Telling My Story - Maggie Macary's Stories

Healing your life through Story-Telling

dream, despair, hope, fear, risk, remember

But monthly I bled, And sometimes It became ink and I was ashamed - Maggie Macary




Maggie Macary's Stories

A Poem

 a Memoir

Dream Tending

The Black Hole
Personal Myth

Memories, Trees, Reflecting Lights The Ritual of the Tree


Sometimes I am frightened by how my life passes: endless days flowing into dreamless nights flowing into more endless days. The cycles of the year turn over and over, winter-spring- summer-fall, winter-spring-summer-fall. I try to hold my breath for an instant and make the time stand still. Has it been so long? Have the events and memories of my life disappeared into fragments of dead leaves, blowing carelessly in the wind? Can I collect the fragments one by one and somehow piece them together? Can I scan the quilted mess, searching for form and meaning in a pattern that seems patternless? I take another sip of ginger tea, determined this morning as I write to become disciplined and healthy. I am forgoing that beloved cup of coffee, laced with half and half and not some false nondairy cremer with the long names of chemicals and artificial ingredients that really makes me yearn for more real things and less created gunk.

Is my life created gunk? I wonder how much of what I remember is an artificial cremer used to delude me into thinking I’ve got something good here. I sip again on the ginger tea, and realize as it begins to heat the passage of my di-stressed digestive system, that all the memories of my life, all the bits and fragments and pieces that I think I’ve lost or forgotten or put away in the box with my old poems and old diaries, faded pictures and tattered greeting cards, are actually right here. They are present in the cells and the structure, the wounds and the scars of my exhausted body. All memory for me begins with my body, ends with my body, and circles around my body. There is no other story in my life except what is written in the structure of my body. I take another sip begin to wonder if I’m truly ready to speak. For so many years of my life, my voice was stilled and I felt strangulated. But those moments of strangulation felt somehow comforting and safe. No need for me to speak. No need for me to risk anything. There have been moments in my life when I lost my voice for days on end, unable to whisper a word, safe in a silence that held all the blood pounding inside me; a tight hold with no release. I recall other moments of my life getting comforted by a scarf tied tightly around my neck; the scarf somehow holding in a voice that I thought was too powerful, too destructive, too intense.

I held my intensity and my voice and my blood inside my body, and sat on the rocks of my own fevered imagination, gazing out at a barren ocean and mourning for a home that seemed lost forever. Until one day, I risked it all and dove in dark waters, determined to find my way home. For years, I swam and swam in that barren sea in desperate search for some little bit of truth about the tragedies of my life. At times, I thought I would give up, allowing the pieces of my life to fall like wreckage upon the waves. But some goddess always seemed to come through to save me. Some ancient female voice would whisper to me from the deep water, “The blood is good.” The words confused me. I did not understand how the blood could be good. I kept swimming, looking for solid ground.

But this morning, I awoke feeling changed. I decided to drink ginger tea instead of my usual cup of coffee. The decision to drink ginger tea rather than the deep, dark, stimulating cup of caffeine is a difficult one. How much damage does one cup of coffee do to my poor, wounded body? Can the comfort of a cup of coffee really harm me that much? I sip the tea and try to forget my fresh-ground coffee with real half and half, never the artificial gunky cremers that don’t even use a speck of cream. The decision has been made for today and somewhere, deep, deep in my body, I realize that the memories of the coffee, the smell of grinding the beans, the first sip of the hot brew, the ritual of a lifetime of mornings, are so much more potent then the actual cup of coffee. I miss that morning ritual of memory, but for today that will have to be ok. I sit back for a second and take a deep breath, feeling exhausted and knowing that it is the theme of my life. I wonder if it is the myth of my life – the exhausted body.

I examine the scars on my body, like surveying the battleground of my life, each scar is the body’s permanent memory of its breaching, a mark of violation and penetration in my life. Scar tissue is unlike ordinary skin. It does not sweat or growing hair; there is less feeling there. I examine the scars, remembering how each ugly and jagged mark, signaled a moment of a transformation in my life. The scars fade but they never disappear. I ponder the word scar, derived from the Greek word eschara. The eschara was a portable hearth, a little firepot that stood on the graves of ancestors so that burnt offerings could be made to the Underworld in a sacrificial act to placate and purify demons, ghosts and chthonic forces that might otherwise come back to haunt the living. Are my scars the marks of my offerings to the Underworld, the burnt offerings to my own ancestral ghosts?

