An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir by Ariel Leve

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“I am in hiding, an emotional fugitive.”

I held my breath in sorrow for Ariel, even what passes for normal when there isn’t anything to measure your life against, she knew her mother’s behaviors were ‘off’. Being a child and unable to have your own feelings validated, always walking on eggshells, wondering which mommy you will deal with today, it has to do something to you. The painful part of memoirs for me is knowing you can’t step in and help and it isn’t fiction. On the other side of the coin, obviously her mother wasn’t normal and needed help, it’s interesting how adults don’t know how to step in and often when they do it makes things worse or nothing happens. Without pointing fingers (for legal reasons) anyone with someone in their life who is histrionic and a grand manipulator, they know full grown adults can tremble around such people. Most people don’t like scenes, and so many of us can’t untangle ourselves from expert manipulators- I don’t care how smart you profess to be. When it’s coming from someone you are related to or love, there is guilt, because we are supposed to love each other no matter what, especially if it’s your parent (honor thy mother and father etc). I have seen and been told tales of such a parent, and I don’t care if it’s labeled abuse or not, speaking to an adult that has lived with such a parent, it lingers like a bad smell. And sometimes, removing yourself is vital to survival. So why didn’t anyone save her? I thought about that, because her mother was ‘crafty’ and could easily convince others that she was fine, and she tells us as much. It’s tricky.
A mother’s love should be without strings attached, minus conditions, ideally anyway. This isn’t so for Ariel. The cringe worthy moments when her mother made scenes, begging even for a man ‘not to leave’, or embarrassing her at school, or in front of friends is gut wrenching. (again without saying who, I know a similar incident of someone I love dearly being humiliated when he was a little boy by his mother, he is in his 70’s- these things stay with us). Thinking about the exciting people her mother knew didn’t take the sting out of her version of such gatherings, who cares what celebrity is at your house when you are just a little kid who needs rest and has to get up for school but the adults are chaotic or loud, partying ’til the break of dawn.’ It sounds silly, but to those who know sleep deprivation it’s awful! If you care for children, you know this isn’t right.
Reading about Ariel’s life I have to admit, many people dismiss the suffering children of privilege go through, as if having things and money makes everything that happens to them okay. “Well you can’t think I am a bad mom because I gave you everything.” I have always felt when you raise children, you don’t keep a tally of what’s owed you. You give and nurture them because it’s an expression of love, and it’s your job to guide them. You don’t get to erase bad treatment because you ‘gave so much,’ anymore than abusing your partner is fine as long as you say sorry with gifts. I imagine this is a young woman people would envy from afar and never imagine how lonely and abused she was. The good is the people who were there for her, but choices she has to make later in life about her mother aren’t a quick fix, certainly it is something she still internalizes and struggles with, but necessary, so very necessary. This is about a little girl who in so many ways was her mother’s keeper, and maybe will get a second chance at childhood through love.

 

Out now  Harper Collins Publishers

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