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June 02, 2009


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Thank you for reading an unusually long post. It means a lot to me.

First, what works in this piece? What doesn't?

More importantly, I would appreciate knowing more about how a parent/parents or caregiver violated your own privacy when you were growing up. What impact has it had on you?

Or -- when was the first time you talked out loud about death?

You don't have to answer these questions all at once. Be thoughtful about it. Sit with it for a bit. Then come back. Think of the 'sphere today as a safe place you can come and share pieces here and there as they unfold. They don't have to be in any particular order or expressed in any particular way.

Whatever you need.



I love how you describe how you feel when under attack from your mother or from feelings: i wanted to throw a bomb and duck for cover. exactly.

i am once again amazed at the pointed cruelty of your mother.

i'm so glad you're in touch with Joy again.

i think the whole thing works. i wish i had more time today to respond to your questions.

bless your heart. how hard to have known such love and to have it torn from you. Joy didn't die, you didn't break your promise. You survived. That is redemption enough.


"Joy didn't die, you didn't break your promise. You survived. That is redemption enough."

Thank you, dc. That I did not break my promise NEVER occurred to me. You are right, that is redemption enough.


I'm still afraid to drive.


Good morning, shug. I mean Flannista.

What "doesn't work"?! It all works, in minute and exquisite detail, one sentence to the next. It all works.

The hook, of course is that fine first line, "The first time I talked out loud about death was with a girl named Joy." You had me, then. You had cast your line and set the hook, then you started slowly reeling me in. I love the way the conversations are from an adolescent's point of view, while the later musings are those of an observing adult. No mean feat, that.

"My mother's words whirled outside me like startled birds." Doesn't get much better than that.

Communicating with Joy again must have been a rather tremulous experience, wondering what state you'd find her life in. It seems that you have more to say to her, and now you have that opportunity. What a gift to you both.

I didn't talk about death, but began to steep about it when I was about six years old. I began to consider my own, much like a more "normal" child might consider running away to join the circus.

Anyway, great writing. I read it with a great deal of pride at having known the gal who wrote it.


Stunned. And yet glad that you two have re-connected. Certainly speaks to the general alienation so many young people experienced at that time -- and I can't imagine the level of "uncouth-ness" of that boy -- he needed his face slapped.

I'm glad you found a friend at that time, someone with whom you could talk & share, I'm wagering it relieved some internal pressure (friends do that for me).

And I thought my mom was invasive! Ha! She's got nothing on your mom. Good heavens, we would have come to blows. That was just evil, calling you out like that at the dinner table. Hateful. Phew! Talk about recriminations muffling you!

I cannot imagine how stressful it was to find out Joy had that terrible accident, or to see her afterwards. It sounds like you were trapping yourself, no matter which way you turned, you felt guilty. I think you did the best you could at that time, under some terrific pressures.

like DC, this isn't the right day for me to spend time in the 'sphere. Very evocative writing, really draws the pictures so well, and certainly pulls you in to keep reading, never loses the reader's interest!

Yay for Jersey that she was able to help you re-connect, and how fortunate to have a lovely sketch to accompany this very heart-felt, heart-tugging story!


You did not break your promise and that alone shows strength. I never had my privacy violated by my parents. Nor did I intentionally violate the privacy of my children. Death was dealt with directly. The first time I feared it was when my Brother was in Viet Nam. My Mom woke me up and said "Peter has been wounded" Between 'been' and 'wounded' the word killed repeated itself in my head a thousand times.

This is good writing. I do not know how you forgive a mother who would do such a thing. I have to believe in some twisted way her motives were out of protection and not spite. My head just will not go there.

I hope you send this piece to Joy.


Carolyn -- that first line came while I was doing a writing exercise during which I wrote non-related consecutive sentences without thinking or stopping my writing hand. Here's what I mean:

In China, they eat a lot of rice.
The battle of Gettysburg was fought between July 1-4, 1863.
The first time I talked out loud about death was with a girl named Joy.
Lizards can jump really far.

It forces your brain to go to weird places, like mind-altering drugs, perhaps?

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. Speaking of great writing, I love these lines: "I didn't talk about death, but began to steep about it when I was about six years old. I began to consider my own, much like a more "normal" child might consider running away to join the circus."

Carolyn -- put those lines at the top of a blank page and start writing. Seriously. I'd love to see what follows. Bet you would, too.


