One never knows when the quantum leap will happen. Writing memoir is more an evolving and a revealing than a recording of what is known.
As I sat before a fire, listening to it's hiss and whisper in the grate, I mused with my husband about our respective childhoods. He was the tag-on boy following two boys, when he should have been the longed for girl. That might have been workable, but then, the girl finally came, and now who could he be except discarded? older bros united together and shut him out. Sister became her mother's only recognized child, a menopause baby,to worn out parents.
Some of his issues are my own. Over afternoon drinks....a beer for him, a scotch for me, we looked at what went on with my mother as I pushed my stylus across the keyboard of my iPad. We mused as we watched the birds gobbling at the feeders in the fast falling snow. We got right to it and wondered at the end of the afternoon why we had missed what we actually knew all these years.
Mama was always enamored of bad boys. ornery, she called them. Not really bad, just well, ornery! Good boys, good children bored her. No excitement, no stimulation. This syndrome would resurface with my half sister, decades later, when she refused to date guys who kept a schedule, excelled at their studies, treated her well. They bored her.
My younger brother was a rule breaker. He walked the ridges, balanced on the edges of law breaking, knowing naturally where the safe place was and where the dangerous. He almost never got caught at his flaunting, hardly ever got tagged. She loved the daring, the risk taking, the exhilaration of "getting away with".
She encouraged it. She was blatant. I, on the other hand, was seen by her as a goody two shoes with never an infraction of the rules, always towing the line, hoping for approval. My very goodness intimidated her. She thought I was actually above her. She understood herself to be "bad" and therefore, common. She never dreamed I thought myself superior. I was breaking my neck to win approval, and getting marked down for it.
I knew viscerally that Mom was enamored of her "bad boy". She made no secret of her amusement at his infractions,and she openly resented my accomplishments, small or large. Something about my achievements made her feel inferior. So never was I rewarded.
So it was that one day forty years later, after visiting my parents, impromptu, I packed my belongings for the seven hour drive home. They didn't even say good bye. Halfway home, I pulled off the turnpike sobbing like some captive in the London Tower. out of control, heart breaking, I was face to face with the reality that absolutely nothing would open this door of rejection of me. My very presence was a challenge, an affront, a reality filled with too much pain for my mother. I would have to simply stop trying. To forfeit her. Such sick jealousy was irrational and insurmountable. I could not be less than I was.
It took me a few decades to process this, to understand the kind of parent who rewards the "bad" kid and punishes the "good" child. not that my brother or I saw ourselves in such categories. Each of us were simply following our instincts. Bobby fascinated her. I threatened her. Simple. But not.
As we sat, my husband and I, looking at this epiphany, we recognized in my mother her poor picture of herself, and how vulnerable she was, and how deprived, herself, of approval and applause. She too lacked the recognition of her value, of her own contribution of value. She couldn't get past her own guilt over placing each of her children in an orphanage, thereby reinforcing her own bad opinion of herself. And she knew she was playing favorites, unable to help herself.
I recognize readily the mechanism here. The gift of recognition necessarily means I better understand myself. The purpose of memoir is to translate this kind of grief and loss to victory and triumph, and ultimately validates the whole point of writing this memoir in the first place.
Memoirists are telling their own story to themselves, not as catharsis, but as revelation. We share it because we know our story is not ours alone. We seek that aha moment for the reader in the hope that they, too, can come to terms with their brokenness, and begin to heal.