I spent 27 years imagining you. More, since before that, the three years we spent together I was only a caterpillar– brain not yet ready to handle really knowing someone other than as an extension of self, or to understand that when we went to what looked like a park to put you in the ground, that that was it. You and I would never get the chance to become friends, and for most even saying your name was an issue of tension. Now, your sister, my aunt, has opened this door of communication which provides a clear direction for my imagination to flow after years of gathering clues from your paintings, the fear my stepmom had of acknowledging you and the parts of myself that made my dad retreat further and further.
I have your letters. Almost two decades of correspondence you wrote while you travelled across the world. I could never imagine writing letters to a family member in the way you did, with such bold assumption that they would accept your travels, lack of a career, and drug use. In one letter addressed to both my grandma and grandpa you wrote about having a yeast infection and and then on the next page trying peyote. The next, dated less than 2 months later, you’re in San Francisco, waitressing and witnessing the ‘Summer of Love’ . Words illustrate the chaos of too many people struggling for their own particular concept of freedom, while drug rich and resource thin. I find you a bit ugly in these letters, complaining about the homeless vets and writing pointedly about the race of the men who harass you, the reality getting in the way of my imaginary untarnished earth mother, with an open heart for all.
It is at this point in your letters that I start to get suspicious. Suspicious of what details might be left out. Yours wasn’t a rich family – you talk in explicit detail about each dollar you spend, worthy of mention is the meat you buy for 50 c, a bed you get in a rooming house for $5. There are typed out complaints about being ripped off by things that seem desperately cheap to me. Still, the calculation of how you travel from one country to another every 4-6 months on service jobs and an occasional art sale doesn’t make sense. Then another hint: you talk about men in the most unromantic of ways, with this man taking you on a trip on his yacht and then another to Mexico, they are never the central part of the plot though. You never talk about missing them, or wanting to reconnect. Not until you meet my dad anyway.
I’ve been told that you were very pragmatic, a little distant. In your letters I see that even as you describe the gardens you keep or the fabric you find with words that are so sultry and majestic in scope. You liked fine things. I inherited your clothing, but without the context for it I didn’t know how to appreciate it. Silk shirts, embroidered chaquetilla’s so old the black chord falls off if you touch it wrong, and I do because I’m a 14 and old who wants to wear Ross leopard print skirts and hot topic corsets. How did you own such beautiful things when you must have been struggling to survive?
To read the full story order Prose & Lore Collected Issues 1-5: Memoir Stories About Sex Work HERE