Here, here on my left wrist is a scar from when I angrily slammed my nine-year old hand through the glass of my mother’s kitchen door, the violence of the act almost, but not quite severing the tendon in my hand. There on my right thigh is the pale, white, inch long scar from when I angrily slammed my doll suitcase against my eleven-year-old thigh. One of my mother’s sewing needles pierced my flesh and got lost for a time in my leg, causing a stay in the hospital and major surgery. This new one on my right foot is still angry and pink – a reminder of losing my footing in a desert walk and the years of abuse and neglect crumbled my foot’s structure. And there, there is the long, long, deep one that runs from my dark pubic hair through my belly button, a faded deep scar that gutted my life even as the incision gutted my twenty-one year old body and stopped my bleeding forever. I sat enraged in that hospital bed and screamed at my mother” Get Out!” as she tearfully tried to comfort me or find comfort for herself through me. My anger with her grew and grew. It was as if I knew that she was to blame for the pain and hurt of my body. That somehow she had cursed me.

But I woke up this morning and felt as if I had taken a long, long swim in a deep ocean of despair, only to crawl up finally onto dry land and hide, shivering and naked under the crumbled leaves of my memories, desperate and wary for sleep. I crave dream-filled, healing sleep. For months now, I’ve been taking pills to numb the pain in my body and have slept dreamless sleep. I feel no rest and I wonder what happens if one never dreams again. I have now given up the pain pills, first the heavy prescription ones, then more recently, the over-the-counter, Tylenol PM that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but always seems to suppress my dreams. Slowly, the dried leaves drift back into my room at night, covering the naked me with bits and pieces of memories that my dreams weave into a vibrant, crazy quilt. The memories are returning as I try to soothe and heal my ravaged body.

I sip again at the ginger tea, my eyes catching the glint of diamonds on my right hand, dancing in the sunlight, making rainbows on the wall. The diamond ring is my mother’s, the center diamond large and luminous is her own mother’s diamond. Grandmother Millie, we called her, though her name was Amelia. The grandmother I never knew, except through my mother’s closed down memories and scarce stories and a few faded pictures of a flapper bride who was sold into a marriage with my wealthy, older grandfather when she was only seventeen. Amelia was American-born, entering the world in 1905 in Mobile Alabama, as her immigrant parents entered the country. Amelia, whose dark eyes are like mine, came into her own first blood even while the country struggled with a woman’s right to vote. In the few pictures I have, she has bobbed hair and short skirts and smoked a cigarette. Thoroughly modern Millie, my mother would joke.

By eighteen, Amelia was already mother to my mother. Two other children followed in rapid succession. The story commonly told is that my wealthy grandfather beat Amelia when he lost at gambling until she ran with her three small children back to her own angry, angry mother. Why would Amelia who had all the luxuries of life, take her children and live in a nightmarish poverty with her angry mother and absent father? I never truly understood the story and sometimes wondered what more had happened here. Now and then, I would hear other versions of why Amelia left my grandfather, left his wealth and the good life when she was only 25. Sometimes, my aunt or my uncle would whisper with my mother about how Amelia’s family tried to cheat my grandfather out of money. When my grandfather confronted them, the family took Amelia and her children away from him. It is hard to know what the truth is anymore.

My grandmother and her three small children, lived with her mother, father, brother, brother’s wife, and baby. They all struggled to survive through the Great Depression. Amelia worked hard and saved what her mother did not take, and eventually opened her own beauty shop. Coming home late at night, her body exhausted, Amelia barely saw her children.  But sometimes, late at night, she would tiptoe into their room and take them from their bed, feeding them ice cream that she managed to buy with her tips. Amelia grew braver as she grew older. The Catholic Church excommunicated her because she dared to get a divorce and marry an Irish cop. I wonder if she married him so that she and her three children could escape the turmoil of my angry great-grandmother’s house. But Amelia’s new husband drank and molested her daughters, molested my own mother, though my mother would never admit to it. Amelia worked harder than ever to give her children a house of their own, nice clothes, never taking a penny from my wealthy grandfather. My poor grandmother, Amelia died exhausted before she reached her 40th birthday.

