Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir by T Kira Madden

43595542.jpg

I wanted love the size of a fist. Something I could hold, something hot knuckled and alive.

Growing up as a privileged child isn’t always as glorious as the rest of us think, and of course no one wants to hear you complain because you have all that wealth, the private schools, horses, fantastic shoes but as a biracial child coming of age in Boca Raton, Florida -T Kira Madden struggles mightily. Born as a love child, early childhood begins with a mannequin father whose heft has more presence and love than her own flesh and blood daddy. Her beautiful Chinese Hawaiian mother knows her best and as single mother does everything she can to protect them, the mannequin is her mother’s idea used as a stand in for her her father’s sporadic visits to their mice infested apartment. Her father who feels like a giant stranger. A successful older man who already has an established family shifts sails and decides to live with T Kira and her mother, so begins the fierce memoir.

When her parents aren’t fighting or in drunken, drug-fueled fights her dad is passed out on the couch in a stupor, life is mad obsession over her show horses, an uncle who is unlucky in love, massive humiliation during junior high, hunger to fit in, and the gut wrenching loss of innocence that isn’t confronted until years later. Her father in their life means overflowing ashtrays, they’re rich but live off cheap food, life going off the hinges as much as the wooden doors in the house after one of his rages. Like this, she still loves him. Then there are secrets, so many secrets through generations and her father isn’t the only one with things to hide. As her family grows so too does an understanding of all the things she didn’t see while her eyes were smeared with youth. There is cousin Cindy and her beauty, which isn’t always a prelude to a charmed life. When T Kira ‘finds her own pretty’, she goes wild with her tribe of fatherless girls. The exotic features that once made her prey to kids in school with racial slurs becomes ‘sexy’ among her girls. Parties, drugs, sexual exploration, losing people and herself until the girl from Boca becomes a New York woman. In college she allows herself deeper love and intimacy with girls and faces what it means to be queer or not.

There are moments of such honesty it makes you wince. She lets too much happen to her, living at times on autopilot, as young people hungry for love and attention do. Terrible things happen because of her trusting naivete. Her parents didn’t shelter her from all the adult situations were tangled i, and it costs her. We are shaped in childhood, but it doesn’t have to be our ruin. There is love between T Kira and her father, but the confusion of living in the storms of his moods, his violence  towards her mother, threatening her as well, wrecks her home. In his absence her mother destroys herself with drugs, and her father abandons them, leaving T Kira to be the caregiver, addiction in a parent a force someone so young shouldn’t have to contend with. Children are meant to be the needy ones. It wasn’t always nightmarish, she has sweet memories of her father taking her to her first baseball game, their trip to Vegas when she was five, but there is so much distance between them. She tells us at seventeen of New York “I’ve moved here to be closer to my dad. I want to walk his streets, eat his favorite pastrami, try on a new relationship with him.”  She loses her father, every remnant of him is ash, except the memories.

“Ghosts are better than nothing. Ghosts move. They want things. To haunt each other, then, is a way for my mother and I to keep him. He is more than a voice in the walls., a Ouija board movement, an iridescent cloud in the dark; he can exist here, inside us, through possession. We do our best to play the roles. Our bodies are not big enough.” 

     Falling in love with someone, I think, is at least like that.”

 

An innocuous Christmas present after her father’s death pries her mother’s past open wide. There may be more love out there than T Kira could have ever hoped for. The end of the memoir was moving and heartbreaking. It’s an unfinished story, because T Kira has so much living left, and so the family grows. It’s not just about the ache of missing ones father while he is alive and dead, her mother is a larger than life presence too, especially in the later years.

Others have called this gritty, and it is, it has its funny moments, particularly in her blind youth, because no matter how cool people claim they were, there was an awkward desperate phase we can all relate to. You want to jump into the pages and stop her from embarrassing herself as much as save T Kira from dangerous decisions.  Rich doesn’t mean happy, being wealthy isn’t protection against the dirt of the adult world. It is a story of surviving your childhood, and coming to terms with your parents flaws while also recognizing they were people before they had you, people who made immense sacrifices and mistakes. It is holding on to the love you find in the memories, even those we revise.

Publication Date: March 5, 2019

Bloomsbury USA

 

Advertisements

Magical Realism for Non-Believers: A Memoir of Finding Family by Anika Fajardo

42099823.jpg

Not quite foreign, not quite domestic.

