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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Blogger Willym said...

Not every day but many days I ask "why" and hypothesize "what if ...." and 40 years later still can't find an answer. And I guess I have resigned myself to the fact that I never will - but it doesn't make it any easier.

But you are right, knowing that other people are in the same situation, that you are not alone make it if not easier at least bearable.

As always a post that made me think and made me search inside myself a bit more. Many thanks.

December 23, 2009 6:24 PM  
Blogger Debbi said...

Yes. Somewhere out there my mother had a half-sister that neither I nor my siblings knew about until after my grandmother died. My mother knew about her, but never mentioned her. Not a life-changer, but a mystery for sure. I'm so sorry about your mother.

December 23, 2009 6:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So sorry for the loss you have had with this.

December 23, 2009 11:13 PM  
Blogger Rena said...

Wow. I really am in awe at this story (and also at the wonderful way you told it). I also had a very defining and soul-shaking event happen to me as a child, but I'm not brave enough to tell it publicly -- not yet, anyway.

Have you read 'A Prayer for Owen Meany' John Irving's novel (the film Simon Birch was based on it)? In a subplot, the mother of the narrator dies when he is a child. Later he and Owen found out she had a secret life very different than the one they knew. I don't know how reading it would affect you, with your history, but you sound pretty well adjusted, so you may want to check it out. It's my favorite novel ever, so I'm a little biased, everything moving tends to remind me of it. :~/

December 23, 2009 11:25 PM  
Anonymous Ruthie D said...

Hi, Belle! Your blog came up when I searched AA meetings in merida, mexico. I'm going on vacation to merida next week and can only find two english speaking meetings. Do you know of any other ones? Or where I can find the non-english speaking meetings?
Thanks so much
Ruthie D

December 24, 2009 8:38 AM  
Blogger ish said...

That's quite a story, Lynette.

I do have a mystery, and your story provokes me to share. My grandfather divorced my grandmother shortly after my father was born in 1933. They had tried to have children for years, and adopted two, and then a few years later, out pops my dad. My grandfather wasn't having it. When I was a teenager my grandfather told me a completely inappropriate long story about my grandmother having an affair with a teacher and his wife. He wagged his finger and winked at me as he condemningly said, "And it wasn't just a man-woman thing if you know what I mean." I dismissed the story; clearly although he believed my father was my grandmother's love child with somebody else, the family resemblance is pretty strong. Anyway about 1980 when my grandma was in her late 1970s she announced she was getting remarried, to the love of her life. It was to a man she had known for years, whose wife had just died. So she had carried a torch for this guy for something like fifty years: the last five years of her life before Alzheimer's set in were the happiest of her life. So what happened back in the 1930s? There's just no way to know.

Anyway, I enjoy your comments on JMG. You should write more. Sorry 'bout your mom. Peace for the holidays.

December 24, 2009 12:01 PM  
Blogger LSL said...

Christ, Belle. Haunting. I'm so, so deeply sorry.

I do wish you some peace this holiday and hope you're continuing to make your life how you want it. Love and kisses to you. Merry Christmas.

December 25, 2009 11:01 PM  
Blogger more cowbell said...

Yes. Not a mystery, more of a why. Just why.

I remember you writing about this before. I've wondered about it from time to time myself, just from reading your experience. It's haunting, can't begin to imagine.

December 26, 2009 4:26 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

I remember one time, when my aunt, who suffered severe bouts of depression, and I suspect bipolar disorder, told me how it felt......."I feel like I am numb...I can't feel, or love, even though I know I should...I just can't feel it". Sometimes people do things that others just can't's no reflection on their loved's just about their own personal pain, and nothing else. I can't imagine feeling so isolated and alone....I know as a family member how hard it is to know that you can't really do anything but understand....
I'm so sorry that you had to experience this, and that Christmas brings it up again and again......losing a Mom is hard enough, but this is just too hard for kids to get! To kids, it's a betrayal, abandonment and worse......but , as an adult, forgiveness, in the face of what she was going through, is the only way to let go....I wish that for you and your sister with all my heart.

December 26, 2009 7:23 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

a day, as my aunt was dying of cancer, and we were talking about 'regrets' in life.....and I was going through a difficult time in my own life...her comments made a BIG impression on me and changed my life, my career, and put me in a place to face the eventual cancer that my husband would recover from, as well as so much more....her spirit and wisdom will always be with me, no matter what demons she had to endure! I'm sure you can think of something that will always stick with you!!!!!!

December 26, 2009 7:39 PM  
Blogger Gavin said...

Wow, I'm not sure what to say. "Sorry this happened to you," is genuine but doesn't seem to be enough.

Part of me wants to put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and help you figure it out but I'm sure any ideas I would have were probably covered thoroughly decades ago. Not knowing would be the worst.

As time goes by, you may find the answer. The Internet is a gold mine with more access every day. You can search for obituaries, social security numbers, or any tidbit of information you might remember like the name of the Chicago boutique or her driver's license number. In family tree research, I've found where people are buried since most cemeteries now have online lists. This info wasn't available when I did similar searches 5 years ago.

I hope you receive the answers you seek. The sooner the better! :)

December 29, 2009 6:16 PM  
Anonymous ZhyKitty said...

My heart just broke for you, reading this.
I hope one day you get your answers - any answers. I cant imagine the "not knowing" for so long. The torment you've been through. It's much worse than my own mystery in it's way - because at least with my daughter - I know she's passed on and how - but then - there are the circumstances that surrounded it.
One of the local headlines here read "Girl, age 9 sees ghost - dies" or some such - I saved all of the newspaper clippings but have long since stopped torturing myself by looking at them.

