Driving aimlessly – revising the past (Letters, Part II)

ComoxMy 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.

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13 thoughts on “Driving aimlessly – revising the past (Letters, Part II)

  1. cheergerm July 19, 2015 / 8:29 am

    Oh man, projecting, perception and memory are all so tricksy. I love ‘it tugs at my pant leg’. Such an apt description of that particular feeling.

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    • redosue July 19, 2015 / 11:46 am

      It’s amazing what reading these old letters is doing to my thinking about the past, Julie. I find I no longer trust my memory or my version of events entirely. It’s shaken me up.

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  2. Cynthia Jobin July 19, 2015 / 2:51 pm

    The past is dead and gone, and yet it lives in our minds in the present. But the past I think about in the present is not the past as it was when it was the present. Whenever I start doing this, it shakes me up, as you say…and I wonder how much we perceive about what ‘s going on now, never mind exactly what things were like then…..do your children read you correctly now, or will they be surprised in their thoughts about you when you’re no longer here…..A beautifully written piece, Sue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • redosue July 19, 2015 / 4:41 pm

      I love reading your comments as much as I love reading your poetry. So full of insight. I guess we can’t help revising our past because we learn from it and then when we look back we’re obviously using that knowledge as a filter. I shudder to think what my children will say when I’m gone or when I’m out of earshot!

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  3. Andrea Stephenson July 19, 2015 / 4:03 pm

    This is beautiful writing Sue, with so many layers. I wonder if the letters were truthful or if she was writing what she wanted to believe, since they don’t tally with what you thought she felt.

    Liked by 1 person

    • redosue July 19, 2015 / 4:35 pm

      It is complicated, isn’t it? And she certainly didn’t expect I’d save her letters forever and mine them looking for meaning that may not even be there. What’s that old expression that says something like the past is a foreign country?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. dawnkinster July 19, 2015 / 8:31 pm

    Brilliant writing. I’ve read it more than once over the space of today, there is something different each time I read it. Reconciling the past and our own perceptions is never perfect. Nor was your mother. But that’s OK. No one is. I understand her driving aimlessly. In fact I did that today. There IS a sense of freedom even though you know in the back of your mind it’s a stupid waste of time and gas. Still..sometimes I have to just drive.

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    • redosue July 19, 2015 / 8:46 pm

      Thanks, Dawn. We are all works in progress I guess.

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  5. exiledprospero July 25, 2015 / 3:46 pm

    Your mother had a flair for writing. You have a flair for writing. Oh the genetics of it all! But this reminded me of Citizen Kane, in a way. Who was Kane? It depends on who you asked.

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    • redosue July 25, 2015 / 4:48 pm

      I suspect that’s true of everyone. Who is this exiled Prospero, I wonder?

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      • exiledprospero July 25, 2015 / 4:55 pm

        Rosebud must be the key to that mystery too!

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