The time has come to let her mother go, realizes novelist Harrison (The Seal Wife, 2002, etc.), who here delineates, in very short form, her wrenching journey to that emotional, stabbing moment.
After her third child was born and she had a tubal ligation, the author felt some sadness, knowing she would have no more children. But the sadness gradually took a plunge into depression, sparked by the decision to stop nursing her daughter and her son’s sudden onset of severe asthma. “I’d . . . relinquished that cherished perception of myself as my children's primal source of sustenance and love,” Harrison writes. She thought of herself as an agent of corruption, passing on her own childhood asthma to her son; more to the point, she feared she was hurtful to her children as her mother had been to her. Throughout her life, Harrison suffered from depression, anxiety, insomnia, and anorexia, disorders that could be tracked without much effort right back to her mother’s treatment and eventual abandonment of her. Harrison recounts with grimness and grace making the painful connections: she loved breast-feeding partly because “I intended for my body to accuse my mother, testify to my having given the pound of flesh she’d withheld”; anorexia was both fulfillment of and vengeance for the knowledge that she had been an unwanted baby—“If she wants me dead . . . then I’ll do it for her . . . it wouldn’t be that she’d taken back the life she gave me, but that I had taken it away from her.” Her internist and analyst helped the author deal with her demons and spare her family; she ultimately decided to disinter her mother’s body and have it cremated. “It didn’t feel bearable—letting my mother go without having had her,” she acknowledges, but this unbearable act of survival was also necessary and healing.
Like the author’s previous examination of her relationship with her father (The Kiss, 1997): a dark ride taken with terrible clarity into the heart of misery, scorched to a luster.