Thursday, 20 January 2011

Knowing When to Tell the Story

As it is with most of the friends I see here, Bath was a convenient detour when work brought my friend Beth to England. It was a detour made necessary by a project she has been working on for more than a decade now, a project that I hope as much for my own sake as for hers will soon be financed and completed.

The beginning and the end of Beth's and my story took place a decade and a half ago in the former ROTC barracks that made up part of Indiana University's dormitories. I was running a green toothbrush across my morals when Beth walked in and uncapped her own tube of toothpaste. I nodded to her, and she asked in return, "What happened to your mother?"

Eighteen-year-old college students are nosy. They ask personal questions of just about everyone. That week alone, I'd asked the our cleaner how many children she had (2 boys), another woman on our floor if the two men she was sleeping with knew about each other (no), and my neighbor why she was no longer a ballerina (proof that I was no better). I like eighteen-year-old freshmen a lot. I can't imagine a life in which I don't get to meet a whole new set of them at the beginning of each new term. Who else is going to laugh at my Grover impression when I explain prepositions? (They no longer remember Grover.) Nonetheless, when I was an eighteen and asking my own invasive questions, I largely hated my peers. I wanted to be like them more than anything else, and that was something that I thought was largely lost to me.

So when Beth asked the question that she couldn't possibly have known was loaded, I thought about calmly putting down my toothbrush and decking her. Beth had decorated her door with names of musicians I'd never heard of before--The Wallflowers come to mind now. She'd carefully clipped words out of a magazine and made a collage of all the things she loved. She had a television with a video player, and she knew how to talk to our peers. And, I thought, she was as stupid as many of the women I'd come across already. She'd asked what she thought was a benign question that was in fact completely loaded. Since she wasn't going to want to be a friend of mine once I'd answered her, I'd do the next best thing to hitting her. I'd make her feel like she'd been sucker punched.

"She's dead," I said.

I'd hoped for shock. I knew that she was going to say oh, I'm sorry and back out of the room. I was going to be mildly annoyed if she cried and I had to tell her to go call her mother to feel better. And god help me, if she said anything about God and picking the prettiest flowers, I really was going to punch here. Never mind that the only person I'd ever punched was my sister.

"Mine too," She said.

Beth has a better memory than I do. She can probably tell you much more about how that conversation ended than I can. She can also tell you that we weren't some oddity of dormitory statistics. There were three of us that I was aware of who had lost a parent before our 18th birthdays. Twenty-one of us lived on the floor. The numbers were just about right as a reflection of parent-loss in the general population.

So when Beth approached me last year and asked if I would help her to write the script for a documentary she is making, I was willing to help. I am intentionally not saying happy here. I spent three years writing a memoir of my own experience of mother-loss. I knew what that had taken out of me, and I knew what it had given me. I also knew that a lot had changed for me in the intervening years. I no longer saw the loss of Mom as the singular most important event in my life. I no longer defined myself foremost as a motherless daughter. I no longer worried that when I failed people would assume it was the loss of Mom that made me fail. I no longer thought about my mother every day.

I was glad that Beth had reached the point where she felt she could finally put together footage she's been shooting for years into a product that would tell her story, my story, the story of so many of the young people in the US who find themselves lost during and after the death of a parent. It gladdens my heart to be part of Beth's project. It gladdens my heart to know that my words too will have the opportunity to be heard.

I wish this project had been around when I lost Mom. I wish there had been a film to tell me that I wasn't alone or even out of the ordinary. I wish that I had had the opportunity to see that my own success was still possible, that my failures were normal, and that there would be a life beyond the loss. Beth is trying to raise enough funds to get the project off the ground. If you can afford to help her see Boys Don't Date Girls With Dead Mothers come to fruition, I would certainly appreciate it. Her Kick Starter page is here. Even if you can't give (I need toothpaste again and that's just not going to happen. How big is pea sized?), encouraging words would be truly appreciated.

Because I very much appreciate a woman named Katie's help and her action, I'd also like it if you could click over to Uneasy Pink. She kindly shared the project with her blog readers here. She's faced the issue from the other side, as a mother who may leave children behind.

As for me, I've been looking through the memoir and wondering if I should begin sending it out again. It may well have set on that shelf for too long.


  1. I am really and truly grateful to you.

  2. I am truly grateful to you both. Thank you very much for being you.

  3. This is amazingly written -- blows my mind, really. Thanks for supporting our mutual friend Beth! And consider me a new fan.

  4. Send it out, Rach. Send it out.

  5. I think I understood a bit more when I saw the play that Jen did about your mother. Good luck to you and Beth with your projects.


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