Saturday 20 August 2016

Without a map

According to the amazon seller receipt I bought 'Without a Map' by Meredith Hall three years ago. I read it and felt sad. Sad for her, sad for her family, sad for her son and sad for a community that condemns and controls people's behaviour.  She has a baby at 16 and is shunned by her parents, ostracised by her community. She has no control or say; the baby is taken for adoption. In the book she tells us how she tries to make sense of all this, to find some meaning, to pull herself back together. It is heartbreaking. I just wanted to wrap her up and take care of her. She skates over a brief marriage that gives her two sons and then ends; she does not even give her husband's name or anything about their relationship. Considering how the rest of the book is so candid it left me feeling that there was something even worse about that period in her life, muted only by her love for her children. Maybe I am reading too much into it. 

The fact that she loves her father and mother so much is what makes it hard to read. She wants so much from them that they do not give her. I could not forgive them not matter that she seemed to. This quote is from a time before the baby. She is young and her newly remarried father takes his 'family' on regular visits to his mother, where they are obliged to pretend that nothing has changed:

"My father sits at the head of the table with his children and ex-wife and mother and grandmother all attending him. My mother pretends she is still his wife. We children pretend that we are still his children, that my father, their beloved Leslie, still comes home to us, that his new wife and stepchild so not exist. It is an audacious act for my father. I don't know why my mother goes along with it; she is in love with my father, and may find a strange comfort in being allowed to play wife again for an afternoon.
During these charades, I feel deep confusion. Whatever griefs and fears I am experiencing about my father's leaving do not seem to occur to him. He asks me, at ten or eleven years old, to put on an act for him, to pretend that I am still the happy girl from our earlier life. He tells us that he just wants his mother and grandmother to be happy. I know, though, even as a child, that my father will ask the unthinkable of me in order to smooth the way for himself. I learn in those tenuous afternoons, with the old mantel clock ticking, that my father is a weak man, and he will not protect me." (p.69-70)

And later, years later, this lingering feeling that she should have known what would happen, almost a sense of responsibility for her mother's rejection of her:

"Well, she can't live here. So abrupt, the end of having a mother. Within a few years, my mother and I will seem close again. I love her. But she will never again be my mother. Love and its failure.
My sister will say later, 'It was just the times.' But that is not true. There was something more, a secret, something I was missing, something I should have known, a capacity for this betrayal I should have sensed was coming. I could have prepared myself, kept my feet under me better, not spent a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and, always, wondering at my own lack of worth. I wish I had been able to see my mother - my two mothers - more clearly, to predict her capacity to judge so fiercely, to withdraw so abruptly her love and protection of me." (p.138)

What is most heartbreaking is that she never confronts them about it. She waits, patiently, for her mother to bring up what happened, to ask for forgiveness, to say she was wrong, but she never does and the relationship ends unresolved. Slowly and painfully Meredith builds something new for herself, a new family to love. She redeems her relationship with her adopted son and draws him in to her new family, but there is bitterness in the sweetness. A story that raised a lot of deeply submerged feelings for me, I almost wish I had not read it, but you cannot help by admire how hard it must have been to write. 

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