11 years ago my daughter Kendall (who was almost 10) began to behave as if she were sad - and told her sister what to do with her body after she died. At the time you know, I didn't really credit the sadness for much more than the beginnings of puberty and I didnt know about the instructions she had given my then 8 yr old daughter.
We think now that this was a "knowing" of some sort rather than a suicide but - who can know?

About two months after this sadness started on Nov 26th 1998 (Thanksgiving), right after the big meal, she was outside playing with her brother - age 5 - and her Uncle - age 19 - when she suddenly turned towards a very busy road and shouted that she could see a ghost on the other side of the street near the bridge.
She ran towards it - whatever it was she saw and when her uncle turned and saw her running for the street he screamed at her to stop - but she called back to him "I can't."
They were her last words.
My son was saved just in the nick of time for whatever it was that she could see - he could see it too and he'd run right behind her.
Their uncle was able to grab him just in time to stop the car that killed my daughter from hitting my son and taking him too.
Just after the accident my son insisted that his sister was "leaving with that man" though obviously she wasn't moving.
I will always wonder - what the hell it was all about - but I know there are no answers for my questions. Not while I'm living anyway.
Still - you grieve - of course I still do - but you find some closure in knowing that they're gone and cant return.
In your case - the agony of it all as I see it would be the lack of closure. I cannot begin to imagine how you have managed to deal with that.
We dont know each other but I think your story will always help me appreciate that even with what I live with - there are worse things. You think about it when someone dies - at least they didnt suffer, at least I know unlike the people whose family members vanish - but until you read something like what you wrote - you cant really appreciate what it MEANS to have someone disappear.
Will think of you and hope you find peace.

December 30, 2009 3:05 AM  
Anonymous Michele said...

Ms. Lynette - thank you for sharing this. I am wishing you and yours peace.

I do wonder sometimes if my Aunt Sheila buried a casket full of rocks. My Uncle Danny was shot by a firing squad in Angola (CIA mercenary 1976) and we had to pay about $5K to get his body back. The US government wouldn't "allow" her to unseal the casket. His ghost has appeared several times next to the Bentwood rocker he gave her one anniversary.

December 30, 2009 2:33 PM  
Blogger The Pliers said...

It's New Year's Eve and I've been sitting here making visits to people to whom I wanted to quickly wish the best in closing out the old year and ringing in the new.

I stopped by Hammock Musings in Mérida to wish Paul and Susan a lovely evening and I noticed that you mentioned actually being in Tulsa in a comment there, which was a striking coincidence because I had already greatly appreciated the long post you did some weeks back on your father's illness and I spent the first 15 years of my life in Oklahoma–Chickasha, Tulsa, OKC, and Edmond. Those city names are like magic words for me.

Then to read your post on your mother's disappearance was even more startling because my mother shot herself in the head in a closet in San Francisco on 3/31/1991. Thus, I know exactly where she is, but I was 38 years old when she exited the stage of Life and there were an entirely different set of development parameters in play. Which is not to say that her death has been a major preoccupation for me since then.

I am sorry for both the nature of your loss and for the loss of your mother. You have perhaps already encountered the work of Hope Edelman in her book, "Motherless Daughters" but if not, you and your sister might find it very helpful. It was followed by a book called, "Letters From Motherless Daughters," I believe.

Lastly, I want to say that there is a woman who is writing a blog called Shattered Into One Piece that I read and most recently I have been commenting on this need for context and a sense of not staying unnecessarily alone with losses of this magnitude because there are other people out there with similar stories just waiting to be encouraged, as you did here, to share them.

I hope that we will have occasion to run into each other somewhere in OK, MX, or, for that matter, France, where I will soon be living permanently. Holler at me.

By the way, have you ever, or do you, read "Tongue In Cheek?" Given your work, I think you might like it.


December 31, 2009 7:18 PM  
Blogger The Pliers said...

...has NOT been a major preoccupation...

December 31, 2009 7:20 PM  
Blogger Nancy and Gary said...

Lynette, first off let me say how sorry I am for you and your family, the not knowing would be absolutely terrible...kudos to you for sharing it all with us.

Secondly I follow your blog and I can't tell you how much I enjoy it, you really need to be a professional writer you have the talent for sure. I would buy your book!!!

January 02, 2010 1:52 PM  
Blogger Marc Olson said...

Wow. Lynette, I was wondering today why you haven't posted, and thinking maybe I had missed a recent post, took a look at your blog. I started looking back for posts I had missed, and found this one.

My goodness, Lynette, what a thing to have experienced as a girl and to have lived with all this time. I am so terribly sorry...of course words are pretty lame when it comes to something as monumental at this, but what else have I got? We've gotten to be friends, although we've never met face to face, but now I see another whole facet of your life and personality.

There is a similar mystery in my family, although not as difficult, really. An aunt of mine, an older sister of my mother's, disappeared many years ago. I never met her. She moved to New York when she was still young, she kept to herself and was never terribly good at keeping in touch, and this was the 60's, so maybe they received a Christmas card yearly and that was about it. Suddenly the family realized she hadn't communicated in awhile. My uncle in Baltimore, who is a lawyer, hired an investigator after numerous attempts to communicate with my aunt were unsuccessful. No trace was ever found.

I have often wondered what happened. Did she become mentally ill or lose her job and end up on the streets, too prideful to come to the family for help? Was she murdered, and because she kept to herself and perhaps didn't have any close neighborhood friends the disappearance went unnoticed? Was she gay, and unable in those times to bring herself to tell her family did she change her name and run off to live with a woman? [I hope it was something like this because it means she might have been happy, because the other alternatives all are so sad]

I have often wondered. We'll never know, I guess.

I'll never forget about your Mom. A big hug.

December 07, 2010 1:36 PM  

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