There is something about the above line that beautifully expresses the assumptions made about mixed race children, particularly when it wasn’t as common in our author’s youth as it is today. Skin color, ethnic features tend to be used as a map for other people to ‘tell your story’, which more often than not is wrong. Then there are expectations we cling to ourselves, as Anika Fajardo wanted to embrace her Colombian side and finally get to know the father, Renzo, who had been absent from her life for over two decades. Anika wanted to love and relate to the things a Colombian should, like authors and spicy foods. Of course, we all fall under the spell of  stereotypes for ourselves and others.  A man of secrets, and yet welcoming her as if they saw each other everyday, he greets her at the airport. The point of her existence begins first with the love story between her mother Nancy and her Colombian father Renzo. Once his student, Nancy fell in passionate love with the charming artist, having come to Colombia for a semester of college abroad in 1970 at the age of Nineteen. Eventually, when marriage came and baby made three, the romance wore thin faced with the harsh realties of  financial difficulties, isolation, lonely nights for Nancy while rumors of Renzo and other women were impossible to ignore. Her job teaching wasn’t much better, how does one end things when love is dead? Nancy made a life altering choice, one that solidified the future for their daughter Anika, who though born in Colombia would be raised in Minnesota, America.

A new family takes shape, a family made of two, mother and daughter. Through the years there are step siblings that come and go, but nothing that sticks. It always goes back to just the two of them. That her whole family is split, divided between Colombia and Minnesota, a family she will not meet until she is 21 seems more fantasy through her childhood, her mother never quite denying her access to her father but not encouraging it either. Her father is letters, her father is a phantom. It wasn’t always for selfish reasons her mother chose to steal her away to America, there were health problems, dangers in Colombia that could be the difference between life or death. Naturally, Anika spends much of her time wondering how different a person she would have become had she and her mother remained. Culture molds us like nothing else! Much like immigrants, there is always a divide in people who are torn between two cultures, as she states “not quite foreign, not quite domestic.” 

Her visit to Colombia gives her missing pieces to the puzzle of her parents early relationship and her own father’s life after. There is love, but to him she was always that baby whom he last held, not the full-grown young woman who stands before him. She is like a ghost, looking so much like her mother’s twin. Too, she explores the things that drove her mother to make such a life altering decision for them all, simply by visiting the places her mother once lived. Colombia is as much a mysterious family member as her father, sticking out like a sore thumb when she first arrives, covered up where women dress far more provocatively (by American standards anyway) confidently comfortable as sexual beings, fully at home in their bodies, she can feel her artlessness like a sore tooth. Tasting the sweetness of ‘unfamiliar fruit’, vigilant of the possibility of intruders, aware of the threat of drug cartels while in the back of her mind, her hunger to meet her father far surpasses the fact that Colombia at the time of her visit was ‘one of the most dangerous countries on the earth.’  With the presence of his wife Ceci, who is kind enough, there are two strangers for her to get to know. Renzo and Anika do share a few memories, one story in particular she tells him that he too remembers, one she hadn’t even realized he was a part of. Memory is slippery but so much harder to fully recall are the earliest ones. Reunions aren’t always full of deep meaningful conversations, intimacy takes time, they share DNA but they are still strangers. Her father talks a lot, but ‘says nothing.’   Seeing his moods, and understanding her mother’s ways solidifies for Nancy why they fell apart, and how it never would have been a harmonious home. Even five years after her visit to Colombia, there remains more to her family story, big things that were kept from her that Renzo delivers in the form of his “enigmatic emails’.  At first, it may be more than she wanted to know. Her father, that man whom could cause women to swoon with his ‘disarming charm’ is both ‘overly emotional and fiercely cut off’, the master of his own story and Anika’s because there are more chapters, untold surprises.

There is death, danger, cultural shock, love, loss, secrets and a growing family. It is about desperately wanting to know your roots, to find the missing pieces of yourself and to finally meet a parent who is like a phantom limb. It is the odd coincidences of paraellel lives, the strange experience of coming to love strangers who are your blood, the peculiar curiosity of what ifs, the wonderment that another you could have easily come to fruition had life taken different turns.

Publication Date: April 16, 2019

University of Minnesota Press

The Book of Help: A Memoir in Remedies by Megan Griswold

37901602.jpg

It’s said when doing anything, a nearly alchemical  event happens right around the ten- thousand- hour mark- you become an expert of sorts. So I suppose, in an unintentional way, I will declare myself an expert searcher.

