The Insight of Maude Dalry
Mamma's hands hit the piano keys hard. I can still remember when her fingers hit the keys softly, delicately, playfully treating the instrument as though it were another daughter. Mamma often called the piano "her third daughter" or "her best daughter," speaking in a tone that always made my sister and I wish that we weren't in the room.
My sister Madison and I had always been close; in fact the only thing that separated us was our age, which in that only held a divide of eleven months. I was older, smarter; she was wild and beautiful. I often look back on my childhood and cringe, looking through the years that my mother dove deeper and deeper into everything that surrounded her except for her daughters. Her music, her voice, then alcohol, and pain medications. At the time the disease that would later plague my existence like a virus, had no name other then crazy, which is what our neighbors always referred to us as being.
My mother Charlotte, an artist of all artistic forms, always instilled her love of art in Madison and myself. Teaching us very young, the art of painting, music, writing, ballet, and her favorite, singing. I remember how she would keep us up all night dancing Swan Lake over and over as her hands hit the piano keys, and our bare feet hitting the concrete floor of our garage, witch acted as her studio since we were to poor to have a car. She would tell us that it was never right until every fiber of feeling was drawn from our movements, and her notes, and then clearly shown through us.
I longed to sit beside my Mamma, to have my own hands make the sweet melodies that she would make. Madison had always been the dancer; the sharp yet delicate movements of ballet were never enjoyable, or freeing for me as they were for her. My passion was for the music, my mother knew how to play several instruments and had taught us most of them, but my favorite was the flute. Its crystal clear melody still rings in my heart.
My Mamma always told us that when she left the house, and remained absent for hours, sometimes days, that she had been performing opera in Paris, or New York, which as a child seemed very truthful and I never doubted her. But as I grew I realized that she had never even left our hometown of Seattle.
Vividly I can recall the day that Mamma told Madison and I that we would have another sister soon. I was eight, and Madison was seven. I remember our joy, the following weeks for my family were beautiful. A time when Mamma wrote poems about our new sister and painted delicate angels with faces that I was sure would be identical to my new sister's.
It was a cold day in December when Madison and I came home from school and found Mamma in the kitchen, a pool of blood surrounding her legs and the floor around her. I can picture her look of absence, still in my head, and I have never forgotten the fear that I felt that day. Mamma was still dazed when the ambulance arrived, I tried to shake her out of whatever trance she was now in, I told her that men were coming and they couldn't see her like this, but she wouldn't look at me. I will never forget that look, like all you have in the world suddenly disappeared, and who are you without the people around you? That is a question that still I seek an answer to, who are you when nobody's around?
Mamma never touched the piano again, after the miscarriage, that is until today. The following minutes, hours, days, months and years were completely different from the ones I knew before that. The piano remained untouched, and her operatic soprano quieted. I believed then that her love for Madison and I was also quieted, she wouldn't speak to us and when she did she would only yell, her speech slurred and she spoke of things that made no sense.
Mamma quiet working outside of the house, she would spend days in the garage painting. All her pictures held the faces of the angels that she had painted before, but now they were dark and deadly. Mamma also began to take lovers, strange men, with long hair and painted faces. Their clothes reeked with smells of strong herbs and body odor, and they spoke strangely like Mamma had now began to.
I also began to notice a change in my sister, who had always clung to me in times of tragedy, and disappointment, but I saw now that she was drifting, drifting like Mamma, obsessively controlled by her dancing. I would walk into the bathroom and she would be soaking her bloody and bruised feet, I asked her every time I saw this, "why do you do this to yourself?" She would always reply with the same answer, "it's the only way, it's the only way." I would come to hate that statement as I would come to hate my mother.
As Madison and I hit our teens, I began to not only see signs of my Mamma's crazy behavior in her but in me as well. We both would go through periods, days would be happy, and then they would shift into sadness. I saw it more pronounced in Madison though. She would tell me things, that at the time I would just write off like the strange creatures and people that she was seeing, and the things that they told her to do.
When I was fourteen Mamma announced to us that we had a new Papa. I turned around me, and a shaggy older man stood in the door way of our house, a boy in his twenties stood behind him, and Mamma announced him as my new brother Kenny.
From that first day I had had a bad feeling about Papa and Kenny, their unsmiling faces and cruel attitudes frightened me. And the way that Kenny looked at my sister and I made me sick.
It was the summer when I turned fifteen that I learned to hate my mother. I was alone in the house, when Kenny and some of his friends came in, smelly bottles of beer in their hands with their pockets filled with strange white powders. I stayed away from their hang out, which was in the living room and hide in the closet downstairs, hoping that Kenny would get to drunk and stoned too remember that I was in the house. I almost jumped when he opened the door and crunched down beside me. He smiled as he stroked my hair with his coarse hand, then moved his hand further down my body. When I tried to protest, his force over me grew, he held my hands behind my back as his lips crookedly twisted on my skin and face. I screamed but found that my noise only made him push into me harder.
That night with tears in my eyes I told Mamma that he had raped me, but she dismissed it as just a fantasy, something I had made up. I pleaded with her that it was true, I showed her the bruises on my hands and legs, but still she silenced me. What I hadn't know then was that Madison had also come to her with the same complaint, several times in fact, and also she had done nothing. It was due to this incident and the incident with my sister that I vowed to hate Mamma for the rest of my life.
Much of my adult life was spent in the homes of my many boyfriends, I realized that I had become a leaf blowing in the wind, just as my Mamma had been, going from home to home, lover to lover, yearning after a feeling that would never be found in those circumstances. I closed my eyes and let everyone control me.
During my separation from Mamma I longed to be with her, and my sister, who had also gone on her way alone. My sister who had always been the other half of myself, the closest part, that I had always cherished, now seemed the farthest thing from me.
I was in my early thirties when I finally saw her again. It had been five years since our last meeting and I was taken aback by how much she had changed. Her face was thinned, and was covered with black and brown splotches. Her body was also thinned and well as her hair. "What happened to you?" I asked throwing my arm around her like we were kids again. "It's the only way, its the only way," she whispered back to me.
A year later I held Madison in my arms as her body withered from a new virus that her doctors called "Aids." I can't explain to you all the feelings that I was feeling at this time. All the pain that had been festering inside of me since my childhood came rushing to the surface, and I found that I would love and hate my sister at the same time. Mamma also came to the hospital, the years that I had been absent from her life had changed her, her slender and beautiful form had vanished into the pudgy and wrinkled body that stood before me now.
Madison died on a Tuesday morning, she looked decades older then her twenty-nine years, her face filled with marks of the disease. Her bones had shrunk, making her look lifeless even while she still lived. All I could see was the little ballet dancer that had once danced Swan Lake with me. The little girl I had loved all my life, the other half of my now broken soul.
It was only at Madison's memorial service that Mamma played the piano again, her hands hitting the piano keys hard.