Through the Silent Hours of the Night

Imagine, if you will, the colour blue. Imagine that you think you know what that colour is, how it looks, what things in the world are blue. Maybe you point to things all the time and in your mind you say “blue”.

And then one day, some says that you are wrong. Maybe they pull out the pantone book and they prove to you what you thought was blue is actually green. You have, your whole life, been pointing to the grass and saying “blue”.  You have taught people to call the grass blue, because that’s what you believed it was.

And it’s not a moral thing. You called the grass blue because you believed it was blue. You called it blue because that was what you knew to be true, based on what had been told to you.You had no intent to deceive when you told others that the grass was blue. You thought you were right.

We assume, when we are told as children that the sky is blue and the grass is green, that the adults are telling us truthfully. We assume they know.

We assume our family stories are true.

By true, I do not mean unadorned, drawn scantly, without the texture of nuance and the patina of age. I do not mean the subconscious addenda we add on as lie. I allow for hyperbole, appreciating a good story as much as anyone.

By true, I mean that in the essentials, they are factual.

One of my aunt’s, on my mother’s side, died a few weeks ago. This has been awkward and ungainly sort of thing, mostly because (and I hope that you will forgive my sarcasm here) My mother told everyone that this particular sister died in the twin towers on September 11, 2001.

And it is a hell of a thing when you have to resurrect someone in your mind in order for them to die again twelve an a half years later.  There are many sorts of odd verb forms, but not even the most complex form of past imperfect can manage the words to try and describe how this might have worked.

I had dinner with a cousin tonight. I have had many conversations with many cousins in the last few weeks, and it has been a bloody minefield. Starting with the mental resurrection, but examining more closely – well, everything that my mother ever told me.

Family stories are like colours. No one ever consults a colour swatch to learn the colours. In time out of memory, when you and I were children – someone pointed to the sky and called it blue. We tell others stories about who we are, based on what we have been told. This must be so because those stories tell us about where we came from and in the most fundamental of ways, where we come from is part of who we are.

All my life I was told my grandfather was a politician, a lawyer. I was told that my family came from old money, my mother, my aunt’s, my grandmother went to the best of schools. All my life I was told that I came from blue blood, an old Canadian family. Every story my mother told was predicated on this ‘otherness’.

And none of it is true.

And out of those stories that I thought were truth, I am a particular person. I teach my nieces and nephews the right way to set a table, I wear a slip under a skirt, I send thank you letters, I am always a lady because that was who I was raised as, that was what I thought I came from. I tell people those stories to explain who I am. I thought that this part of who I was resulted from where I came from. I thought I was other and out of that other I was taught to be a certain sort of person with a certain set of skills.

And I am not other.

You would think it would be such a small thing. My mother’s lies are legendary. This is the woman who told everyone she was dying when I was 16. You would think I would be used to it by now.

And I confess – this discovery of blue and green, it is not so simple or so easy. It is rather more fundamental than I ever would have thought possible. I thought, when I got that letter from my step mother, I thought I knew what it was to have your foundations rocked.

It turns out I have more to learn. I want to ask my mother’s family – to try and understand what on earth would have made my mother lie like this. What made her lash out and rip and tear the way she does? Were all her siblings like this?

And then there is this – these things have no answer. What could they tell me that would make any difference at all?

Perhaps it is this – in the last week my world has changed in 2 very fundamental ways. One I am talking about tonight, and the other I will tell, perhaps, in the next few days.

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the silent hours of this night, so that we, who are wearied by the changes and chances of this fleeting world, may repose upon thy eternal changelessness;

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7 Responses to Through the Silent Hours of the Night

  1. Needles says:

    Oh my heart hurts for this. You do not need to pick it up and carry this. You can know it and let it go.

  2. Sharon says:

    This is not my story and yet I felt the ground under me shift as I read this, so I can’t imagine what you’ve been feeling. I re-read the post about the letter [I didn't comment at the time because everyone said so eloquently what I was thinking] and I remember wondering if your stepmother was being truthful or was feeling devastated and wanted to lash out. It seems like the sort of situation where even if you had all the characters in the same room you would never know the truth.

    I have been reading here for years and I read your archives a long time ago. I don’t know you other than from what you’ve written here, which has always impressed me as honest, heartfelt, and true. Your life is what you’ve made it. The credit belongs to you alone. I pray that you feel that in your very core and, while the ground may shift under you, that you believe that you are a good person who deserves the love and respect of others.

    May you be safe ~
    May you be healthy and strong ~
    May you be happy ~
    May your feel peaceful and at ease ~

  3. a says:

    Wow. Well, you are who you are, regardless of how you got there, so please keep that in mind.

    There is no silver lining in discovering further dismaying things about your mother. But there is an opportunity to put her to the side and discover more things about your family. Good luck in finding your way through this labyrinth that she built for you – but you have strength and fortitude, so I have no doubt you’ll succeed.

  4. Reese says:

    I come from a line of pathological liars as well. I have never understood the reasons for why even though everyone has their hypotheses. I hope that when the dust settles you can hold firm to what you know is real. Your strength. Your love for Mr. Spit. The life that surrounds you that you have built. Blue bloods or blue collars, you have risen to where and who you are by choices. Choices that make you the classy woman you are.

    I pray the river of lies is shallow and easy to navigate and I wish you well on this path. Its not easy and never fun…. ♥

  5. Aunt Deb says:

    There are so many shades of blue. Your mom had her real life and more importantly to her….how her life should have been. Some of those things were good, how to set the table, what fork to use, how to be polite. These are the good things you should take and keep. The other things, the half truths, the larger than life stories, the shades of things not quite true and not quite lies…well we need to set them aside. Both her and your father needed to be larger than life and needed to have drama. A sister dying just is not good enough, they need that midnight blue shade of a sister dying in the tower. It is just how they were and I don’t see it changing. Find your own truths as you have always done.

  6. Sheryl says:

    Hi there,

    While your mother may have decided that her past was different that it was – you turned out to be a wonderful person (I can tell because your personality comes out in your writing) – which is the most important part of your past.

    Your DH loves YOU – he doesn’t care about your parent’s past. The same with your friends and your readers.

    Hugs.

  7. loribeth says:

    Your Aunt Deb is a wise woman.

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