There is no doubt in my mind that Megan Griswold is an expert in searching for remedies of body, mind, soul and heart. This isn’t your usual run of the mill self-help book eater, nor a woman suddenly entering some spiritual awakening. Megan was born to it, with parents who were Christian Scientists who called their practitioners for ‘treatments’, not doctors over their ailments. Her father David was born to the religion, her mother Joyce a ‘newbie’ and believer, attributing curing her ulcerative colitis to Christian Science. Little did they know their daughter would spend her life doing her own searching, spiritual and mental work. Not all things are transcendental, want to be holier than thou, the universe will test you! Test her it does, especially when it comes to her husband. Let’s not jump ahead, but then again she did attend the About Sex seminar at the age of 14, before she had even kissed a boy. Is it so surprising when she falls in love with Tim, her ‘well-meaning, well–mannered puzzle’? Someone she can probe, explore, dissect?

Is Megan stripped physically and emotionally digging through all the muck of her being sometimes? Sure. Does she ingest weird or toxic substances for spiritual practice? Well, do you consider gulping Hoasca risky? It’s tea, okay? Sure, she may purge her insides and as she says ‘imagine what it would be like to completely fall apart’ and there is your glimpse into the tea’s spiritual enlightening.  She may be eager to try any religious/spiritual experience on for size but certainly Megan doesn’t ‘dabble’ in therapies, not like so many other people. She doesn’t half-ass anything!

This memoir isn’t all hilarity, in fact there are some very serious family and relationship issues here within. These are not the usual ‘wow my spouse leaves the toilet dispenser empty’ issues either, these are spiritual dilemmas. Her own father can sometimes downright infuriate the reader with his arrogant spiritual blindness. “If I don’t see it, it’s not real.” Oh, if only life were like that… There is a tenderness towards the end of the novel, everything that happens with her mother’s health. I felt myself getting weepy. Yes, Megan therapist shops, and is game for any spiritual practice, training, self-help geared towards evolvement but truly it’s not just about getting to know herself. Somehow she comes away with a better understanding of those she loves. Maybe her search slows, but let’s face it, there will always be room for improvement.

It gets messy, and admittedly embarrassingly ugly but whether methods are tried and true or a complete fraud, she gives it her all and we get to ride her karmic bus as tourists. Add this to your memoir list, out 2019!

Publication Date: January 22, 2019

Crown Publishing

 

In the Name of the Children: An FBI Agent’s Relentless Pursuit of the Nation’s Worst Predators by Jeffrey L. Rinek, Marilee Strong

38372711.jpg

“To handle the horrors we must deal with on a daily basis, many in law enforcement become hardened and compartmentalize their emotions, which has its own deleterious effects. I was not able to do that, nor could I stand at a clinical distance and rely on some technique or one-sixe-fits-all theory of criminality and remain untouched by the horrors I saw.”

During his 30 year career working as a FBI agent, Jeff Rinek witnessed the most vile crimes against children from sexual abuse, torture, abduction, murder and child abuse, sometimes from their family members. I had to read this book in parts, human depravity is beyond belief at times and I had the option of putting it down until I could catch my breath, Rinek and other’s in his line of work don’t have that privilege. I have the utmost respect for the brave men and women that work in this particular field. Not many have the stomach for it, and it isn’t surprising that the work he has done has stayed with him, for how could it not?  This is the stuff of nightmares, but Rinek isn’t writing in the vein of sensationalism. This is a man who has kept every victim and their families within his heart, everything he has experienced has touched his own wife and children. Jeff shares not only the horrific cases he has helped solve, but the troubling ways it effected his family life. How could he not be overwhelming concerned for the safety of his own sons, having seen the darkness that befell so many innocent children? How could he sleep peacefully at night with the images of crime scenes floating in his mind, just as horrible the confessions of child molesters and serial killers thundering in his ears? It’s impossible to truly separate the two worlds.

