By Patti Tod-Yarosz
I tried to start at the beginning but how do I start at the beginning when the ends bring beginnings until all my stories are just dogs chasing their own tails? I thought I would start with the truth, that in the looking back I would find it buried and just dig it up. But the truth isn’t a piece of broken pottery. It cannot be excavated. Truth requires an exorcism, a ritual, a sacrifice. So here is my truth, my story, resurrected and born again. They say write every story with a conflict, an arc and a resolution. That’s the way to write a story, they say, but screw them, I never do what they say.
Mom told me this story in the spring of 2014. It wasn’t a confession, it was an accounting.
“It was before you were a year old. Your Father paid me twice to make me and you go away. The first time, we met at the motel. I knew that man like the back of my hand. He had the same routine. He carried a bathroom kit in his briefcase. And he always hung his clothes in the closet. Even his white t-shirt.” My Mother paused to watch fluorescent green tree leaves gently tap their fingers against her window. She took her time when she told me a story, stretching the telling out with long pauses, the thousand-yard stare, and ceremonious sips from her water glass. “I knew the money was in the briefcase. He insisted on cash. He didn’t want to leave a paper trail. I don’t know where the idea came from, but as soon as that bathroom door shut and I heard running water, I popped the latches on his briefcase and took the money. He didn’t lock it. He was such a dumbass. I was pretty far along with Kathryn, so I put the cash under my big belly, down the top of my maternity pants.” She pushed her flat tummy out and showed me where. “That was the last time we went to the motel together.”
There was no segue into this story. She just started telling it, sitting on her bed in the same nightgown she had put on three days before. At 75, Mom could no longer be bothered with the hassle of showers and clean clothes. She would lie if you asked if she had taken a shower that morning. She had become almost child-like. She needed cajoling, monitoring and to be entertained. Movies were her passion and she oscillated between the Turner Classic Movies channel and one of her hundreds of DVD’s and VHS tapes that lined her bedroom and living room walls. (She must have watched ‘Twilight’ and ‘Titanic’ over a hundred times.)
She continued, “He screamed, ‘Where’s the money?’ when he realized it wasn’t there. I played a poker face. I asked him if he thought I was an idiot. I accused him of not bringing the money at all.” She stopped and smiled. “Then he got really pissed off. He got the motel manager. You should’ve seen your father’s face when he realized how bad it looked. They were too stupid or too polite to ask if I’d taken it. He was staring at the floor when I left. I told him he better call me when he got that money.” “So, you got double the money?” I asked, smiling back. She was entirely something else. You just didn’t want to mess with Betty. “Yup. He had his lawyer call. I picked up the check at his lawyer’s office. I had to sign a contract saying he wasn’t your father. I gave my copy to you when I came to stay with you in Alaska, remember?” She was running her finger around the rim of her water glass, slowly, a strange ritual that I have watched my entire life. “That’s how I bought that new Chevy station wagon for you kids.” she said, giving me her little girl smile, the one that always broke my heart. I think she told me this story so I wouldn’t forget who she was, so she wouldn’t forget who she was. ~
Patti Tod-Yarosz is a Kalamazoo, Michigan native who has made many places her home. Her gypsy heart has always held the same dream: ‘To thine own self be true.’ Character driven and the truth as she remembers it, her memoir ‘Baby’ takes us through a childhood filled with dreams, ghosts, isolation, forgiveness and love. Life is filled with flawed characters. ‘Baby’ is the good and the bad in all of us.