Thursday, November 09, 2006

Mourning Gerry-mum

[I posted in September a song I wrote for my dad, Robin who died in 1984 and one I wrote for my mother, Eunice who died in 1943. I wrote then that I would post the poem I wrote for my step-mother, Gerry-mum -- but I couldn't find what I had done with the darn thing. Finally I realised that I had expanded it into this prose-poem...]
Gerry-Mum is dead.
She died in her sleep on Sunday, that is they figured from the smell anyway.
No one had noticed that she hadn't left her room until late Wednesday afternoon when my sister Bonnie came back with her kids -- they had been visiting the hospital where her husband was dying of cancer.

My sister had Gerry-mum's body cremated and the house disinfected.

What can I tell you about Gerry-mum?

Her maiden name was Geraldine Mary Ols when she married my widowed father, Robin Cliff. Known as "Gerry", she would later insist on everyone calling her "Mary" after her "conversion" to Catholicism.

Years later, when she wrote me that she was no longer a "crazy catholic", I was tempted sorely to repspond that I hoped it was the crazy she had given up. Although religion played a part in her mental deterioation, it was the way she used it that harmed her. In fact the priests tried to keep her out of the church, but she got herself baptized through trickery.

Anyway, she was my step-mother from the time I was three-four years old. My dad was a good catch, I guess. There was a war on, you know. He worked in the steel mills and was an only provider. Gerry was a good looker. She had boobs as big as Elizabeth Taylor. I guess that cinched the deal.

What else can I tell you, that she was crazy?
So what?
Lots of people are crazy and most of them don't even know it!

I have no scars I can show you, or tales of abuse to chill you with. How can I tell you in a few words the increasing madness I lived with for sixteen years?

Should I tell you how she often told me there was insanity in my family (there isn't!) or how my dad had a "split" personality?

Should I tell you how she made me sleep with her when dad was away because she "was lonely"?

Should I tell you how "God took her voice" because my sisters did not obey her?

Or her "pipeline to God" ?

Or how she damned the priests to hell because they "denied her her birthright" -- her code phrase for the fact the church would not annul her marrige to Robin so that she could marry a "christian man"

Then came the day my dad ran away from home, leaving us three kids to live with her.

That was the summer before my third semester at Tulane, I went from the Dean's List, to straight F's. "You're committing scholastic suicide!" the professor said, yeah, sure...

Some of it was before I ran away from home myself, into the Army, leaving my two sisters alone with her. Some of it was later when she fled up north with them after telling the judge that my dad was not their father, but some "black man".

Up north she taught my sisters that my dad was a devil

Words fail me. They seldom do that -- but they sure do now.

Gerry-mum is dead.

I didn't think that I would cry. But I did, quite copiously in fact.

Was I crying for her? Perhaps, but I doubt it...

She always said that the sign of a "good actor" was being able to "cry real tears". Perhaps I'm acting now?

My observation is: it is for ourselves that we first cry.

Only later can the real sorrow come.

6 comments:

Lurch said...

I think I killed your two comments at M&C. Please repost.

Chuck Cliff said...

It's a bad day all around -- just wasted an hour trying to get my wireless working again -- am now up with a reserve connection

Anonymous said...

Maybe the tears are for - and possibly from - the little boy who had few choices and less childhood to have them in.

Mine was normal on the outside, no familial stuff, but after my tenth year I'd totally disassociated from myself and couldn't wait to become a drug addict; it kept me from being invisible.

The wounds were caused by events I didn't fully accept as such until forty years later. Traumas bunched together, unable to cope, fading, fading.

The scars are, with vast and successful 12 step work, pretty much gone now, but I wish I could remember more about what it was like to be the kid in the picture again.

Chuck Cliff said...

Thanks James, I don't write about these things out of self-pity, but for self-understanding.

If it could be a help for someone else to come to terms with themselves that would be just fine.

We were in Florida some years ago when my son was about 12. We visited my sister Bonnie where Gerry-mum lived the last years. He came to me afterwards and said, "Chuck, who was that crazy lady?"

"My step-mother,David"

He gave me a funny look and said something like, "Shit!"

Anonymous said...

I too know from crazy. My mother must have suffered from bi-polar, depression, you name it. I had a best friend across the street whose dysfunctional family was different from mine (alcoholism)and thus was and continues to be my bulwark in this vale, but living with my mother, and being her personal bete noir, has haunted me through fify-nine years.

Yes, I cried when she died, mostly because I'd never had the tools to recognize that she was the crazy one, and I wasn't the bad one. She had seventy-eight years to just get crazier and crazier.

SSoP

Chuck Cliff said...

Feel for ya, anon.

When I finally got away from home, I'd start talking about this stuff when I got to know somebody new.

The bottom line is that self-pity doesn't help, nor projecting the rage and despair outwards. What helps is a bit of self-understanding.