A debut memoir about a woman’s emotionally charged relationship with the mother who walked away from her marriage and family.
The youngest of three children, Cistaro was barely out of toddlerhood when her mother got into her Dodge Dart and suddenly drove off. She neither called nor acknowledged her children’s birthdays for the first few years of her absence. Only later would she connect with them, but only for short periods of time. When she did, it was often in the company of different men with whom she shared homes as well as alcohol and drugs. Cistaro’s mother was constantly—and painfully—“just out of…reach” of the children who craved her love. The author and her brothers became each other’s main sources of support, and their father did his imperfect best to hold the family together. However, the children each carried a deep anguish that marked them for life. Both her brothers eventually became substance abusers, while Cistaro narrowly avoided a similar fate. She went on to build a happy, stable marriage and family, but privately, she lived with the constant fear that she carried a “leaving gene” that would cause her to want to abandon her own family. When she learned one Christmas that her mother was dying, all her old fears of being left behind resurfaced. The author went to her mother’s side to “hold [the] body” she had not touched since childhood. During her stay, she discovered letters her mother had written but not sent to Cistaro and her brothers. From them, she gained insight into the powerfully contradictory impulses that drove her mother and that often surfaced in herself. The author finally found peace knowing that while her mother ultimately needed to fly free, Cistaro could embrace “the messy, maddening beauty” that responsibilities brought to her life with equanimity and even joy.
An honest and affecting story of the many complexities involved with family relationships.