Chryso -- I know that today is not a good posting day for you. Still, I would be interested, at some point, in knowing how your mother invaded your privacy. I don't want what I posted today to diminish and/or minimize how hurtful that was for you. Name your truth. This is a safe place to do that.

And yes, many thanks to Jersey for tracking down Joy. "For tracking down Joy." Yes, a great gift.


noway -- this is good writing: "Between 'been' and 'wounded' the word killed repeated itself in my head a thousand times."


I suspect that your heart in addition to your head will not go to the reality that a parent can be spiteful. My heart and head won't, either. My mother was savagely protective of us -- though I think it was mostly to protect her own sense of safety. Who knows how terribly her own privacy was invaded by her mother when she was a child? I know only a few details, but they are harrowing. I was the child that tried to break out of that safety/prison zone . . . over and over again . . . in so many different ways. I mouthed off, talked back . . . and thought deep thoughts, to name just a few. Why did I continue to do so even when I was so openly humiliated and threatened?

I was one tough kid.


Geez, this website is just magnetic ;-) A bit embarrassed to point this out online, but since Flannista asked...

I realized yet another gap in my education, as I’ve never seen the play “Our Town” nor been exposed to it. Decided I’d better go read a synopsis, at the very least, because the reference to the graveyard scene intrigued me.

I can see how, after reading the synopsis, that play fits perfectly into the discussions you and Joy had. Flannista, I've said it before...Bless your heart, I’m so very sorry you had to endure all of that. The maternal side of me wishes I could give you a big hug and let you cry out all that anger and hurt and loss…..


Thank you, Chryso.

Trust me, baby doll, your empathy is endless. You are a good mother.


Carolyn -- what happened when you were six years old that you began to think about death?

I seriously began to think about death the day President Kennedy was shot. Hadn't thought about it much prior to then. It was my first "public" exposure to it. Of course, the word was seen and heard everywhere at that time for several weeks.

My friendship with Joy provided the first safe place for me to talk out loud about death. Sad news was frowned upon at my mother's dining room table.


I think the writing is riveting...way leads unto way...but I am so mad at your mother that I can't breathe. Then I ask of myself, what was she like when she was 9 months old and the world was filled with openings for her? Or maybe even then it was too late. I want to bring her to my heart and say, there, there. And I want to bring your, Flannista, little self there, too. It is hard to be so tough when you are little BUT what a boon. That your mother read your letter and then made comments and then said something so cruel about Joy's almost death means that somehow she was ruined. Thank goodness you have worked so hard to be whole!


I remember being so perplexed at your adamant denial of caring anything about the news of Joy's accident -- of denying caring about Joy.

Forgive me but, as I wrote that last sentence, I was heading in the direction of high school remembrances and remembering the visit at Joy’s but my "stream of consciousness" just kicked in. I don't mean this to be cruel or melodramatic in the face of such vulnerability but the scene of Peter's denial of Christ barraged my brain. "I do not know him." Fear and guilt and forgiveness all balled up in our humanity. Your Pharisaic mother drove fear and guilt so far into your heart that, for a while, it overcame love even in the face of a servant girl saying "didn't I see you with her"? Like Peter, though, it is not the human weakness that matters, it is the ultimate triumph of love that drives us to reconnect, find forgiveness and to forgive.


Your mother is a horrible bitch of a woman! I don't care what her reasons were for all of the emotional, mental, and physical ways that she invaded your privacy and your personhood. That you are still in contact with her speaks to your ability to forgive someone who seemed dedicated to protecting you to death or non-personhood. Mean and cruel parents exist in the world. I know lots of them and whatever their "good" intentions they leave behind so much hurt, pain, and confusion.


frida -- several times over the past couple of years that I've known you, you have said (after hearing me tell stories from my childhood), something along the lines of: "Oh, how I wish I could have just taken you in my arms and said, 'There, there.'" I don't think you realize how often you say that. That this is your default response is very compassionate, particularly that you brought my mother to your heart today. Thank you.

Yes, my mother was ruined by her mother and it is sad to witness.


This piece is so well-written and I am in agreement with the others who have commented on its strengths. What stands out for me is that this is a piece about expectations and shattered expectations. You were disappointed because you'd expected Joy to be friendly and talk to you in class but she didn't at first. Later, you startled my expectation for a mother to be kind and nurturing ... and, well, motherly ... with the scene at the table when your mother reads Joy's letter and calls you out.

