It’s a Bear

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Last night I talked at length with a favorite writer friend about stories and personae and family and memoirs and processing all of the craziness and boredom that goes on, both in your head and outside it, when you’re working on a book.

I’m often asked if writing this book is therapeutic.  The answer is no.  NoNoNoNofFuckingNo!  But I’m talking with this friend, a friend who’s also working on a story about family.  We talked and yelled and laughed and said, I know!  Right!?!! so many times.  So many necessary times.

Today it was back to work.  It’s damp-cold here.  I started a fire in the fireplace and sat on the couch with my laptop.  It was a fake fire, real flames with fake logs, you know the kind, but I started the fire and stared hopefully at a bunch of words I’ve already written, not knowing what else I wanted to say.  After about 2 hours, I finally gave into being stuck and called my stepmother.  She’s just home from a week in the hospital for pneumonia and, as I told my friend last night, she’s suffering and going the way of the same disease as my mother.  Exactly the same.  Emphysema.  COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Smokers death sentence.  Exactly the same, right down to the types of hospital stays, the setbacks, the constant bronchitis and feeling of suffocation, the whole-body tremors, the fights with nurses and doctors over steroids and inhalers and all manner of medication.  A re-living of the end, you might say.  Today my stepmother told me they were overmedicating her.  (my mother once said this)  Today my stepmother, finally home, told me she had to manage her own care and tell the nurses and doctors, Dammit!  I’m going home today!!!! (my mother said this).  I didn’t have control of my body, it was so scary.  

I remember that, too.

Today my stepmother said, as we were hanging up, Love you, bye.

And I said it back, Love you, bye.  

So easy.  So natural.  Something my own mother never once said to me.  Something I never once said to her.

Ten years on.

My stepmother has a new puppy.  Bear is his name.  Bear snuggles with her on the couch and comforts her.  I think Bear weighs about 2 pounds.  And I’m so glad she’s home and cuddling on the couch with Bear.  All two pounds of him.

Last night I talked with my writer friend about stories about family, and I told her there’s a reason — certainly there’s a reason, right? — that my memoir is taking so long to write.  I need distance.  I need perspective.  I need the “story.”  I need the circle.  From mother to stepmother.  Interesting, since I’m a stepmother, too.  And a stepdaughter, a stepsister, a half-sister, etc….  But am I a real anyone?

__________________

What is a family?  And who are you, who are you really, in your family?

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25 thoughts on “It’s a Bear

  1. CJ Rice (@leapof)

    I get it. Bio, step, half, and foster. I’m all of those. And real—very very real. stronger because of all those connections. Articulate and flexible in ways I might have never been. Aware I am on my own. Still I wish…. Sometimes it’s what you know you are not, what you know will never be that tells the tale I think. Compassion for the loss.

  2. Erika Marks

    Oh, Teri. I can’t imagine the layers of emotion that go through you, seeing the parallels and the pain, knowing what is surely ahead–as well as what is behind.

    Your post gave me pause–it occurred to me (and it hasn’t frankly before now) because of what you said in needing time and distance to write your memoir–in fiction, we can decide where to stop our stories and even where to begin them. I had never thought about that piece of memoir writing. Where does one end their own story and how does one know the right place? It can be such a hard thing to choose in fiction–I can’t imagine how hard it must be in memoir.

    To know she has Bear, though. I know that gives your heart tremendous comfort.

    1. Teri Post author

      There is that thing people always say: Well, at least you have your family. What does that mean, exactly? What if you don’t have “your family?” What if, in the age of constant divorce, you don’t know who your family is?

      I recall once when my husband and I were at a lawyer’s office, doing our wills. I’d been a stepmother for a few years by then, and the “real mother’ was no where in sight, yet I signed my name on those documents knowing that if my husband left the picture, I would have no place there. Surreal, that was. And is.

      And my god, yes, I’m so glad she has her new pup. Bear. for comfort. Time is short.

      1. Josephine

        you know what thing-that-people-say that bothers me? “If I can do it, then anyone can.”

        So not true. You did it because you had whatever it takes that others don’t have to get whatever you need done, done. If anyone else can do it, then they would. ugh. so frustrating.

  3. Averil Dean

    I had words with my mom the other night. It seems like every conversation with her involves some jab, or many jabs, about how she’s not getting enough attention from me. I always feel like an empty well and she keeps sending down the bucket.

