How do you come to terms with growing up in a family where women get pregnant and married young, then spend much of their lives deciding whether to leave their abusive husbands, also trapped, too young, with children to feed?

English: A scan of the book Aunt Louisa's Bibl...

A scan of the book Aunt Louisa’s Bible Picture Book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you not only feel trapped, but, even as a child, you see this pattern repeating throughout your family and are waiting, as for the other shoe to drop, for it to happen to you, how do you cope?

Stories.

Dorothy Allison, author of “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure,” opens her autobiography by telling us her strategy and her reason for needing it:

“’Let me tell you a story,’ I used to whisper to my sisters, hiding with them behind the red-dirt bean hills and row on row of strawberries.”

“My sisters’ faces were thin and sharp, with high cheekbones and restless eyes, like my mama’s face, my aunt Dot’s, my own….”

“When we were small, I could catch my sisters the way they caught butterflies, capture their attention and almost make them believe that all I said was true.”

“’Let me tell you about the women who ran away. All those legendary women who ran away.’”

“I’d tell about the witch queens who cooked their enemies in great open pots, the jewels that grow behind the tongues of water moccasins.”

“After a while the deepest satisfaction was in the story itself, greater even than the terror in my sisters’ faces, the laughter, and, God help us, the hope.”

She ends this opening, describing herself as a storyteller to cope with her childhood reality,

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is what it means to have no loved version of your life but the one you make….”

“No one told me that you take your world with you, that running becomes a habit, that the secret to running is to know why you run and where you are going – and to leave behind the reason you run.”

There was the new teacher, when Allison was in fourth grade, who assigned the children to create a family tree, using whatever materials they could find, such as birth records in a family Bible.

Allison’s mother and aunt laughed at the notion that they might have a family Bible.

And, they were only willing to go back as far as one set of living grandparents to help Allison’s project.

“Two or three things I know for sure, and one of them is just this – if we cannot name our own we are cut off at the root, our hold on our lives as fragile as seed in a wind.”

Allison says she didn’t get her story-telling from her mother, but she did get her grit.

 “My mama never told me stories…Only my grandmother was shameless…Sometimes she even told the truth.”

“She was the one told me my mama had been married three times.”

“My mama worked forty years as a waitress, teasing quarters out of truckers, and dimes out of hairdressers, pouring exra coffee for a nickel, or telling an almost true story for half a dollar.”

And, how could you grow up unscathed when no one tells you you’re beautiful.

“I remember standing on the porch with my aunt Maudy brushing out my hair; I was feeling loved and safe and happy.”

“My aunt turned me around and smoothed my hair down, looked me in the eye, smiled, and shook her head.”

“’Lucky you’re smart,’ she said.”

And, she has her own, personal hurt.

 “The man raped me…I was five, and he was eight months married to my mother.”

“Two or three things I know for sure, but none of them is why a man would rape a child, why a man would beat a child.”

The beatings stopped at fifteen when she and her younger sister backed him into a corner with butcher knives.

She and her beautiful younger sister finally reconciled over a six-pack of beer, when she was 34.

“You made me feel so ugly.”

“You made me feel so stupid.”

And, then, the hard truth,

“’I made sure you were the one,’ she said.”

“The one who had to take him his glasses of tea, anything at all he wanted.’”

“’ And I hated myself for it…I thought you were so strong….I thought you were like Mama, that you could handle him.’”

“’It wasn’t fair was it?’ she whispered.”

“’’None of it was,’ I whispered back, and put my arms around her.”

“Two or three things I know for sure and one of them is that telling the story all the way through is an act of love.”

A therapist once told her it confused her readers to know that she had been sexually abused and was a lesbian.

Following this logic, Allison asked her if people really might think that sexual abuse caused homosexuality and answered her own rhetorical question – if true, there would be a lot more homosexuals.

Some say they write memoirs for their children or grandchildren, so they’ll know their family history, where they come from, the lessons they’ve learned.

But, some writers write to make sense of their lives, to heal, to rewrite history when they are finally in charge.

Allison takes us on her healing journey.

Click on the title to order Dorothy Allison’s book from amazon, “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure.”

 

Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

http://newgrandmas.com

 

 

 

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