Jeff Rinek had a way about him that made the criminals feel comfortable enough to confess, I think it is most evident in his dealings with Cary Stayner. Not many could keep their emotions in check enough to empathize with someone who has committed monstrous acts. I know when we label something evil or monstrous it makes it impossible to understand how someone can commit such atrocities and maybe prevent them, but it’s hard not to feel this way. Without his ability to reach into whatever humanity resides in the criminal, we may never know the truth. It is important to be able to understand the psyche of man as much as we can, whether we’re repulsed or not. It matters to the victim’s family, particularly when bodies are missing. Maybe there is truly no such thing as closure, maybe the ‘knowing’ is more horrifying than what the mind can imagine, but living without answers is to be further victimized.

In reading about these tragic, horrifying crimes, it made me think about why it is so important for people to report crimes that happen to them, or things they witness that don’t sit well within them. Nothing truly happens in a bubble, and often in abusive relationships, be they physical or sexual, often men or women go further in victimizing others, especially children (the most helpless and vulnerable of us all). The hard truth is, if someone has harmed you, you aren’t the first, nor likely to be the last. One of the most shocking realities is how often child molestation is enabled by other adults, such as wives. I’m not surprised children don’t come forward more often, the feelings of shame involved, the stigma boys in particular (especially as they become adults) are met with in coming foreward about sexual abuse is heartbreaking. I’m reading another book right now about Evil, it’s more from a  psychological standpoint, but when I read true crime books, or listen to a victim recount their harrowing experiences it is damn hard to want to understand the psyche of criminals. How do you remain removed from cases, its human nature to empathize, particuarly being a mother or father yourself. Of course seeing the body of a child that has been defiled in every way imaginable one would think of their own son or daughter, fear would be rooted inside your being. Rinek dealt with the worst of human nature, how could he not imagine the worse if a phone line home is busy, or his child doesn’t get off his bus?

The violence, ritualized sexual abuse, physical, and mental trauma, torture the children suffered under the ‘religion’ Allen Harrod (their own father) started is as hard to stomach as every story within yet it is with the tenderest of care Rinek, along with others, helped the children find their strength to seek justice and have kept watch over the children long after the case ended. The bravery of Harrod’s eldest daughter in coming forward is incredible, though shocking that it took her going through three different police agencies to get anyone to look into the matter. Without her, who knows how long Harrod and Labrecque’s crimes would have continued, under the guise of religion. Much like the people involved in seeing justice served, it’s gut wrenching to know the truth of how the children suffered, but worse to imagine being the children involved. Human depravity is boundless but it’s knowing the children (their victims) will carry not just physical evidence of their nightmare for the rest of their lives, but have to cope with PTSD, have to navigate the world without an example of healthy family relationships, and in a sense deprogram from what for them was ‘normal’  that remains with you long after reading their story. That these things happen in our so-called ‘modern times’ is worse than any fictional horror I can conjure. You don’t have to be close to the case to feel the frustration and anger at the justice system, how easy it seems for criminals to continue their abuse once captured, still victimizing everyone involved through ‘legal manipulation.’ Then there is the game of going to trial. Evidence is a peculiar thing, what is left out as to not ‘prejudice the jury against the defendant.’ Ridiculous in many cases, such as pictures of adults raping children in this situation shouldn’t it be admissible, doesn’t the victim deserve to see justice served? It’s one thing to hear it, but when there are photos to back the child’s confession, well? Statute of limitations is infuriating in and of itself, if a child comes into adulthood and finally has the ability to seek help, to expose the abuser only to find out they can’t be charged anymore, how is that just? Something is certainly broken. It’s hard not to feel like children don’t matter enough, it certainly feels like criminals often get a slap on the wrist, are released only to commit even more gruesome crimes. But I feel heartened that men and women like Rinek work hard for them, it seems to even the balance, at least a little.

Retired now, Rinek remains just as passionate about making the world a safer place for children and for us all, as he did when he was working full-time. He has remained in contact with the children victimized by Harrod and Labrecque. It is obvious his job was his life, and he is the sort of agent the world needs, someone who puts all of his being into solving crimes, and caring for the victims. It’s hard to review this type of memoir, because it comes from a deeply personal part of Rinek’s life. It’s enough to say that if you can’t even read it, because it’s our natural instinct to close our ears and eyes to terrors, imagine how the victim’s loved ones feel, how the men and women in law enforcement have to go home every night with the knowledge of such horrors branded in their minds. It’s important to be a voice for those who have been silenced, and to see those who have harmed children caught, so they can’t leave more families destroyed.

This truly is an unflinching look into the life of FBI Special Agent Jeff Rinek and how his job effected every facet of his life.

