“Stick to the boat, Pip, or, by the lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump. Mind that. We can’t afford to lose whales by the likes of you; a whale would sell for thirty times what you would, Pip, in Alabama. Bear that in mind and don’t jump anymore.” Hereby, perhaps, Stubb indirectly hinted, that though man loved his fellow, yet man is a money making animal, which propensity too often interferes with his benevolence.”
No, I cannot say my Mother doesn’t love me. She loves me in her way. It is maternal, just not in the warm and fuzzy sense. Physical affection was not widely displayed in my house. We were to understand we were loved and supported and if we failed to perceive that never verbalized love, then, well, we were just being dramatic.
As time passed, she has had less and less tolerance for nonsense. Liberal vegetarian atheists who lose their way display much nonsense. My big sister is, like my mother, a solid Methodist, impatient with nonsense.
It is fair to say we four siblings defined ourselves against each other, though I never recall feeling in competition for my parents’ love. How can you compete for something ridiculous to discuss?
Bottom line, should I ever find myself lost at sea on a raft with my elder sister and my mother (I have good reason to believe the rest of my nuclear family would have long made themselves scarce, my father would slay himself to nourish my mother and my younger siblings would, most likely, jump out on their own initiative, choosing death by sharks over being confined in a tight space with their mother) I’d be the first one voted off the raft. Or, my mother and sister, assured of their place in heaven, would leave the raft, and life, to me alone.
My parents always swore they had no favorites. But there are basic choices to be made on a raft with limited resources. My older sister has become the fount of resources, I have turned into the drain. This, in the end, sealed the seating chart on the raft.
But early on, if there was a favorite I would have mistaken it to be me. As my younger sister (another story) likes to tell me “Yes, Beth, it’s all about you.” Well of course it is, on what other subject do you expect me to have such expertise? Yeah, this is the mind that my world built, this is the girl who lives in the mind. . .
When I was maybe six, we attended a small Methodist church which I really didn’t have too much of a problem with. We played games with real sheep’s knuckles and the Sunday school teacher told us this was how the ancient Hebrews played dice. At any rate, one Sunday my mother’s Sunday School class was assigned the task of writing a letter to someone expressing appreciation to that individual.
My mother wrote her letter to me.
My very non-effusive mother wrote down in words how much she loved me and appreciated my kindness and goodness. ( I was necessarily prescribed the role of “the good girl” to counter my sister’s fiery anger at my having been born.) And here she wrote on paper how she loved me so, and listed reasons.
I knew this was the sort of treasure you hide away from other’s eyes. It was an intimate side of my mother and I could not guard it too carefully. Her warmth was a soap bubble near impossible to keep for long. I slid the note deep between my bedsprings and mattress.
Then, one day, my sister found it. I cannot imagine the blow she must have felt as she read that note in my mother’s achingly beautiful and absolutely distinctive script. I vaguely recall that I stood frozen as her dark eyes darted over the lines. The rage came on fast. She tore the letter into shreds and then ripped into me. My parent had to come and pull her off, lead her away. My father telling me as he always did “Sorry, B. She just hates you. You’re just going to have to accept that.” I’m ashamed to admit I was in my twenties before someone pointed out to me that no, I didn’t have to just accept that.
So, now, as I parent I look back and ask: If I were asked to write a letter to one of my children would it be the one I know I love, or the one I am not sure, but need to believe I love. To me it’s a false proposition. I love my children, each and every one, with a palpable ache in my heart. Each one more than life itself, but each one so differently than the others. Love is such an ocean, it hits the shore in different rhythms in different ports. Never does it cease to be the ocean. When tide is high it reaches all the more ports. The ocean shares her wealth. I want to think love is an ocean, and now the rain is pouring into it. When the water level rises, it opens all ports.