I glance down at the ring again: three generations of mothers and daughters worn on one finger. When I was little, my mother would let me clean the ring and then put it on my finger, telling me that someday it would pass to me. I would love trying it on. It glittered on my little finger. My father designed the ring to hold three diamonds. The center one is Amelia’s engagement diamond. On one side is my mother’s own engagement diamond. On the other side is the diamond that my grandmother, Amelia gave my mother when she graduated from high school. The diamond ring is the most precious thing I own, the one possession I think I might die for, rather than give up. I examine it in the sunlight and think about the anger between mothers and daughters and in a silly gesture, kiss the ring as if I were somehow kissing my mother. Wearing it keeps me close to her.

My mother died three years ago. Yet she is a growing presence in my life. Day by day as I collect the bits and pieces of my memories, hanging the old family pictures on my walls, I realize that my relationship with my mother is getting better, the connections between us growing stronger. Inside I know that I miss my mother’s body. I miss the touch of her hand on mine and the feel of the slowing beat of her heart when she lay dying in the hospital bed and I crept in next to her. I miss my mother’s voice on the phone, our endless conversations over meaningless little events. I miss her child-like laughter and her whispering of off-color jokes that always seemed to make us both giggle like schoolgirls. I am surprised at how much I miss my mother.

“I would rather have one HUNDRED boys than one girl,” my mother screamed at me one day, “because girls are nothing but TROUBLE!!!” I was five. I don’t remember what the argument between us was about. Perhaps she wanted me to wear a dress that I didn’t want to wear or to pick up my toys or to set the table for dinner. It could have been any one of a thousand silly arguments that we seemed to have from the moment I was born. My mother who ruled over my five brothers, never have seemed to have any real authority over me. Secretly, she and I both knew that she would never be able to control me, never tell me what to do. My bottom lip stuck out in defiance as she screamed at me, my feet planted firmly on the ground, my arms folded in resistance. Whatever it was about, she wasn’t going to win. I knew that early on.

Girls are nothing but trouble. Somewhere inside of me, even though I knew she had no real authority in my life, my mother penetrated deeper into my body than any piece of glass or sewing needle, or scalpel, leaving an angry scar that is just beginning to show signs of healing. Over forty years later, her enraged voice still rings in my ears. No doubt, this was the defining moment of my life. I remember that I stormed out of the house and sat on the cold, cold cement stoop, waiting for my daddy to come home, my troubling girl’s body trembling as I cried. I was angry. I despaired. But I knew that my dad loved me, wanted me, and enjoyed the girl in me. I waited as the sunlight slowly faded into the dusk, watching the cars drive by and crying for the only one who would ever love me.

For years afterwards, I secretly believed I was not a girl. Somehow, somewhere, I desperately thought to myself, I must be a boy inside. I didn’t try to rationalize this thought, didn’t try to figure it out in any psychological or physical way. I never contemplated why I might believe such a strange thing. I just somehow held onto a belief that I was not really a girl. The thought grew and grew through my childhood, crystallizing when I found out about menstruation. I sat there in Brownie troop, next to my best friend, Barbie Lawson who had perfect blonde hair and nice blue eyes and lots of sisters instead of nasty brothers. The Brownie Troop leader, a well-meaning mother with lots of comforting smiles and cookies at the end of the show, showed us this little animated cartoon of dancing birds and butterflies that some sanitary napkin company put out. Among the birds and butterflies, the smiles and the cookies at the end, the message was clear. This was about blood and bleeding. I watched the little film in horror. I knew that I didn’t want to bleed every month. That seemed so wrong, so diseased, so cursed. I knew… I KNEW, that I would never have a body that was messy and bled and cursed. I knew that I wouldn’t have the cramps and the bloating, the secretive runs to the bathroom to change diaper-like sanitary pads and the horrifying fear of leaks.

