 or 2 and some sow my father’s father, a man I never had a chance to meet. Other faces mean nothing to me other than curiosity. I know they are relatives, likely the rest of my uncles, but I have no names for these faces.
The last item worth mentioning is the journal. It is perhaps the most powerful of all the mementos.
I am incredibly thankful that it was not one of hers, as I suspected when journals were first mentioned. She had a thing for documenting everything her… gentlemen of interest… did or said. A growing obsession that I watched from up close and afar at the same time.
No, instead it was my Grandpa’s journal.
He journaled much like I did when I was in foster care, leaving behind a tome that puts this blog to shame. Once a day, every day- from what I can see he is without fail. I can see where I get a lot of things, thanks to the year or so I was able to live with him. My writing ability, my vocabulary, my sense of the poetic.
The binder starts with an index which I quickly scan. It starts in 1996, a list of life events that held significance to him. Some listed talks with my Uncle, others letters he sent, when he began learning the fiddle and others. Most seem to have no meaning for me- which is fine, it’s not my journal after all, and others quickly pull my interest as I put together dates and realize what I’m looking at…
Especially when the index reads: A Very Black Day and goes on to list several things in a short period of time.
He had started writing months beforehand, and what I had showed well over a year afterward… a detailed recollection of my father’s suicide, the trial before it and my bio mother’s battle to have me released from foster care afterwards.
His handwriting is extremely difficult to read, emotional calligraphy with bread swoops and sharp loops leaning to the right. Many entires were possibly written drunk, many more written with scattered thoughts, anger, stress and depression. I could read all this in his lines but only about ten percent of the actual writing- for now.
I was able to read that he’d had a moving and contradictory conversation with my father the day before he died, his sorrow for my bio mother’s situation (he’s her father), his anger at my brothers and belief that they drove my father to his death.
His love of my father like a son moves my heart in no direction as I might have otherwise thought it would. Years ago it might have left me conflicted and aching for answers but not on this day. Today it’s just words to absorb.
I have accepted that certain people I love believe my mother and father innocent. I have accepted that certain people I love believe my brothers were not. I lean certain ways, sure, but being so young at the time I honestly only know so much. I’ve been told so many different stories and at this point it doesn’t matter ‘how’ it happened, to me, only that it did. The things that matter to me are the things that happened to me and only for those things can I judge the people involved.
Though I know Grandpa would be sad to know I’ve cut ties from his daughter so deeply, I feel like he would understand if I could say these things to him today. That if these weren’t people he knew that we were talking about, that he could see where I’m coming from and come to accept it as whatever progress it is.
I am able to clearly read my name in some of his writings. It seems written with such love and care compared to the rest of his scrawl that I can’t help but run my fingers over the letters and try to feel him through the paper. I do feel the connection though it may only be a thread of ink.
I’m sad that the journal ends just before I began living with him. The index goes about that far (my math is poor so perhaps I’m wrong) but the journal ends before that and I feel the pages like a loss. I would have liked to know his thoughts on me and if I had as much an effect on him as he had on me, what his expectations and hopes were or what he thought of me pursuing writing as he had.
I’m going to have to read the rest of this journal. There are some 500 pages, many back to front.
Flipping gently backwards to the beginning I begin to see little notes in pencil close to the start. The fact that I can read them without effort is not the first clue that Grandpa didn’t write them.
They are in her handwriting.
I am curious but still detached.
I go back to the first page and begin combing for her words.
“Not up to Dad’s intellectual standards.” Is written on his first page. It seems more editorial than rude so I continue.
She calls my Uncle and asshole several times. It’s almost funny that it’s so childish. Seemingly innocent entries from him, casually mentioning things Uncle does are rife with arrows and little comments. If only she knew how much he tries to be on her side.
Further along it seems like she is trying to correct him. Abbreviations for Uncle’s and her names are written in full, the name of his favorite watering hole is highlighted with the word ‘bar.’ Above his scrawl she writes in the more difficult words that she’s translated. I consider doing the same in a separate notebook- it seems taboo to write in another’s journal.
He writes of Grandma and her passing, a sweet poem about how his heart is broken and my mother writes in that the woman made their life miserable and that he was a drunken asshole. It’s obvious to me now that she’s filled with anger during these writings, this anger is old- predating me. I know some from old arguments I’d overheard as a child but these are distant shadows, without form to me.
It feels like disrespect that she has written these things on his work, uncherished and left behind where she dare not return. I think back on earlier readings where he’d written so thoughtfully about her and in this moment I realize that she is different. As an I. We are different people looking back on different lives.
After I close the journal I sit there. Aside from batting cats out of the box and repacking everything with care I did nothing.
My mind was silent.
Should I be calling someone? No one was home with me. The first time in awhile.
I dare not bother Hubby at work. My adoptive family would not understand. I go through my phone and realize I have no one close enough to me that I can use to help me jump start the silence in my head.
I continue to sit. I do not know how long.
I eventually get up. Take a shower, make tea, feed the cats. I am wooden, movements are automatic. I’m sure there are things I meant to do… why can’t I remember what I normally do when I wake up? How do I get back to my routine? What do people do in these situations?
My brain is so blank I can’t even ask these questions which is fine seeing as I still don’t have the answers.
Now, nearly the whole day later this is the only thinking I’ve been able to do and it’s mere recollection.
There is silence in my head.
This is the only thing I know.