Chagrin

It took me a while to come out of the dreamscape this morning. But when I did I was glad to see the light seeping around the edges of the curtains. It was good to be safe and sound, waking up and alive, on a Saturday morning.

I’d been dreaming about being a writer, in a garret in the city. The places I was visiting, trying to find a studio to rent, harked back to some of the apartments of my young adulthood. I didn’t really want to be there. Despite the flowerbeds in the lawn of the art museum (which was huge, in the dream) and the gardeners tossing around a volleyball, the marble balustrades and stairs and statues were crumbling. There was an air of ruin and decay.

Writing, though—that, I was happy about. And waking, I thought: My mother used to think I would be a writer. We argued about so many things, my mother and I, each convinced the other was wrong or at least entrenched in that position, that it would probably give her great satisfaction to see me now, putting pen to paper.

We fought as far back as I can remember. I can’t take much responsibility for the early battles—I was too young. But even after I grew up some we were often at odds, and I always found it hard to give her credit. I did so only grudgingly. I remember thanking my father, personally and specifically, for giving me the experience of the cottage, and for teaching me to use a camera. I don’t remember thanking my mother for exposing me to books. I should have.

The sad truth is that with distance and detachment it is easy to say that I owe to her my long and passionate relationship with books. She read to me and my sister when we were too young to read for ourselves classics from her childhood: Little Women, Hans Brinker, Black Beauty. Early on I grasped the magic that could happen when you opened a book. When we started reading in elementary school, I already knew how.

In the summer Mom took us to the library every week, if we weren’t at the cottage. I joined some kind of club there, got credit for the stacks of books I took home and read. The club seemed peripheral—I was really there for the books.

I’m sure Mom took home her own stack of library books, devoted reader that she was. Mysteries, she loved—especially Agatha Christie, although she never had to take those titles out from the library, she owned them all—mostly in paperback (although once in a while Dad got her the latest hardcover Christie release for her birthday or Christmas.) All of those paperbacks—I didn’t have the heart to toss them, after she died. What she still had filled a paper grocery bag to brimming. I put them up on the Freecycle website, and a young woman came and got them. For her grandmother, she said, who was in bed recuperating from something I don’t recall. My mother would be pleased, I think, that I shared her wealth.

I don’t know exactly why my mom thought, way back when, that I would be a writer. Seems to me that the writing I did in childhood, lots of kids did: poems now and then, song lyrics. I do remember creating outlines for a couple of novels—but I don’t remember showing them to anyone but my best friend in the third grade.

But my mom saw something.

I watched a movie last night in which a woman could see the future, her past, and the present, simultaneously—the totality of time, all at once. In the film, knowledge and connection banish conflict, and language, writing, the symbols drawn on a page, are a bridge.

Do we ever really know our parents? Shrouded in the murky past of our childhood, it can be hard to see them as the human beings they are. And do they know us? Sometimes, it feels like they don’t. Other times, they know more than we are willing to believe.

I’m not sure I would want to see the future entire. But is it possible to know, or at least imagine, a little of what is to be? If we could, maybe we would not spend so much time and energy, fighting, sharpening our knives, and preparing to fight again. Maybe we would try a little harder to connect with the people around us. I think I heard that message in the film I watched last night—and recognized a truth my own life and my mistakes may yet teach me.