Monday, December 21, 2009

apple of her eye

On the phone last night, my sister said "you know tomorrow it will be 40 years." I knew, of course. How could I not? Forty years since my mother vanished. Forty years of not knowing. Forty years of dissecting, imagining, crying, raging, wondering where on earth she could have gone, how anyone could vanish so completely.

Karen told me that after mom disappeared, Daddy called her every morning well before dawn to ask the same questions: What do you think happened? Do you think they missed her when they dragged the lake? the river? Could she have driven that Fairlane into the stone quarry out north of town and stayed hidden all these years? This daily dissection went on for years. Even when she was having Tony, her middle son, laid up after a C-section, the early morning call: What do you think happened?

People used to call us in the middle of the night. Whispered voices in the dark: "I know where she is, she's being held against her will." "She's in Grand Lake, just next to Ketchum Cove, in the deep water."

The calls were torture, and we finally stopped answering the midnight ringing phone. She was gone. No one knew where. The FBI couldn't find her, the OSBI either. Ponca City police convinced themselves Daddy did something to her, and they managed to misplace the two polygraph tests he passed with the FBI.

Karen and I went back over all of it last night, start to finish. What we'd done the night before (home, with visiting friends), what happened that morning (building a fire together, early Sunday morning), the missing gun, the fact of her leaving her glasses, her purse, hell, even her clothes. How could a 51 year old woman drive away half blind, with no money, in her nightgown and robe, and not be observed somewhere along the way?

That line of thought takes us back to the quarry, or the river, or one of Oklahoma's many lakes. But then there were the cards: hand-typed advertisements from a boutique in Chicago none of us had been to. We were so certain it was her that my father flew to Illinois. Wild-eyed and shaking, he confronted the boutique owner with the cards that had so oddly appeared in the mail. Still no answers.

Karen and I have convinced ourselves that it was her, that she was involved in the process of mailing those cards somewhere along the line, at the printer's shop, the typing service, mailing, something. It was the only clue, the only indication we ever had that she hadn't died the day she left, a victim of suicidal despair she'd fought for years.

We talked about her life, my mother's, how she'd changed herself to fit my father's expectations, how she'd survived the most hideous sexual abuse as a child, gone to college, met my Dad, and married him, the love of her life, in the 1940s. Marriage was probably a disappointment. I think it often is in small ways and big. It's just life. Nothing's perfect.

My 64 year old sister choked up as we were talking, remembering how mouthy she'd been as a teenager, wondering what would have happened had she been a little less so 50 years ago. And Margene ~ 14 months older than I, 10 years younger than Karen ~ she was starting to get a little mouthy too. "But you," she said. "You were the apple of her eye. She adored you, and you were so sweet. You spent so much time together. How could she leave you?" And I can only think how could she leave any of us? For forty years? How is that even possible?

It is the defining event of our lives. One day my mother vanished and our lives were never the same. And though we've long since moved on, made good lives, become productive citizens, it never goes away. Always, always, the nagging questions: what happened? where did she go? Why? Always and forever, why.

And you? Do you live with some mystery, some unresolvable thing that is always with you? Tell ~ or don't, because those mysteries can be very personal, can't they? Just yes, or no, and whether you wonder every day how such a thing could happen. It helps to believe there are others out there waiting for an answer.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

little aa world

It's a cold, windy afternoon in Tulsa and I have minimal motivation to accomplish the task before me: to clear out the stuff in this house. In these pre-Christmas days, no one's buying much anyway. I hope the first quarter of 2010 is back to normal. Usually our best of the year in my business, 2009 was absolutely wretched, with sales in January, February, and March over 50% down from the year before. I am so ready to be done with this.

So why write at all? Why not snuggle with the puppies under the blanket, drink more coffee, and read one of the good books I've got going? Because Mike just called from Mexico and his news filled me with such joy that it had to come out. It's such a little thing, but I'll take joy anywhere I can get it these dark days of winter.

What was it? What lifted my heart and made me laugh out loud? When I was in Yucatan two weeks ago, we sat down with a carpenter and worked up plans for doors and windows for our little house. The carpenter was great. Very warm and gracious. He took us to his shop where he works magic with rudimentary tools. We liked the plans, so as usual, we are casting aside all recommendations and putting in hardwood windows and doors rather than the more practical aluminum.

Aluminum won't rust and it looks good and it's reasonably inexpensive. But wood. Wood just feels right, and I know it will take more maintenance, but I think of the cedar-shingled houses of Nantucket which have stood for years in the salt spray, and I think we'll get by. I'll be retired, after all. A little house work won't kill me.

So the windows are in. Mike called to tell me they look incredible. He actually said "incredible," my calm, steady husband, the one not prone to superlatives, the one who never gets overly excited. "Incredible."

And then within a few minutes he called back and he sounded incredible himself. Happy, laughing. What could it be? It's so simple, and it's hard to put into words if you haven't experienced it, but in the course of providing food and drinks for our hard working crew at the house, Mike discovered that our carpenter, who we both fell in love with, and the general contractor from Merida, are in AA.

Not just dabbling in AA. They're long time sober people with years under their tool belts. And there's a meeting just a few blocks from our house in Chuburna. Isn't it odd that I'm writing this at 27 years sober (thank You), sitting here with tears in my eyes, and a heart filled with gratitude, because a couple of guys 2000 miles away don't drink anymore?

I can't figure it out. Some of my favorite people drink a lot and it doesn't bother me one bit. Mike's been having a blast running all over the Yucatan peninsula with people who drink most of the time. I have no problem with folks who drink. My favorite people in the world are drunks.

But there's something about the idea that 2000 miles away, two other people felt the need to live differently, and we met them just by chance. And they were people that we were drawn to and liked a lot. And that just seems very, very cool and it makes me really happy. There's a little bit of old home waiting for me in my future home.

Oh, and even more happiness: I found 15 unapproved comments in this thing when I opened it up after a month. That made me happy, though I'm wondering how it went into approval mode. One of the mysteries of life, just like the way the Universe finds a way to connect AA people. And the way that connection fills a heart with joy.

And you? What's making you happy these days? Tell, please.

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