What's In a Name?
I’m tired of the question, so:
For those of you who don’t care where the name of this blog came from, do yourselves a favor and skip this one. It's clunky, bland, and way too long. As for the rest of you suckers…
A while back—I can’t remember if it’s been a year, or longer (I haven’t been the same since "the accident"), I had a dream, which was brief and vague—me standing at the kitchen sink, the quintessential domestic scene, thinking about how I came to be there and what it meant, what kind of mother and wife I was. What kind of person. The only thing really clear was the phrase in Dream-me’s mind, ‘The Stone’s Colossal Dream.’ I woke up, startled and changed by that phrase.
I was aware of all the implications of this word, ‘Colossal,’ which means, literally: 1. unusually or impressively large, 2. very great or impressive, or 3. a sculpture that is twice life-size, as well as the related words—‘coliseum’ (also spelled colosseum) and colossus. All bigger than life, all made out of stone. I love words of course, love making connections with words (Look up the word ‘pomegranate’ and have some fun going from fruit to syrup to geography to weapons of war). I like all kinds of connections in life, really, which is why I’m fond of movies like Short Cuts, Magnolia, and Crash.
I was inspired to begin a poem, which I figured would be a long sectional piece like “A History of the Body” from Karaoke Funeral. It was obvious to me that this was indeed about my dreams and, this time, not my body, but the history of my self and, in particular, my self-ish pursuits.
At the heart, theme-wise, was this: When I was twenty-three, I made up my mind to have a baby. I told myself I’d be a good mother, warm and sweet, patient and kind, attentive and nurturing. I was educated, well read. I had a lot to offer a child, I reasoned. I had a lot of love to give.
I would be a better mother than my own. My husband would be better than my father. We’d have a REAL family, too, one that was nice, where the kids didn’t hide in the closet because they were scared. My husband and I wouldn’t dress in diapers and go to wild parties and fight afterward. I wouldn’t pack up the kids’ things in trash bags and drag everyone to the car in the middle of the night. My children wouldn’t be molested by relatives, family friends, and teachers. They wouldn’t be terrified to make B's on their report card. They wouldn’t count their peas or throw up their brownies. They wouldn't grow up to be drunks.
I was going to have the family I didn’t get as a child. I would create it. So I gave my boyfriend, barely old enough to shave, an ultimatum: Marry me or let me go find someone who would. I can feel sorry for that boy he was, too, thinking he was in love, not wanting to lose me. But I’ll never feel bad for the man he became. Twenty years later, he gets no sympathy from me. I chose him, however, and I have to live with that.
It ended in a black eye and an ugly divorce. I signed papers agreeing not to testify to any of his illegal activities, and he paid for my grad school. He was “free” to work, and I would eventually be able to support my family.
There’s nothing new about this story. It’s a classic, this cycle. Oh, I could give up some of my own particular details that might be mildly entertaining—chapters written from his POV, with titles like:
The Night I Brought the Stripper Home
“It’s Not Mine”: Story of a Sexual Aid
My Lips Are Moving, I Must be Lying
Road Trip To Rhode Island—A Romantic Reunion
The Secret World in the Basement
(And maybe I will…)
By the demise of that marriage, I had already committed almost every sin my parents had. And where I came up short, I’d committed a new one my mother hadn’t thought of: I was ambitious. I wanted to be a poet. I’d leave my children, reeling from the split, for weeks at a time, while I earned my MFA. Even when I was home, I wasn’t all there. They ate Frosted Flakes for dinner. They learned “Leave Me Alone.”
I convinced myself that this would make them proud. It would be as important to them as it was to me. I know now that kids don’t care about such things. They want their parents. They want to be the center. They want what I had wanted as a child.
To make matters worse, I dated—lots. My mother moved in with me, so I had a great amount of freedom. After ten years of sitting on the couch, waiting for someone who was never coming home, I was ready to par-tee. They were well cared for, I told myself. They had Mamoo. Besides, I always crawled back in the mornings, in time to wake them for school. They never even knew I stayed out all night. Didn’t I deserve some happiness? I’d officially been miserable all my life.
Well into my imperfect second marriage, another kiddo in the mix, I am older, wiser, and, even more important, sober enough to know the truth. I can point my finger at my parents, and they can point at theirs. What a waste of time. I’ve made my choices, and those choices affected the people I love most.
If having an MFA in poetry or publishing a book or being an editor of a literary journal or teaching it makes you a poet, then I’m a poet. But I’m not famous, well-known, or bigger than life. Furthermore, my kids wouldn’t be impressed if I were.
I’m trying all the time to be better. I’m working at it. I’m improving. Still, I’m not a mother like warm bread. I don’t have a child-safe home. I’m self-centered, cool, and eerily detached. I carry the load of my history everywhere I go. In spite of my rich fantasies—I was going to be a COLOSSAL poet, a COLOSSAL teacher, and a COLOSSAL mother with a colossal family--I’m simply who I am, a pebble in my own shoe. I couldn’t even write that poem.
The point is, my oldest child, that baby I couldn’t wait to have, had to leave home at sixteen, and still, at eighteen, lives with her grandmother 200 miles away.
If I could give her back her childhood, I would; I’d repair the damage.
But I can’t fix it.
This blog, about my flawed life, is a testament to that.