Out today!

BenBella Books

 

To the Moon and Back A Childhood Under the Influence by Lisa Kohn

39880028.jpg

At first I had no idea that anything was wrong with my childhood.

I have a vague memory as a very young child and a newscast of a lot of people marrying one another (strangers to each other) in Madison Square Garden, and my parents mumbling something about it being ‘crazy’. I was a kid, dazzled by the many brides so when reading this memoir about the Unification Church (which some still call the Moonies and consider a cult) it clicked that this is the group from that long ago newscast. People often talk of Bohemian childhoods, but Lisa’s far surpasses many ‘hippie’ stories, her parents were free spirits that ‘stuck out’ even among those of their generation. Sure, she watched Jefferson Airplane in central park but her childhood was anything but carefree and charmed. “Mimi had tried on religions and movements like some women try on clothes.” Mimi, her mother, falls under the spell of Father ( Reverend Moon)- not her real father Danny (whom isn’t one for the label father anyway) when hearing him speak she found her purpose in life. Her children are dragged along by her passion for the religion.

When her parents first met, her mother was a straight A student, daughter of a judge while her father, Danny was ‘the beatnik son of socialist intellectualists’. Rushing headfirst into marriage the summer they were out of highschool, having children, her father attending college for a time, their marriage didn’t last long and her parents divorced. Danny moved to New York while Lisa, her mother Mimi and brother Robbie lived in New Jersey.  Her father, a bartender and partaker of serious drugs had always been ‘anti-establishment’, and certainly isn’t able to provide stability anymore than her mother who is swallowed by the Church. A mother who once made the children suffer through micro-biotic diets, sugar-free living, a tv-less existence, an abusive boyfriend and whatever new fad caught her attention now pushes her children away to devote her entire being to the cause of Reverend Moon. While her mother needed to find truth and meaning, and their father came and went with the wind, Lisa and her brother relied on themselves confused by the differences in their parents lifestyles, slowly becoming aware just how strange their lives, their parents were in comparison to their peers.

“These were the beliefs that wrapped themselves like creeping vines around my mind as I grew up- during my most formative preadolescent and adolescent years- always clasping tighter and holding my life, my soul, and my sense of self together.” Lisa becomes just as enraptured as her mother, she learns to share the love and sell the ideas of the church on strangers, and friends alike. Love-bombing people with the hopes they will join, not exactly appealing to fellow students. Lisa and her brother Robbie fall in love with the positive energy and the always smiling fellow moonies. It isn’t long before they become close to the ‘True Children’, top of the hierarchy. The church becomes more their ‘real life’ than school and home, soon their mother is no longer living with them, her devotion solely to the church-  her ‘calling’. Living with their grandfather “Pop”, she begins to shoulder adult responsibilities. Rather than feeling anger towards her mom, she just assures herself that it’s an important sacrifice her mother has to make, and Lisa should feel proud. Easier said than done.

When her Pop is admitted to a psych hospital it is Danny’s turn to house Lisa and her brother. Danny’s lifestyle is loud, carefree, filled with late hours, crazy wild friends and there is little chance of him putting his partying ways and drug abuse aside. He is as passionate about coccaine as her mother is about Reverend Moon and his teachings. Living with their mother, not an option, Lisa is unwanted. Her ‘puritanical’ church beliefs begin to collide with her peers, who are more interested in skipping school and experimenting with drugs, sex, all things forbidden youth loves to flirt with. Danny’s way of life too is antithesis to the Church of Unification’s values, exposing his children to everything the church reviles.

As time goes on, her mother moves often and seems to drift further from her children. As Lisa comes of age, she becomes a groupie, discovers she and her brother are banished  (considered impure) for a time, and begins to question this church she once felt devoted to with all her being. Then there is Stuart, and first love. Her life is in turmoil -just what does she believe in? Church rules change, now she can’t even be with True Children, due to Reverend Moon’s latest decree, because people like her are a ‘satanic influence’. She begins to experience new forbidden things away from the church. Drinking, dancing, parties, boys and eventually Cornel. She begins to crack. It takes years, but she begins to emerge from her difficult childhood and the influence of both her parents and the church. While suffering with an eating disorder she proves even her therapist wrong with her pregnancy, already trying her best to be a better mother than her own. Finding that with her first-born child, old fears rise. A life spent distancing herself from her past involvement with the church comes full circle in the last chapter, Reunion.