Somehow, I fervently prayed, please let me escape all this nonsense, all those bodily things that made me more trouble than my brothers. And even as I prayed not to be a girl, not to be a woman, not to bleed every month, I also prayed that I would have little girls of my own. Little dark-eyed girls that I could hold and dress and love the way I held onto my dolls. I was a girly-girl, loving the pretty pink dresses and the red lipstick my mother wore when she and my daddy went out on a Saturday night. I wanted those things, the lipstick and the dresses, and even the white lacy bras.  But even though I had the facts, I had no real understanding of the link between the red blood and the red lips, the lacy bras and the developing breasts, the monthly dark nasty cycles and the sweet-smelling babies. I just didn’t get that the mother’s body, messy and bloody, dark and rich and full, had to be that way in order to give birth. Something in me seemed not to want to know the truth: that maybe girls have to be trouble to be fertile, maybe they have to bleed to create. But I didn’t understand all that way back then, I just prayed.

I looked at the statues of the Virgin Mother Mary at the Immaculate Conception Church where every Sunday morning, my parents dragged my five brothers and me. Dressed in our best clothes, our shoes shined, faces shining too, weekly we attended the Mass, looking for salvation. I fidgeted through the services; never concerned about what the Priest was saying as he mumbled meaningless Latin words and drank blood at the altar. I spent my time looking at the statues and the pictures, trying to make sense of what they all meant. Jesus bled, but Mary didn’t. I knew that Mary was THE mother of all, the best mother ever. Mary had a child, even though the statues of Mary’s body were remarkably not like my mother’s body. Mary had no breasts and no curves, no suggestive place between the legs where a baby might come out. Mary wasn’t cursed. That’s what the nuns told us, sexless creatures who also probably never bled. Mary was born pure and sanctified and stayed a virgin, even though she was a mother. They never really came out and said it, but I knew instinctively that Mary didn’t bleed every month and still she was a mother. Why couldn’t I be the same? Why couldn’t I be like Mary? Why couldn’t my body be like that, be virginal and uncursed, but still able to have babies when I wanted them? Why did I have to grow up and be cursed every month and be in this troubled body? I prayed to mother Mary, “Please don’t curse me.”

But my body began to betray me while I was still too young. Developing breasts by the time I was eleven, I was ashamed. I was the first girl in the class to have a bra, the nasty boys pointing at me as I ran from school, making jokes about me and trying to touch what they thought found so tempting. I felt desperate. There didn’t seem to be any way to stop the blood. I cried when I saw those first telltale signs of blood on my panties, afraid to tell my mother that it had begun. I waited two days, sneaking sanitary napkins out of her closet and hiding them deep in the garbage until I finally confessed to her. She was surprisingly kind and solicitous, wanting to know if I felt ok, if I needed any help or anything. I think she suddenly felt a longed-for connection between us, a connection that never existed before that moment. I felt nothing but shame and anger and a desire to hide the truth of what I was. I pushed her away in disgust, thinking that I would never be like my mother even if my body did do these bad, nasty, hidden things. But life was beginning to change and the freedom of my child’s body seemed to get lost in a cycle of blood that I found repellent.

I pause in my thoughts and make another cup of ginger tea, trying to find something in its spicy warmth to warm cold words on a too white page. I think about the blood that flowed from my body all those years ago and how much I hated it. Each monthly cramp was like a dagger in my soul, proof that I was somehow being punished for being “nothing but trouble.” I envied my brothers’ physical freedom as I sat miserably reading by the side of the pool while they carelessly swam and played. More and more, I withdrew into myself, slumping over to hide my breasts and retreating into a world of books, dreaming someday that I would write and write and that no one would know or care that I was blood cursed.

The blood curse. Is it passed along from mother to daughter, generation to generation? My mother Henrietta’s body. My grandmother Amelia’s body. My great-grandmother Sadie’s body. I wonder if I am part of a chain that spans generations, extending far, far back to the beginning of time, a chain of women filled with sorrow and grief and angry at the blood flowing from their bodies. Is my inheritance of blood, an inheritance of anger and frustration, an inheritance of being “nothing but trouble?” Did I inherit the blood curse? I remember the few stories my mother told me of my angry great-grandmother, Sadie. I never knew much about Sadie, other than she and her husband emigrated from what is now Lebanon in the early part of the 20th century, escaping a great famine. I don’t know what her dark eyes looked like, whether I resemble her in any way, but Sadie’s body was trouble. “Something was wrong, I think - Woman’s Trouble,” my mother would confidentially whisper to me. Sadie had the Woman’s Trouble - some deep, dark, mysterious disease that no one ever spoke about out loud. Women would whisper about it when they got together for tea.  “She’s got the Woman’s Trouble.” I knew, even very young, that it was about the blood. Poor Sadie, the blood never stopped flowing from her body. She bled and bled for weeks and weeks at a time, the rags soaked in cold water every morning and hung up to dry on the line, like white flags of trouble, silently flapping in the breeze. The whole neighborhood stood in witness and knew that Sadie’s body was trouble.

