My mother wrote me dozens and dozens of letters after I moved away from home. Her letters buck my assumptions that she was unhappy during my teen years on Vancouver Island. In the two decades since she died, my unconscious has been busy revising the past to suit my interpretation of her life which is, admittedly, filtered by what I needed from her. I think, as the shrinks say, I’ve been projecting my perceptions onto her life, making my thoughts hers.
Seasonal patterns emerge in the letters, showing her nostalgia and longing for a place. After she moved to a mountain town on the mainland, Vancouver Island insinuated itself into her thoughts constantly throughout the winter when ice and snow felt threatening to her. Nostalgia gave her no peace.
Winter is truly dreary … Vancouver is flaunting daffodils and green grass and scantily clad joggers on the sea wall and I cordially hate them one and all. I’m aware I say these exact words every year and no doubt will continue to so do, ad nauseum.
I have never ceased to miss the coast and the Island in particular.
I understand the pull of this place. It tugs at my pant leg, too, because of all the spots I have visited and lived in, Vancouver Island owns the word paradise. But, our life there was not easy and so I cocked my head when I read those words.
At the next statement, my angry child pounded my solar plexus –
Little by little the small pleasures are whittled away. I used to drive around a lot there, but here there is really nowhere to drive aimlessly.
I sputtered when I read this, my guts all nervous and bouncy. Is this true, mom? You liked being aimless? I thought you drove to get away from your husband holed up in the bedroom, drying out after a 10 day booze bender; to flee Grandma’s heaving silence and bosom high sighs that filled the house. You drove anywhere, anywhere at all, to replace the blasting roar of nothin’ with … what? A ruthless surf roughing up the rocks like dad roughed you up with his malicious tongue? His vitriol stripping you down to tendons so you became a balloon stretched taut snapped repeatedly to loosen up before filling you with hot air – lots and lots of hot, empty air. Nothing, nothing, and more nothing. You drove and you drove and you drove leaving me behind with Dad and Grandma, stones in the road.
… to drive aimlessly.
Now I see you smiling, tipsy with adrenalin, out of the asylum, driving on the edge parallel to the surf, big waves smacking driftwood rearranging the beach, erasing today. Driving was freedom, although you never really escaped: It was an island. Then when you did leave, all you wanted to do was go back. And I ask, to what?
Life just proceeds.
I reread her letters to understand who she really was, but instead all I see is myself.