Partly to get that ginormous picture of me in the previous post off the “top of the fold” of this site (gadzooks that’s a big picture! even though I hope you locals will spread the word about that event!), partly because I just happened across it again today, and was struck anew at its depth and eloquence, partly because now, nine years later (weeks after my daughter’s birthday), I now know every word of my dear old friend’s to have been not just brave but prophetic, I share with you my friend’s essay, “Extended Family.”
I wrote an ode to her here: “Happiness is an old friend.”Context: I met Sybil Lockhart, author of “Extended Family,” in September 1980, when we were both fresh-faced, mulletted freshmen in college (okay, maybe it was only me who was mulletted; memory is a tricky thing). She is a neuroscientist (really! a Ph.D.! in neuroscience!) and a very gifted writer. The essay appeared years ago, first at Literary Mama, where she wrote a column and served as book reviews editor. Later it formed a part of her moving caregiver’s memoir, Mother in the Middle.
Two more things to keep in mind, as you read what Sybil wrote. One, the children she speaks of – hers and ours – have now been special cousins to each other for as long as my children can remember, and probably most of what hers can. Sybil’s youngest now strolls over to our house once a week after middle school. We’re an old, familiar way station-away-from-home, a place to sip a smoothie and do homework (or play with our kids) ’til one or another parent picks her up at the end of the afternoon. She comes to us now just like her older sister did before her years ago, when she was in middle school, needing a place to come to rest as much as we needed to provide it to her.
The other thing to keep in mind when you read Sybil’s piece? The picture at right. That’s my daughter, then two and some-odd months old, guided by these special cousins who, I am absolutely certain, felt to her in that moment for all the world like fairy goddesses, gliding her across a pond on a shimmering lily pad. They had just finished lovingly clothing her in that baby blue tulle dress, a bottle of innocence washed up on the shore from four-plus decades earlier, when I wore it as a child.
This: this is what we speak of when we speak of the modern family. These loving girls are the material consequences of the four of us – me, my partner, my old friend, and her husband, our donor – venturing out of our nuclear cocoons and into the risky-rewarding territory of volition, courage, and trust. This is where alt-families like mine – like ours – have been conceived.
Now here’s the first bit, to get you started:
After Ma died, I held an estate sale. I stood in the front yard of the house I had grown up in and watched as strangers carried the Lockharts away, piece by piece. It was a cool autumn day, but the doors at Lafayette Street were flung wide; the yard bustled with eager bargain-hunters, and I stood in a daze. There went our music, our books, our tools and furniture, walking off down the street. As all the little pieces of our life scattered, I felt my center slipping away.
Over coffee I told my friend Polly how futile life felt. “People just die,” I said, “and we sell their stuff. Why do we worry so much about everything — education, exercise, morals? Why bother?”
She looked at me carefully and said, “Maybe the best reason to keep going is just to keep each other company while we’re here.”
Now read the rest of it (don’t worry: it’s not one word longer than it needs to be).