Wednesday, June 9, 2010


"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Opening sentence from THE GO-BETWEEN, by L. P. Hartley

Nothing like a family for keeping secrets. All the accumulated skeletons in closets that reach back for generations, no wonder the clothes are just piled on the floor. My mother told me of my less-than-welcome origins as I was driving a car on the freeway. In the same wheel-jerking conversation, she also told me, placing the blame entirely on the father-to-be, whom she did marry, of an attempted miscarriage. Yet here I am, like the lizard that I hoovered up from the kitchen counter in our old house (reptiles, not so much) and who could not, would not be shaken from the vacuum hose, stretching out his four short legs and refusing to be (a) sucked into the vacuum or (b) shaken out in the garden. I left the hose in the yard; eventually he climbed out. Ah, but he never left the area around our front door. I felt half-way haunted. Maybe my parents did as well.

There are revelations which make things clear. Then there is the leaked information that just makes it all murkier. But for a while - a few days, a sleepless night - it seems that here, at last, is THE unveiling which will pull all the threads together. The truth is, when these glimpses of what might have been, had one but known, come so long after the fact they actually have little worth. In the metaphoric house of myself, I have chosen to leave great piles of old business on the table.

I have written that time has a fluid quality for me, as though it - at least all the years I have experienced - is a vast lake upon which I am contentedly adrift. Yet within the anti-structure of this liquid state, there are rules. Chief among them is the necessity of moving ever forward. From either a movie or novel, absorbed at an impressionable (aren't they all?) age, comes the image of a wagon train as it rolls out of the last civilized town. Soon the pioneers are lightening the loads which slow their migration; hope chests and harpsichords left at the side of the track.

Time-lapse photography would show my wake littered with jettisoned encumbrances...most of them recently discarded. One Peruvian worry doll bound and overloaded with a Pandora's box of trouble, that has been me. Let me see how much of this I can keep hold of. Is there more duct tape or fishing line?

Yes, it is our stuff, after a fashion, though I swear, in great measure it is as much hand-me-downs as the exotic, grown-up clothes my aunt passed along to my grade-school self. Stories for another day. I believe it may - still trying to have this somehow notarized or chiseled in stone - be possible to outgrow the need to suffer. I know that I lack the tolerance for more than one fitful night of sleep in a row and whatever has brought on this disquietude has to go. If it is my mind trying to bend itself around facts that are no longer relevant, good God, woman; write yourself a note asking if you may, please, be excused from participating. Here, on this side of the lake, it is 2010. We may float past 1955 or 1948 or 1963 in our meanderings, but we no longer live there. And whatever they try to call out as we glide by, the words are inaudible above the gentle splash along the sides of the boat. We can no longer hear the message; it doesn't matter.


Robert the Skeptic said...

Interesting that you think of jettisoned encumbrances along the journey where I seem to note all the stuff we seem to pick up along the way. People euphemistically refer to it as "baggage" which seems an appropriate term.

Thoughtful post.

Penny said...

I wonder what I would say to my 20 year old self if I could meet her. What advice would I give her?

But growing older confers a sort of grace on us like the serenity prayer in your previous post, because now it really doesn't matter and we can look at things objectively and with a sort of wry amusement even.

Remember that there was hope left in Pandora's Box.

Elisabeth said...

This is such wonderful writing, Marilyn.

The past is a foreign country and yet we are forever traveling back, asking it to offer some truths of what happened then, when we were young.

But we can never get to these truths except as fictions. Herein lies the joy of writing and its struggle.

Thank you for this. I've said it before and I'll say it again, your writing is beautiful.

Marylinn Kelly said...

My appreciation to all who comment, those who were readers from the start, those with whom I am newly connected. I am braver in subject and words, thanks to what I find in your writings.

Robert - It is that very baggage, so long a companion, whose free ride is over.

Penny - My 20-year-old self would not have listened to me, or anyone. Sometimes I can find a touch of the wry amusement, sometimes I am simply surprised to look around and find myself still here.

Elisabeth - Thank you. And what begins as fiction may become open autobiography. We grow more bold.

Sultan said...

Nicely done.

This post made me think of a Chinese proverb that I have always liked:

"You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building nests in your hair."

Anonymous said...

grow bold,

dear lady!!

oh mi goodness, that story - maybe we all have these - thoughtless remarks said in an offhand manner that stun the listener.

Funny that they were delivered while traveling, as was my experience. Both times, both off hand remarks that forever changed they way I viewed life, were made while on the move... as if to leave the place they were said as fast as possible.

I have a tattoo on my left forearm that is a heath ledger quote from the last batman:

what does not kill me makes me