Today I am posting a short excerpt from the second chapter of the memoir. I won’t do this much yet since everything is still in flux but it feels right for today.
We lived in New Jersey, near the coast, south of Atlantic City, in a little town called Brick. Brick Township was a quintessential New England town with high peaked wood frame houses and tall trees that went bare in the winter. Our first home was a small trailer; Mom and Dad were soon to to buy a house – I suspect Grandma and Grandpa Goddard helped them with the down payment on that given Dad’s struggles with getting the bills paid. One of my first memories is of our little beagle dog named Ginger. I was only about three; my sister hadn’t been born yet. Ginger, being an excitable young dog, responded too eagerly when there had been a knock at the door of the trailer; she’d tipped over a lamp and broke it. After that, I have no more remembrance of Ginger. The story was that Dad took the dog and gave her away the very next day. If it was true that my father was more loving than my mother, it was also true that he was much more neurotic about physical order and cleanliness.
My mother was the creative one, and like a lot of creative souls, she was messy. It was always a struggle for her to get the house put together in a way that pleased dad. She’d get distracted by projects; cooking, decorating, making new curtains, and Dad would come home to find bits of fabric and pins strewn across the floor, a pot on the stove threatening to boil over, and my surprised mother in the middle of it all, scrambling to pick it all up and be the proper wife. Skeeter worried about everything but mostly about how he was seen at work and by friends. This man who kept his fingernails meticulously groomed but couldn’t seem to keep the bills paid, took his angst out on his family, exploding in anger over the disorder in our home.
So their squabbles were comprised of desires for the other to change: he was vain and spent money unwisely; she was distracted and didn’t keep the house well. Over the years these grievances would deepen and grow as they reacted to the conflict between them: he chased women and withdrew from her; she ate and drank to excess, to spite him and to hurt herself.
We had moved out of the trailer and into a little wood frame house on Forge Pond Road by the time my sister Natalia was born in late 1966. It was getting close to Christmas; the cold and snow were pervasive even though the winter season hadn’t quite begun. I was nine days short of being four on the day the baby was born, and Grandma Goddard was in the kitchen with her apron on and me sitting on the wood floor near her. She cooked her complicated and time-consuming meals while Mommy was away getting the baby and asked me questions about being a big sister.
One evening before mom and my new little sister came home, Dad dressed me up in a blue dress, blue overcoat and hat, with a red bow tied at my neckline, and took me to see the movie Snow White at the local cinema. He was with me, I was with him, we were together, and I was happy. If at four years old I’d had the power, I would have gladly frozen time this way: Daddy all to myself. All his attention, his love, and his admiration lavished on me. I would chase after this desire for many years to come, consciously at first, and then, after I decided it was impossible for my dream of pleasing my father to come true, only in my heart.
It’s amazing over the years what crooked paths I would be willing to take in search of that dream. My heart was dogged in its pursuit of the ultimate goal, which was really only to be loved by my father, but oftentimes looked like a desire for beauty or perfection, a desire for fame and glory, or a desire just to be desired. Because of my father I reached for all of these things and more. Because of my mother, I never allowed myself to obtain them. If Skeeter was the polestar I reached for as the ultimate measure of success (however flawed that ideal was), Gerri was the black hole of gravity that brought me to my knees time and time again. It was her spirit of hopelessness that instilled in my heart the damning beliefs about myself, so that every time I followed my natural desire to soar, sooner or later the laws of Gerri would bring me crashing to Earth again.
Thanks for reading!