I was a tad annoyed last month when my husband gave me a Fitbit for our anniversary. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the thought, or the gift for that matter. The size of the box had suggested jewelry, which got my heart racing, but the contents encouraged exercise. Well, rats.
I’m “blessed” with an unusual amount of guilt. It eats away at me. So essentially, my husband’s well-intentioned gift has become a companion piece to the little voice in my head: “You haven’t walked your 10,000 steps today.” “Um, hello? Did you hear me? You haven’t walked far enough yet.” “Hey! What’s wrong with you? Get moving!”
In an attempt to meet my daily goal (and to silence that annoying voice), I went on a walk with my sister one evening last week. We lasted about 0.1 kilometers. We had the stamina to go much farther, but unfortunately so did the ravenous deer flies taking their pound of flesh from us. We couldn’t have gotten back inside the cottage any faster had we been competitive sprinters.
When my sister and I were little girls, our mom got the wacky idea to put one-gallon ice cream containers on our heads to keep the flies from landing on us. She was always coming up with stuff like that. One year we went trick-or-treating in brown bed sheets that she had tried to die black for witch costumes. We have school pictures with yarn in our hair where ribbons should be. She served Sloppy Joes with chopped mushrooms instead of ground beef. She shaved her head with whipped cream when no shaving cream was available. She made use of a recycled mayonnaise jar when camping (restrooms in campgrounds are too far away at night, you see).
These memories played like a slideshow through my head during the last days of mom’s life. I held her hand and talked of good times together. In the end, it was all I could offer her.
Melissa Cistaro, in her memoir, Pieces of My Mother, describes the last days of her mother’s life. With the hope of receiving an apology, or at least an explanation, Melissa leaves her children on Christmas Day and rushes to her mother’s side. Desperate for words she’s unlikely to hear from her mother’s lips, Melissa instead finds solace in a cache of letters she finds hidden in her mother’s files.
Melissa recounts her memories of a motherless childhood while she sits vigil at her mother’s deathbed. Abandoned before she was five years old, Melissa and her brothers spent years fighting an insatiable desire for their absent mother’s attention while becoming more experimental with the numbing effects of drugs and alcohol.
Now a mother herself, Melissa struggles with her own feelings of inadequacy, despite a personal promise to break her family’s cycle of addiction and unreliability. Her mother’s letters offer insight into the woman who left her so many years ago, and reveal the feelings and hopes she held for her children.
Told in flawless and honest prose, Pieces of My Mother begs to question whether we are destined to repeat our parents’ mistakes, or whether we can embrace the good pieces while casting out the bad.
Melissa Cistaro’s stories have been published in numerous literary journals and anthologies. Pieces of My Mother is her first book. Sourcebooks 2015.