    1. Teri Post author

      I once had a (male) grad student say, “it’s a mother/daughter story, who cares?, it’s been done a thousand times.” To which I say, there’s a reason it’s been done a thousand times, and more….

      I remember sitting in the hospice room with my mom 10 years ago and trying to say “I love you” in the silence. And I couldn’t do it. She was comatose, yet I was sure it would make her uncomfortable.

      Nothing is simple.

      1. Erika Marks

        There is no end to how deep we can mine our stories as daughters with our mothers, and there can never be. Bet you wished for a foam bat to reply to that student’s, ahem, assessment.

      2. Josephine

        mother-daughter stories are the real hero’s journey. fuck the need to take some wild goose chase into the great beyond in hopes of fulfilling a masculine search for meaning. the real search is going inside, defining yourself against the backdrop of your mother’s pain and suffering. come out of that alive. happy. with joy. survive whatever your mother didn’t. that’s the holy grail, frodo’s ring and luke blowing up the death star all wrapped in one tiffany blue box with wide white ribbon.

      3. girl in the hat

        True that I’ve read a thousand mother/daughter stories (and never tire of them) but I don’t think I’ve ever read anything about stepmother-daughter. Nothing except evil stepmothers, that is. I had a real-life one of those. But I want to read a real story involving real, human, loving stepmothers.

  4. Josephine

    i sound like an angry 1970s grad student stomping around with an ERA sign in some funkadelic font, sporting a klute haircut. big ole patchwork bell bottoms. macrame sweater. oversized eyeglasses like hillary wore at Yale.

    i like it.

    (Speaking of Hillary–hearing her anger set me afire. She pretty much told them to go fuck themselves. Amen.)

    this storyline that stretches over a decade’s time from one mother to another is like a pulse. it’s loud at first, you with your mother, suffering with her. and it grows quiet, but not gone. just softer. beating enough for you to hear it as you become a mother to two kiddos who (probably) needed you (most) at the very moment you showed up. and the pulse continued and is now loud enough for you to hear it again. with your stepmother. relieving the pain but getting to say all the things you couldn’t say before.

    so fucking…healing. it is. and, because we’re writers and this is a blog where you talk about writing…so fucking perfect when put to prose. yes? (you know i’m not making light of this connection.)

    …it’s gonna be a good chapter.

    1. Teri Post author

      I have the best photo of Jane Fonda as Klute, if I could only figure out how to paste it here!!!!

      (you are so so right. i see your bell bottoms and raise you a tie-die)

  5. independentclause

    What the fuck, my friend, you think I can answer that question in one measly little comment box? Hrmph. I’m mostly down to sisters, which is just plain weird. We are so very different and so very alike.

      1. independentclause

        No. There are instantly ten things I want to say, three of which are too depressing for words, one of which would worry people, and the rest of which I couldn’t explain in enough detail to communicate what I mean in this little box. It’s like being offered chocolate cake when my jaw is wired shut.

  6. macdougalstreetbaby

    I’ve never given the word “step” much thought. Strange, as I am a stepsister/ stepdaughter. It’s a road I know nothing about.

    It makes perfect sense that this is taking so long. I can’t imagine it ever ending. Perhaps one of the keys to memoir is only examining a small slice of the pie.

  7. Downith

    What a complicated question, Teri. I’m the far away one…

    I was wondering, maybe you being a stepmom is part of the story. Maybe there’s a link there you can use?

    And you, my friend, are very real. I’ve seen you in my kitchen!

    X0

  8. Pamela

    I’m one of two sisters. I’m the one entrusted with mom’s power of attorney when the time comes and it will. I’m the one who will be responsible for my mentally ill father, sooner rather than later, if he ever stops moving and losing his phone and ending up in homeless shelters with no way for me to find him. It’s a good thing I like being responsible. Mom’s adoring gaze and infinite confidence in me makes up for a lot.

    I’m bothered (and flabbergasted) that your mom never told you she loves you. It’s obvious to anyone who reads this blog that you’re lovable, likeable. All of it. I wish your mom had said so.

    1. Teri Post author

      As crazy as it may sound, I knew my mother not only loved me but admired me and had big dreams for me. She came from a family of 11 and no one ever uttered the L word. It was unheard of, not only in my family but with everyone we knew. That my stepmother has started using this word recently is a surprise!

      Sad, but true.

  9. LauraMaylene

    I find myself unable to type out my real, honest answer to your question in this space, so I’ll just leave another, easier truth: I am the very beloved first of not one, but two, daughter-in-laws named Laura.

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