“I didn’t say that,” my mother snapped, then retreated with her words. “You misunderstood. Obviously, I like your brother and you. But you’re different.”
“But you said . . .” relief had begun to flood my eight-year-old bones, but something else lingered. She’d said, unequivocally, “I don’t like kids. I’ve never liked kids.”
Conflicting words and thoughts coursed through my head. Did she or didn’t she like kids? Wasn’t I a kid? Wasn’t my brother, a kid? Did she hate us, like she hated all kids?
She’d say these things, things like not liking kids, things like wishing our father…
Trigger warning: this story contains content related to pedophilia that might be troubling to some readers.
I am eight, or ten, and live in a small town about fifty miles outside of New York City, called Mahopac. Our airy Victorian house is old and situated on a hill overlooking Lake Mahopac, where I swim in the summer and skate in the winter with my brother Andrew, a year and a half older.
Andrew lives in a loft above my room, which I access via a ladder. The floors are wooden and cold, but the steps leading to his loft are…
“But I love him so much,” my daughter lamented. “He’s so funny.”
I bit my tongue, trying to think of a way to explain the situation to her. In fifth grade at the time, she adored her teacher. He joked with the class, let them bring musical instruments in to show off and play, and generally got along well with all of them. Unfortunately, that year she was on overflow from our zoned school, and a place there opened for her, which meant leaving this beloved teacher.
This situation was eventually resolved, with my foot planted firmly on the ground…
Romance, that genre so pulpy it can barely be referred to as a genre can also, by its very nature, be so trope-y and overblown, it becomes satire without even knowing it. Years ago, when I taught AP Literature and Composition, I would encourage students to read books they loved, given the fact the only requirement for selecting texts was to choose books, “of literary merit.” …
People are often not happy when a mirror is held up and they see an accurate reflection of who they are instead of who they want to be. Memoirists, diarists, poets, and everyone else who writes honestly about their lives are in the uncomfortable position of holding up a mirror, not only to themselves, but to those around them. This can strain those relationships, past and present, to a breaking point.
I write about a lot of things.
I never aspired to be a perfect parent. I had no idea what this meant, having grown up in a wildly untraditional family dynamic where my brother and I were raised by a single mother. My father, conversely, was married six times with eight biological and three adopted children scattered amongst them. Though I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, we moved from there to Lagos, Nigeria, where we lived until the divorce. After a brief stint in Skibbereen, Ireland, we moved to Denton, Texas, where we lived with the support of my mother’s parents.
Needless to say, sitcoms were weird…
I can recall with painful accuracy the times I spent writing the letters of the alphabet over and over and over in first grade. I made the B’s into people, adding hair and thick lips. They were kind and chubby and loved to bake cookies for their kids. The P’s were skinny and a little mean, usually wore glasses with thin gold chains, and silently judged all the other letters.
I swear, I created whole universes for those letters to reside.
I did it because I was so devastatingly bored with the process of transcribing them over, and over, and…
“Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?” my mother’s voice quavered between a scream and a hiss. Her finger shook as she pointed to the snapshot of my father I’d hung beneath a poster in my room.
I looked at my feet, wishing I’d never hung that photo, wishing she’d leave, wishing I were anywhere but there. I couldn’t speak. I had no excuse for what I’d done.
My father had sent me a letter describing some of his life in the outskirts of Durban, South Africa, and included his image. …
Jenny Mundy-Castle is the author of Every Time I Didn’t Say No, her memoir inspired by educating high-trauma youth in New York, New Mexico, and Nigeria.