Cruel, sad Sadie suffered and bled, waiting for her dapper husband to come home at night, smelling of perfume and cigarettes and liquor. Her troubles were endless. Her exhausted body developed breast cancer at a time where there were no cures, no help for such a tragic disease. The doctor came and cut away her breasts from her body, but the wounds ugly and raw, never healed, never scarred over, because Sadie had “the sugar” too. Poor cursed Sadie, who screamed in pain at her granddaughter, my mother and hit her for being too much trouble. I try to remember the stories about Sadie and Amelia. Grandmother and great-grandmother, they both died long before I was born. I’ve never seen a picture of Sadie. My mother ripped them all up in anger years before I was born into the blood curse and became trouble.

I sip my ginger tea and wonder, how far back does blood curse go? Does it run through generations of women, who never know anything beyond the curse? Women who tear their hair out in their grief and pound their bodies into dust, screaming and moaning for the losses in their lives. Is there never any way to escape the blood curses of our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers? Do those exhausted women whose bodies bled and bled and never healed, haunt us still? Does their hatred of their own cursed bodies get passed along as hatred of their daughters’ bodies? Does this cycle of mother and daughter and mother and daughter, passing the curse on and on forever with no end? How far back can I trace it in my family if there is no one left to tell the stories of mothers and daughters? My stories only go back as far as Sadie. Or do they? Can I imagine more?

In the late Middle Ages, the slave population in Italy was predominately made up of young Christian girls from the Levant, from what is now Lebanon and Syria. The Christian minority in the Near East, dominated by the Islamic victors of the Crusades, created enclaves in the inaccessible Lebanese mountains. For centuries, even to this day, the Maronite Christians of Lebanon fight against Islamic rule, their anger and bitterness a way of life. Throughout the Middle Ages, these people of the mountains, the Christian remnants of the Levant sold their young daughters into slavery in Italy. I do not know why, whether it was famine or the fear of the continual onslaught of Islam. I just know that these people of the mountains of Lebanon, these men and women who sold their daughters, were my ancestors.

Can I imagine in this little-known fact of history, a brief paragraph or two in the history books, something more about the blood curse in my family? Can I find there another clue? I imagine some great, great, great, great grandmother of mine, despairing and hopeless, filled with hunger or greed or anger, selling her dark-eyed daughter into slavery, because girls are nothing but trouble. These Christian girls from the Levant, exotic and shapely, mysterious and sad-eyed, lived miserable lives as slaves in Italy. Beaten and reviled for their foreign ways, they were often raped by the male members of the households, bearing bastard children that they could not keep. History records that a third of the children left in Florentine orphanages from 1430-1445 were children of slave women.

I take a deep, deep breath and think about my mother, Henrietta. She was named for her grandfather, even though her mother, Amelia wanted to name her something more fanciful, something freer that fit the Roaring Twenties, and the images of emancipated women. But my mother was the first-born child, destined to be saddled with a name that she always hated. Poor Henrietta born into a life of wealth, lost it all by the time she was seven. She lost the pretty dresses and the dolls and the toy electric stove that really cooked cakes. She lost the big house and the plentiful food and her longhaired paternal grandmother that would hold her on her knee and peel apples in one long fragrant garland. Henrietta would sigh and talk about the big argument that happened one day. Her mother Amelia bundled her  three small children into a rumble seat of a car and drove them for hours away from their father and their home, bringing them to the angry, bleeding, Sadie’s cold-water flat. Henrietta did not see her father again until she was eighteen. She never again saw the longhaired grandmother she loved. Henrietta would hide under the bed as the angry, bleeding grandmother, Sadie would scream at her and try to hit her with the broom, telling her she was ugly and trouble and that she looked just like her cursed father’s family. By the time Henrietta was thirteen, Amelia had married again and brought her children to live with the Irish Cop who drank too much and molested Henrietta and her sister, though Henrietta would never admit to the abuse.

