Looking through the old family photo albums, I realised that my dad hadnt really taken any photos since I was a child, since mom left. He used to own an old Russian made SLR and he had a pretty good eye. It helped of course that one of his favourite subjects, my mother, liked posing and was very photogenic. There were many photos of her and later when my sister and myself came along, a lot more photos of us together.
From those early photos, it was impossible to tell that my sister suffers from an intellectual disability. In all of them, she looked engaged (and she does engage), aware (and she is aware) and in some she had a heart achingly sweet smile (which she still does at times). What those photos didn’t capture and couldn’t capture was that she wasn’t hitting her milestones and would never reach some of them. Looking at those photos of her sitting on her bike, posing next to a guarded younger version of me, playing in the sand at the beach with my dad (my mother must have taken that photo) saddened me. The photos showed a spirited and very beautiful child with all the potential that four and five year olds have. It showed a future or rather a present that was so tantalisingly close, one where her native temperament and spirit could have realised itself in so many different ways.
My mother, in those albums, was also very beautiful. This is something that probably most children would say about their mothers when they were younger but in my case, mom was a beauty queen so I feel justified in my assessment. There are photos of her taken in 1968 walking down the ramp, photos of her being crowned, photos of her amongst the other contestants clearly outshining them all. She had a heart shaped face, a warm slightly coquettish smile and a clear delight in herself and her own beauty. As a child, I loved her as much as any child could love their mother but I was also aware from quite a young age as to how beautiful she was, how rare that was and how lucky that made me.
Perhaps that is why I never really understood why she left, or rather I should say that I never really emotionally understood why she left. Without that fundamental acceptance, intellectual explanations no matter how plausible remain hollow. I have plenty of those explanations, I’ve asked all the questions, got a whole host of answers and it all makes sense as any nicely plotted out novel does but on a very deep level, on that childhood level where injustices are keenly felt, when the universe has an obligation to play fair, those reasons make as much sense to me as my sister’s disability.
a year or so ago, a friend of mine lost her mother to cancer. at the funeral, amidst all the speeches celebrating her mother’s life, speeches that were honest and accepting, that were sad and funny, that were on the whole the kind of speeches that you expect anglo-australian educated middle class mature adults to make when they have lost someone they love very much, my friend unleashed onto all of us an unmitigated wail of grief, a raw ullulation of loss and denial.
i still feel grateful to her for her honesty and her courage (even if she might not have had a lot of choice), for sharing her grief with me in that fashion, even if it did feel like a sledgehammer at that time.