Monday, November 29, 2010

If Only

The photos were taken when I was almost thirteen and wearing a two piece bathing suit for the first time. My usually pale skin looks tanned next to the light blue of my suit in the photos taken of my siblings and myself splashing in the waves of the Atlantic ocean off the Rhode Island coast in early summer. "A typical family on summer vacation" the photos say, two parents, five kids, having fun running around at the beach.

Except, we were anything but typical that summer. That was the summer my mother died of breast cancer. But you can't tell that from the photos.

One last holiday with the family, before she went into the hospital for the last time. Her cousin lent us their family beach house for a week. And then, she went away, and we children never saw her again.

My mother looks pretty normal in the photos, a mother of five kids in her mid thirties in a 1960s style bathing suit. But I could tell something was very wrong. In the evenings, at the beach house, after the younger children were in bed, she would take very strong pain medications, which made it seem to me like she was drunk. All I wanted was a normal family vacation. And so, I acted out. I got in trouble, and was punished for it. This I remember very clearly. But I didn't care. I wanted my parents to act like parents, normal parents of a normal family. And this woozy mother didn't fit in at all with my vision of the way things were supposed to be.

We human beings have a very strong tendency to ignore what we do not want to see, to pretend things are normal even when they are not. "If only" we didn't eventually have to face the harsh reality of life (and death). "If only".

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