But, it is this conversation which really sticks with me:

“What do you suppose caused the crash?” my mother asked all of us. Nobody said anything. She continued, “I think Joy was lost in those deep thoughts of hers and wasn’t paying attention to the road. I’ve always said that deep thoughts will get you nowhere. What do you think, Flannista? Has that ever happened to you?”


“Better be careful when you drive, okay?”


Flann, at the end of the piece you say that deep thoughts can never kill you, but you add in the comments that you are still afraid to drive. Does your fear relate to the conversation above? If so, don't give your mom that much power. She has been wrong in so many ways and she is in this way, too.

Your mother implies that the accident was Joy's fault. Do we know that? I hope that one day you will see Joy again. I wonder if she still remembers the Our Town lines? I don't remember one line of any high school play I was in.

About expectations ... this piece lives-up to my expectations of true friendship. Though your mother tried to destroy it with public humiliation and threats, here, all these years later, you are standing to claim both life and friendship. You, too, have survived a "wreck" of sorts. I hope that you share this piece with Joy, too. Maybe you will even drive cross-country to give it to her.


Now that I have taken a larger dose of Valium, I will amend my statement about your mother. She was a horrible bitch of a woman! I don't know what she is like now. My mother invaded my privacy in so many ways and, owing to the smallness of our family, she never had many people to witness her humiliation of me, but it was enough that she did it to me privately or in front of my sister and father. I never understood why she did it. If it was for my own good, it didn't accomplish its intended person. She should have told herself, "The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."


Jersey -- I hope you come back and share more of your memories of that time as they would be very helpful to me. It's hard to ask you that as you have been so helpful so far. But I hope you do.

The Peter Denial analogy intrigues me. At that time, my four sisters were in the same high school -- and I know for a fact that some of their friends spied on me, too (my older sister consistently expresses regret about this). I felt constantly watched. They were rewarded for "tattling" on me . . . for hanging out with kids my mother had targeted as "dangerous" or "invasive" or upsetting to her world order.

Jersey, I remember being scared SHITLESS to confess that I knew Joy. Remember when you hooked up with Matiss and me over a year ago and in the middle of brunch just blurted out: "You were such a liar in high school." Like my reaction in "Deep Joy", my face instantly got hot when you said that. I was deeply embarrassed because it was true. I lied all the time. I felt I had to in order to save something inside myself and/or to create a world order -- however fanciful -- that was safer than my mother's.

I don't remember many moments as a teenager when I felt safe in my mother's home, let alone while driving a car.


Flann, powerful stuff. The writing comes from your center. I have yet to hear anything you have written about issues that are important to you that isn't moving and powerful. It worked/works.

I want to know what you have found out about Joy now that you have exchanged emails.


I love you, half-a, but my mother was and is not a horrible bitch of a woman.

However, she was and is a horribly wounded person, who tried to raise a family despite her limitations, which included blindness to her own limitations.

But I love the "Aliens" Sigourney Weaver in you that came out, half-a. Now you understand why that movie is so powerful for me. I realized that only a good mother armed to the teeth with guns and grenades and powerful blow torches could protect me from a bad mother armed with daughters as spies and words targeted to kill individuation.


PEACE -- "Don't give your mom that much power." I hear you. I do drive, anyway, despite my fear of driving. Matiss and I often talk about buying a Winnebago and crossing the country once we retire. I'll have to do a lot of driving then.

I would also like to thank you, specifically, for your potent example of what a good mother looks like. I met you in Taos, in the writing workshop (along with half-a and Westsista) and it has been your encouragement specifically over the last several years to "tell my story" that has helped me to stop denying myself or the other "Joys" in my life. You have helped me to be a good mother to myself.

You have helped me to be the best mother I ever had. Thank you.


I have connected with Joy with one exchange of emails and two exchanges of voice messages over the last several months. I was the last one to leave a voice mail about a month ago. Joy hasn't returned it, and I am beginning to wonder if it is because of what happened many years ago.


I don't suppose you ever got to see the letter Joy had sent to you so many years ago? I agree with the others that I think it would be good to send this story to her, perhaps with a hand-written letter.

Flannista, were you the only one of the four sisters to rebel? None of the others protested? You were the second born, correct? It almost sounds like you were cast into the role of the scapegoat, or am I missing something?

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