I was thinking about the whole ‘cult/church’ aspect and thought ‘really families themselves are a little like cults’. What family is without its strange habits or demands? What family doesn’t warp the mind a little of each member? Now add an actual cult (outside influences) to your own family chaos and you can imagine Lisa’s struggle. If we spend our adulthood recovering from our families and childhood, how does one manage to recover from life in an actual cult? How does a woman learn to be a solid, present mother and wife?

This is a first person account of a life inside a cult, or church, depending on who you ask! Facing pain, rejection, abandonment, the confusing chaos of two parents who are equally destructive forces in her childhood, Lisa Koon somehow creates a stable, healthy beautiful life out of the ashes of her childhood.

Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Heliotrope Books

The Cost of Living: A Working Authobiography by Deborah Levy

39341297

Above all else, it is an act of immense generosity to be the architect of everyone else’s well-being.

The task is still mostly perceived as women’s work.

There is a lot to chew on in this short ‘Working Autobiography’ by Deborah Levy. Thinking about the pressing weight of not just the roles women are forced to play but of the love we carry and let alter us, sometimes reducing, sometimes expanding isn’t an easy bone to chew on. Levy is leaving her marriage, a common enough occurrence in our modern times, but no less than death of the familiar. She must become someone separate from who she was.  It is hours of intimacy with powerful thoughts and feelings. Sharing the story about a woman whose husband never looks at her, Levy is able to imagine the many things it can mean but be sure, it is one of the most awful cruelties a woman can suffer, especially since it doesn’t appear as violent as it feels. How do myths play a part in the structure of a woman’s life? Even at our strongest, we cave.

There are those who will cut a woman down at the knees, to keep her from rising too high, from ‘eclipsing’ men. What can you do with yourself if I refuse to see you? How is a woman to become when she is too busy reducing herself as not to become too much? Thinking about the Medusa Myth Levy brings up, I had stray thoughts about women who ‘talk to much’, the ‘big mouth bitches’. Being an audience for rowdy men coming of age when I did, I always remember incidents when a woman was dismissed with those ugly labels. It was always ridiculous to me, even when I was too young to really comprehend gender issues, that the loudest man in the room could call anyone a big mouth simply for having thoughts and opinions, or for daring to disagree with him. There is no bigger insult than being dismissed, reduced to a joke. Love doesn’t ask you to hide, to dilute yourself. I don’t think that women, as a whole, feel nearly as threatened by their partners success. No, they’re too busy feeling ashamed for feeling proud of their accomplishments, as if they’re stealing thunder, as if there isn’t enough to go around. Maybe these things change with each generation, but that Simone de Beauvoir’s voice makes as much sense today as it did then tells me things aren’t as progressive as we think.

The tender moment she shares with us about her dying mother was my undoing. Our mothers truly are a mystery and as much as we love them, it’s hard to allow them room for a self separate from the nurturer we always expect to show up. Not even if we become mothers ourselves. Our mothers are gravity. Children get jealous if their mother’s attention is divided, it’s a funny thing. Husbands too. We forgive them nothing, though we are kinder to our father’s, I believe we feel safer to be ourselves with our mothers. We hold them to impossible standards, and we don’t want them to be more than what we need them to be. Being a woman is an exhausting endeavour, it is not for the cowardly.

The topic of language, about expressing ourselves, how healthy it is, I always wonder about writers, that maybe we have this irrepressible need to scream with written words. I also wonder what all our mothers would have shouted if they all lifted a pen and were able to release their inner lives. Such work is all consuming selfishness though isn’t it, if you’re a woman?

“Sometimes we want to unbelong as much as we want to belong.” That’s a loaded sentence, in order to discover who we are we rage against what we don’t want to be. I am not this, I am not that, and I may not know what I am but I know what I’m not at least. I know my thoughts are splitting in many directions but that’s the type of book this is. There are so many questions no one asks of us that we so badly need to answer. Oh and how about “Things I Don’t Want to Know” of which the older we get, there are plenty! Well, I’ll take my mind, overcrowded with thoughts, brimming over with things I don’t want to know, that I can’t unknow and try to sleep.

This is an intelligent work and I wish it were longer.

