My Grandmother Corley subscribed to the Readers’ Digest Condensed Books club. As a consequence, much of my early reading involved these volumes. I did not understand, at first, what it meant to “condense” a book. Years later, when I figured out that I had been essentially deprived of many pages and chapters of wonderful writing, I set about to find everything that I had read in condensed form and devour the entire book. I saw the condensation as sort of a conspiracy to cheat me out of the glory of reading.
But my view of this changed over the years. Eventually, I realised that in donating these volumes to our household, my grandmother enabled us to explore a wide range of literature. And through her generosity, I gained kernels of insight and moments of pleaasure. I first read “Christy” in RDCB form. Similarly, during my late grade-school years, I read “One Summer In Between”, a novel by Melissa Mather which chronicles a summer spent by an idealist young black woman from the south in the cold reaches of the northern seaboard during the grim 1960’s, when issues of race consumed the American landscape.
The book holds many tense moments but also tender moments. In particular, I often recall the passage in which Harriet Brown, the fiesty but intrepid main character, describes finding a letter written by the children of the household to a coin collector. They want to sell a coin they believe to be valuable. I don’t recall why; to help her, perhaps, or their parents. The children sign the letter, “Yours jitterly…” and I still smile when I think of that phrase. “Yours, jitterly….”
I’ve written many essays and musings about my childhood. I dance around my father’s violence, shading its impact on us with veiled references to a look on my mother’s face or lingering fear in my young self’s heart. I’ve spent 58 years trying to relax my childhood’s grip on my current incarnation. Though I’ve not pursued therapy as many suggested, I’ve done everything else. I’ve worked as an advocate for domestic violence victims. I helped pass the “Adult Abuse Remedies Act”, which gives Missouri DV victims an avenue for a civil restraining order with criminal remedies. I served as a speaker for The Children’s Place, a therapeutic school for abused and neglected children in Kansas City. I take pro bono cases in Juvenile Court. I represent battered spouses in divorce cases and relentlessly pursue structured parenting plans which give the batterers a chance to find their way to change.
In the last four or five months, one of my siblings has been going through therapy which has caused this sibling to remember events of the past that I would just as soon forget. My sibling (name and gender avoided to protect this sibling’s privacy) has shared some of these memories with me. This sharing has had a two-fold effect.
On the one hand, I’ve had some validation. The memories jive with my own. I find that this comforts me. I wasn’t crazy. I didn’t create these memories. These things really happened. I had no idea that I even questioned my recollections, though many have said that they did; intimate partners, with whom I shared my story, have on several occasions said that they assumed I was exaggerating. One or two almost convinced me. That couldn’t have happend, they protested. They would have locked your father away! But no: Not in the 1950s, or 1960s. It might as well have been the fifteenth century. A man’s home was his castle.
So that’s a good thing: validation.
But there’s that other hand, dangling out in front of me. I’m reliving events that I experienced; and, ironically, some that as between us, only my sibling recalls. Perhaps I was not involved, or not born, or too young to remember. These stark, strange and disturbing accounts sometimes overwhelm me.
Now, I’m not complaining. My sibling suffers; and seeks healing. The process through which my sibling strives to navigate could restore — or initiate — a certain satisfying serenity. I’m in favor of that. The process has had a curious result on me, though; and I think it might be because while my sibling undergoes this journey with the guiding hand of a therapist, I do not.
As I sit drinking Passion Fruit tea which my son’s friend Maddie so kindly gave him, and from which I have so often partaken that I’ve had to replenish the tin, I think about those sweet children in Melissa Mather’s book. I also think about the children of a client whom I recently helped extricate from their father’s wild violence so similar to that of my own childhood. I think about the children whom I have represented, the ones who escaped; the ones who were lost. I think about Mikey, a foster child who lived in my home for six weeks before his behavior became too much for me to handle, and I think bout Mikey’s brother Jacob. I understand that Jacob’s adoption proved successful but Mikey aged out of the Juvenile Court system while living in a home for essentially unadoptable children. A cruel phrase, “unadoptable children”. As though they are defective. Or at fault.
I raise my cup, and just before sipping, I give a little silent toast. Here’s to all the jitterly children. Including me. And my siblings. May they all find peace. Including me. And, and, my siblings.