“The first time I saw him on television, I was seven. My mother and I were living in a little apartment near UCLA. During a commercial on Marcus Welby, M.D., she whispered, “It’s Nick.”
A woman is murdered, someone on the periphery of Andrea Jarrell’s life, a woman she kept at a distance because maybe she reminded her too much of her own upbringing with a single mother. A woman ‘other than‘ the mothers she prefers to surround herself with, the ones who know the right way to raise children, who have marriages intact and a natural ease in their mothering. The safe, stable, good solid families not those who are unkempt or harried. With this tragedy and the shocking reality of the abuses she must have suffered, Jarrell’s mind returns to her childhood, raised by a single mother with a dangerously abusive father always lurking in the background of her memory.
Andrea was too young to know how her mother escaped her cruel abusive father, left to rely solely on her mother’s stories from that time. Certainly he is a beautiful man, an actor of some success, friends to celebrities like Frank Sinatra. Her mother couldn’t raise her daughter in a home where the father saw threats to his masculinity, accusing her mother of desiring other men. Abusive, controlling and yet drowning with a seductive magnetism her mother, and most everyone in his path, find irresistible. The years collect, and it’s just the two of them. There are rough times, yet good ones too as Andrea’s mother always planned trips to distant places, like Europe. Each are growing experiences, with men somehow always a threatening presence that no one senses more than women on their own.
Her mother dates, but never seems to keep a long term relationship nor allow her dating to get in the way as sometimes happens with single parents. Andrea’s mother was a hard working woman that wasn’t going to fall apart, nor wait for a man to save them. Just as Andrea is coming into her teen years her father finds his way back to them, luring Andrea into a relationship. She struggles with the confusion of longing for his affection and resenting him. Against her better judgement, knowing he truly doesn’t deserve to be the proud father, she tries to form a bond. Her memories are both her own and versions of her mothers, there are things she begins to love about her father and others she cannot stomach. Falling for her dad is much like a new ‘romance’, the highs and lows, hungry for the fatherly affection she was long denied.
Perplexed by the sudden appearance of her father, and the freedom her mother allows her in finally letting the ‘big bad man’ back into their lives, after doing everything in her power to flee him, it isn’t long before she realizes her mother has an ulterior motive, they both do. Just how much will the story have to change to allow Nick, her father, back into their lives? Can her mother really erase the past, could her father have changed?
While a murder sets off memories of her childhood and the tempest that is her mother and father’s love story, it really isn’t center stage to this memoir. This is a story about a girl who spent the formative years with a single mother, free of the abuses of a controlling husband/father only to have him upend their lives once again. It’s the confusion of how it bled into every decision she made in life, of why she kept certain people at a distance and as an adult does her best to blend in with the ‘normal’ families. It’s returning to the beast you know, against your better judgement, it’s resenting the decisions your parents make, and dreading making the same mistakes as your mother.
There is confusion in how someone who ran so far can just seem to give up and change the past to accommodate returning to your first mistake. I just keep thinking ‘better the devil you know’ maybe that should be the name of a condition. Andrea will finally come to know the real abuser her mother fled, and question whether father truly does know best!
Available today September 5, 2017
She Writes Press