Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Mary Kate Painter Miller 1923 - 1970 - 2015

This blog is about the stuff I do, and I'd like to take a little time to talk about someone without whom I never would have done anything-- my mother, Mary Kate Painter Miller.

She taught me to read, and instilled in me a love of books so deep and pervasive that I eventually felt the need to start making them myself.  She is present in my work. Vionna Valis, Mary Jane Kelly, Dana Unknown, Mirabelle Darcy-- even Mary Jane Gallows and my fictional take on Amelia Earhart-- all contain elements of her. I often say that all my protagonists, male or female, are basically myself, and this is true. But there is so much of her in me that it makes very little difference.

Would she be proud of what I have done? Yes, she would. No question.

She died when I was seven, and my father did the same thing-- albeit in a much different way-- four years later. And after she died, I started to consider myself alone in the world. My father turned into someone I didn't know and didn't want to know. When he finally killed himself, it was almost a relief, in a way. Almost. After that, I was shipped off to relatives in another state, and I lost everything and everyone I had ever known.

Now, this is not meant to be a tell-all biographical sketch, and I am not fishing for sympathy when I say that I had some pretty serious problems growing up, and plenty of new ones after I reached adulthood. My past and present contained a great deal of wreckage, and I didn't like to look at or think about it. So I did various things to keep from having to do any of that. I drank. A lot. I engaged in wild, extremely risky behavior of various kinds. I'm one of those people who should have had "the late" bolted onto the front of his name years ago.

I was often miserable and depressed, and it was during a particularly bad patch many years ago that I decided to get rid of everything I owned that reminded me of certain parts of the past. All my childhood mementos and photographs were consigned to a dumpster. The baby was indistinguishable from the bathwater at that point. The good memories-- which were really never more than bittersweet-- were trashed as ruthlessly as the bad ones. And so, for many years, I had no photographs of my mother. And at this point, I have no living relatives who might provide me with any.

All of that is just the history of my life. It wasn't all miserable, but I mention the misery to make a point. This next part is the very recent past:

For quite a while, the last few months in particular, I didn't  feel very good about myself. I won't go into a lot of detail here, but I will say that I was feeling increasingly alienated and depressed, and wondering if continuing to live was actually the best course open to me. I wasn't suicidal, I had no intention of actually doing anything, but thoughts of my own death were never far from my mind, and I was becoming convinced that death would be no worse than life, and might in fact confer some advantages.

Again, I won't belabor any of this stuff, because that isn't what this memoir is about. What it's about is the thing that happened to me early yesterday morning.

As I was in a very morose frame of mind, my thoughts turned to the people I have lost over the years. I have done internet searches on my mother before and turned up nothing. What possessed me to try again yesterday, I do not know. But I did, and for once I hit the jackpot. At the Internet Archive I found a number of old college yearbooks and school newspapers from my mother's alma mater, Alabama College in Montevallo. She graduated in 1943, and I found every yearbook photo and every mention of her in every article.

For the first time in decades, I had pictures of my Mom. It hit me hard, but not in a bad way. Looking at her face, and seeing so much of my own in it, reminded me that there was a person to whom I had a deep connection that could not be broken by death. She helped make me into the person I still am, before the suffering and stupidity and tragedy could warp him. I didn't need to feel alienated and worthless. I was not alone and never had been. I had been looking to other people to give me something they didn't have. It was something I thought I had lost, but I now realize that was never the case. I have always had it right here, hardwired into me, part of my DNA. It doesn't matter who comes and goes or what I do or fail to do. The person who loved me more than anything has always been close to me. And that will always, always be true, no matter what.

I may have been on the brink of something awful quite recently, I don't know. What I do know is that my Mom came back to me when I really needed her, in a way I could not have foreseen. And I am grateful.

I love you, Mom, and all of this is for you. That's all I need to say. Everything else, we both already know.

1 comment:

  1. Chuck, Your mom is so lovely and her sweet spirit and joy shine through the photographs. I'll keep you in my prayers.