Publication Date: July 10, 2018

Bloomsbury USA

Life Happens to Us: A True Story by Ashta-Deb

38398250

We could not face each other, could not help each other, and could not love each other. The fog of grief and hurt was too thick to see through. It was every man for himself from this moment.

I have read many memoirs that leave me aching for the author, Debbie’s story left a lump in my throat. The death of her beloved older sister Neelam buried on October 9, 1972 at the tender age of 13 was just the beginning of the PTSD that made cause so much emotional destruction throughout her entire life. This is a journey that takes Debbie full circle, putting her sister at rest, and maybe freeing her own soul. It’s the in-between and the before that is so heart-breaking.

With parents that wanted to make more of themselves by being the first in their family to leave Guyana for Canada, Debbie and her sister Neelam and Priya learned quickly how different they were from their light-skinned Canadian peers.  Dreams of starting school as she is a curious child and making many friends dies when Debbie hears the ugly taunts hurled at her sisters and then herself, the racism of the 60’s openly hostile toward anyone foreign. While her mother and father enjoyed the envy and pride that greeted them when the family vacationed in Guyana, the reality of their ‘worldly life’ was a far cry from the wealth and privilege their relatives believed they were leading. Her parents marriage is crumbling, her mother is more attuned to the many male admirers that she seems to leave in her wake than in being a loving, nurturing mother to her attention starved daughters. Cruelties slip easily from her mouth, when she isn’t emasculating her husband she is pointing out her three girls many flaws, like their skin color, or their weight. Never wanting to be called Mom, as she is far too beautiful and young in appearance to be one, she tends to demand Debbie lie and pretend she isn’t her child, better to manipulate whichever man is her current lover.  Family members that come to stay aren’t much help with their own jealousies and deceit. Her father grows enraged with his wife’s philandering and takes his fury out on his daughters, one who can’t survive life under his rule. Debbie is conflicted, far too young to be accountable for witnessing her two sisters beatings, for being daddy’s helper, it takes a toll on her self-esteem. It will take a lifetime to come to terms with the things that she lived through.

Being shuffled between loyalties, homes, family,  and countries until she is completely homeless and at the mercy of strangers, Debbie longs to be nothing like her mother and father when she has her own children.Sadly, we tend to choose what’s familiar, and the bitter toxins of our abuse are patterns we repeat. Debbie finds herself failing as a mother, being too hard on her own children, easily pushed over the edge when she isn’t trying to be the perfect mother and wife. Carrying spouses who once seemed like the perfect love for her, she struggles with her own fidelity issues, stomachs abusive partners mirroring the chaos of her own parent’s disastrous marriage. Her mother and father continue to be unstable forces in her life, going from absentee, to volatile or insulting. Her father isn’t innocent either, degrading and shaming his girls by accusing them of being ‘whores’ like their mother, starting over with a new family, even possibly committing a crime in Canada that forced him to disappear one night. Debbie’s mother doesn’t have a nurturing bone in her body, always siding against her daughter, even when Debbie works hard to be the provider for her family and support her husbands and their dreams.

Debbie sinks into a dark depression, and it is through her spiritual journey that she learns what it means that ‘life happens to us’. We tend to think we are all steering this life we come into, but the reality is there are more things out of our control than under it. For Debbie, it isn’t just the tragic suicide of her sister Neelam, but the loss of Priya too whom, though alive, is unable to be close to her remaining little sister. It is also that she has parents whose own lives have spun so far out of control that all they know how to do is lash out and destroy others, and each other. They are never a family again, not really. She had a few loving family members, like her grandfather whom she shares a sort of  psychic gift with, known as he is to be a sort of magic man. But in her youth, this untapped gift isn’t of much use, where the hope for each day is simply survival and maybe some food for her belly. Debbie will never find what she needs outside of herself, and certainly not through the adults nor any man she may love along the way. Love is transitory in her life, just like her living arrangements seem to be. It is through Western medicine and Eastern Wisdom that she has a chance to heal the wounds in her mind and her soul.

She isn’t always likable, becoming more like her own cold mother at times, and that is how the sad cycle continues. It’s easy to gain spirituality for a day, be it through a retreat, a new love, or mantras, it’s keeping that spirituality intact when life comes at you full force that is the real journey. One thing is true, she has to confront the past in order to be able to shed the pain and rage that lurks within her own being. She has to treat her PTSD and allow herself the grieving that was denied her.

Available Now

FriesenPress