The first paragraph in the prologue of this memoir by Alyse Myers, vice president for brand programs at The New York Times, tells the whole premise. ”I didn’t like my mother, and I certainly didn’t love her. The only time we actually had anything in common was when I had my own daughter—but by then it was too late, since my mother was to die before we really could compare notes.”
The firstborn of three daughters to a stay-at-home, chain-smoking mom and a frequently absent father, Myers is two years older than her two siblings who are just a year apart. She believes her sisters were favored by her mother while she adored her handsome but narcissistic, philandering father who spent more on his wardrobe than his family. But he gives Alyse her future when he recommends she keep a journal to write out the pain in her life such as when she was taunted as a “Jew girl” by a local bully.
Her parents’ battles end when her father dies from stomach problems compounded by morphine addiction when Myers is just eleven. The loss of the only person with whom she had bonded was devastating. She spends as much time as possible at friends’ homes and more on the several occasions her mother throws her out while shouting, “Who do you think you are?” Upon Myers’ return, these incidents are never spoken of—the hallmark of a dysfunctional family.
Daughters who never bonded with their mothers will relate. But it helps a great deal to understand the failure to bond. In this instance, a young mother with three children under the age of five, such as a one-, two- and four-year-old in a poor family, will naturally expect much more of the eldest, despite her tender years.
It is not until after her mother’s death from lung cancer when Myers is 37, that she locates a locked box her mother has kept private and lays claim but does not open the box for 12 more years, when her own daughter is fifteen. Myers is taken aback to realize that her mother was loved. And that she once loved this one man, her high school sweetheart, the only man in her life, ever. In addition to their love letters Myers found her own history and accomplishments in report cards and correspondence that her mother treasured as well.
Feeling and hearing no love from a parent it seems can only be healed by loving one’s own children in words and actions.