Mother Lake – an Ocean of Tears

As people, our parents remain unknown to us. They will always be first and foremost, our mother and our father -that mirror of ourselves we love and we hate.

Thursday marked a year since Paul’s mom, Audrey passed away. To remember her, Paul organized his family on-line, with an invitation to share stories either in writing or in person via skype. It was a good idea and it made us both feel a little bit closer to everyone. This afternoon I took a string of letters that spelled her name to a place on Île-St-Louis where I can walk down to the water. I wanted to drop them into the river, watch as they floated downstream and take some photographs. Well, not as I had imagined. The water jumped and in they went, gone before I could prepare anything. I photographed what I could catch of them tumbling in a pile and I stood watching for a long time as they rolled back and forth in the eddy between the quai and the wall. I returned several hours later to see if anything had happened. The letters were still curled up in an illegible heap stuck between a bank of underwater vegetation and the wall. I decided to take some photographs anyway. Just then, a huge barge came around the corner between Île de la Cité and Île-St-Louis and in its wake the bobbing pile of letters slowly stretched out and spelled themselves perfectly on the surface of the Seine. A-u-d-r-e-y floated and sunned, circled and turned; then flipped upside-down, inside out still holding together ledgibly. They even rolled onto the bank with one giant wave, to rest momentarily in a heap on a rock and then quickly were pulled out again. I went back once more at sunset. The letters were gone. I imagine them on their way to the Atlantic, perhaps even to Ireland where Audrey was born.

Sunday, I biked with Bertie along the Canal St-Martin beyond La périphérique, the ring road that runs all around Paris. The canal could have been the Lachine Canal in Montreal and the suburbs we biked through looked oddly like Laval. It is the water that makes Paris so spectacular. The Canal joins the Seine just above the two islands across from where I live. Constructed in Napoleon Bonapart’s time, this canal is as straight as an arrow and a stark contrast to the sinuous meanders of the Seine. The water of the Canal like the Seine is bright green.

I don’t remember crying at my mother’s funeral. I do remember seeing an aunt unable to stop the tears and thinking, why is she crying?…it’s not her mother who’s dead. Tears have never come easily for me. I must have understood that to die was something big; it had to be if it upset so many people. Sometime later, I started to have nightmares and in these nightmares, my family was on a huge ocean liner that was sinking and no one knew how to swim. I would wake up and run to my parent’s room for comfort. My father would pull me into bed with him and wrap his arms around me. Soon, I would wake up again, unable to breath, my father’s heavy body crushing me. I remember thinking, the only way I will survive this is to learn how to swim.

Today is the last day of September and it is autumn in its greyest form – drizzle, cloud and cool. I begin the second half of my residency.  I am reading Le livre de ma mère, by Albert Cohen. It was written in 1954, the year I was born. The back of the book claims: A book read around the world, A unique book, one which will last, a most beautiful love story. I am only at page, 64 and several times I have come close to heaving it to the other side of the room. He writes, “Pleurer sa mère, c’est pleurer son enfance.” To weep for your mother is to weep for your childhood. He writes well, but I don’t like what he writes. It drives me crazy. His three most used words other than mama, are the adjectives to describe her: poor, little and saint.  His mother lives for him; she lives through him and she lives only because of him.  So far, this is not his mother’s book, this is his book about his perception of her love for him. I continue to read, only to see if he takes this somewhere… I think of Anjelica Huston in the lovely, quirky film, Darjeeling Limited. We see her for several short scenes playing mother to three wayward young men searching for her.  She had left her grown-up family and they find her, head mother of an orphanage in India. One of the first things she says to them is, “There’s so many things we don’t know about each other.”

The sons ask her why she did not come home for their father’s funeral? Her response is priceless. First, she turns and looks to the side and then behind and then after a moment, she says, “You’re talking to…. her? I don’t see myself that way. I’m sorry we lost your father. We’ll never get over it, but it’s ok. There are greater forces at work. Yes, the past happened, but its over isn’t it?”

“Not for us,” they answer.

“I told you not to come here,” she responds and turns out the light. “Maybe we could express ourselves more fully without words.” she continues. 

The music is from the Rolling Stones and we hear the lyrics, Don’t play with me, cause you play with fire………The camera pans each of their faces and Anjelica Huston adds,  “Let’s make an agreement” A. get an early start in this beautiful place, B we’ll stop feeling sorry for ourselves; it’s not very attractive and C we’ll make a plan for the future. Can you agree to that? To be continued” and the lights go out.

The next morning she is gone. “She’s gone,” they all repeat. The youngest son says, “They couldn’t say where, she just goes away sometimes. She left our breakfast on the doorway.”

Getting over the past. We don’t and sometimes it takes a lifetime to stop feeling sorry for ourselves.  I’m still learning how to swim.