At 22, Henrietta married my father, a Lebanese boy she knew her whole life, whose mother was Sadie’s best friend. The women cooked the feast for my parent’s wedding, chattering happily at the good match. But there was hidden trouble. Henrietta’s abusing stepfather gave her away and bought her a bedroom suite as a wedding present, even as Sadie darkly hinted that Henrietta might not be a virgin. My father, a good Catholic who did not believe in birth control, came from a big family of 15 boys and wanted a big family also. Henrietta just wanted to please her husband.  She was pregnant eleven times in 20 years of marriage, only stopping when she widowed young at 42. By the time I came along, Henrietta already had little three boys, two still in diapers. The women told her that I was supposed to be her blessing, her own daughter. But Henrietta’s body seemed to know better. While she was delivering me, her blood pressure shot up and never came down. My birth was the beginning of a long string of illnesses that took their toll on Henrietta’s increasingly exhausted body.

Throughout my childhood, Henrietta was sick. Weekly migraines put her to bed for 24 hours at a time. She continued to get pregnant - pregnancies that ended in miscarriages, stillbirths, and premature births. Somehow, two more boys survived. When she turned 39, Henrietta sunk into a deep, deep depression, sure that somehow she would die like her mother Amelia before she reached 40. I watched my mother angrily, furious at her illnesses and her pregnancies and her fits of depression and temper. During her last pregnancy, Henrietta had renal failure, spending four months in the hospital. Her body was so exhausted that the doctors feared that both she and the baby would die. But they both lived and I ungratefully cried and cried in desperation when I realized that the baby was another boy and not a troublesome girl. I somehow thought that if I had a sister, perhaps the burden could be shared, that I wouldn’t have to shoulder this tremendous blood curse alone. Shortly after this last birth, my father died. Henrietta, widowed and alone, struggled to keep a house over her six children’s head, feeding them, clothing them, and miraculously managing to find time and money for extra things and special treats. Just like Amelia. When the bleeding stopped for Henrietta, it seemed as if her new life began. Until she woke up at 50, and found out she was, diabetic, like her hated grandmother, Sadie.

For so many years, I was angry with my mother, Henrietta. She didn’t take care of herself, couldn’t stop eating the things that made her even sicker. Her blood sugar was always out of control. One day in frustration, I angrily asked her why she thought she was diabetic. See, I thought that it was a simple matter of physiology. If she ate right and watched what she was doing, she wouldn’t have to be constantly ill. I thought that my mother could beat diabetes. But Henrietta looked at me sadly, her dark eyes filling with tears as she whispered to me the real secret of the women in my family. “It’s because Sadie hated me and cursed me”, and she began to cry. I was aghast, reeling back as if my own body had taken a blow as she spoke those words. “What are you talking about,” I yelled at her. She bit her lip and fell silent, listening to my angry rationalizations and scientific knowledge. But Henrietta knew deep, deep inside herself the truth: there was a blood curse in the family passed from grandmother to mother to daughter. I was stunned.

I read my own words and feel the pain of my exhausted body hidden there on the pages. Long, long ago the doctors penetrated my body, cutting me from pubic hair to above my navel, a deep, deep wound that scarred over and healed, transforming me in the healing, releasing a much too intense voice with way too much blood in it. I realize now that I too was blood cursed. In anger and frustration and despair, my body held back the flow of blood when I was still too young to understand and then released it in a torrent. I bled and bled like Sadie, crying over and over again about the curse of my life. I bled and bled until the doctors cut into my body stopping my flow of blood forever. I was only twenty-one. It was so long ago now, that I barely remember what it felt like to go through a monthly bleeding cycle. Those memories are bits and pieces of leaves that drift into my sleep at night and weave into my dreams. But I remember the despair and grief; primal and strong like all those women before me dressed in black, pounding their bodies into dust. Still, somewhere in my body, I hold the grief of never having a dark-eyed girl like me. Like Henrietta. Like Amelia. Like Sadie. The grief spills like blood over the pages as I write and somehow the blood becomes good again. I wonder if the long, long scar that cuts through my body is the offering to those ancestral ghost-women who passed the curse on from mother to daughter, mother to daughter, through the generations. Are their spirits rested now that the bloodline will come to an end with me? Is the blood curse over now that there are no more daughters to pass it on? I do not know, I can only write.

©copyright 2002
Maggie Macary, All Rights Reserved.