In this chapter lived a little girl who was told half her heritage was French although it wasn’t clear that “it” really counted because part of the family had come over from France and well…..part of the family was French Canadian not far from the New York state border.
It was a bit like the other side of her family which didn’t really count either – a probable Jewish grandfather whose father likely changed their name when they hit America’s shores, a long…long time ago. And, like a chameleon, he pretended to be Irish, Welsh, German, Polish or Russian depending on who he was selling to or telling jokes to at the time.
He looked like he could be all five and very well may have been; he also looked like he could be an Eastern European Jew who was more focused on making sure his family succeeded financially and socially in America than trying to adhere to a religion. The only thing that may have given it away to anyone who was paying close enough attention was the food in the fridge and in the cupboards and what sauces and beer he drank when no one was looking.
In the French Connection chapter of that old dusty book, the little girl’s mother had disappeared in the sixties while pregnant with the little girl’s brother, who was later born somewhere in a place only a local child protection unit would have a record of, if at all.
The little girl was told to erase the French Connection from her mind, including all fantasies of meeting her one day, based on some whimsical ideology that a mother/daughter relationship is so primal, that any mother if separated from her child, would eventually seek out her own.
The little girl was told that it was an old Chapter that had now passed, and what was passed was done and over and after all, why dig up old skeletons when she never really wanted a little girl anyway?
The little girl learned several years later that a couple of other little girls were also left with a haunting memory from that same French Connection and while they may never have been told to leave the past in the past, the alcohol breath of one of five husbands and mental anguish over the years was enough for the little girls to push such memories behind them without much help.
I wonder….does the memory of any little girl’s mother – real or not – ever diminish forever even when she’s been told that she isn’t ‘real?’ Even when she’s been told that it doesn’t matter and that what is real, is in front of her, not in her mind’s eye?
What of that bond that comes from a blood connection alone, even if a relationship was never consummated, even if there was no memory of a shared love?
One day, when the little girl was her early twenties, she finally met her French Connection, who she thought would look like Meryl Streep based on the only photo she had of her before that one intense meeting. With the photo in her memory and her heart beating wildly, the girl, together with her older sister, knocked on the door of their shared French Connection’s house with no research, no warning, no notice, and no real thought as to what the consequences might be.
The ending was not one from a romantic American movie, the kind that always ends with a hug, nor was it an experience that resulted in strong bonds, emotional exchanges or a continued family relationship.
But what it was, was a stake in the ground that kept the French Connection alive, even if for a little while longer. The beautiful memory of what ‘could have been’ was shattered but the reality of what it was and what it is, remained. The French Connection was real, pretty or not.
Have you ever noticed that there’s always at least one complex thing about one’s heritage that changes an otherwise beautiful ending to an ugly one? You know, something in the DNA and history so deeply buried that nothing can get “it” to ‘think’ or ‘behave’ differently.
Sometimes that complexity means that an authentic conversation never happens between a man and his son before the man dies, or two estranged sisters.
Sometimes that complexity means that a man would choose to gamble his family savings away before he used the money to feed his children.
Sometimes that complexity means that a woman would choose to die rather than ask for help when she is faced with a terminal disease.
Sometimes that complexity results in a family becoming homeless when it wasn’t necessary because of a tribal pride that could not easily be undone.
And, sometimes that complexity means that a woman may choose never to fix the unraveling chaos she created by leaving her children behind when she could have made a healthier choice.
We learn over time that we need to accept some of the things we’ve been dealt or experienced in our lives, in order to be at peace with the world.
We also learn over time that we can create our own destinies or change existing ones in a heartbeat, and it can be as instant as the moment we make a decision that it’s time for change.
And, we also learn that we can paint our own canvases because we are the creators of our own lives. Our lives are not the stories we were told by our parents and grandparents about the way “things need to be or the way we should behave.”
The should and need parts of any story, whether it’s through a parent, husband, school teacher or priest, are only there to keep us connected and safe, a perceived connected and safe perhaps….but nevertheless, connected to the very ‘tribe’ that brought us into the world.
Once you deviate from that tribe, it no longer feels safe, nor does that tribe embrace you as one of them. It’s very primal and such an integral part of human nature, that we’re even seeing similar behavior in online communities today.
A long long time ago, the little girl was told to leave her French tribe behind and create a new one.
Then one day, she was told by an old boss to leave another tribe behind when it didn’t subscribe to her professional goals.
And later, when she moved to Europe, she was told to leave her American tribe behind and after the girl divorced, she forced herself to leave yet another tribe behind. And then a corporate tribe. And then a country one. And then a regional one. And then a technology tribe.
And, soon she learned, that you leave tribes behind all the time and that everything is temporary and nothing is permanent.
The girl learned to march on, forward on her life journey and look back for reflection only, not for a notch in a ladder that would add to her growth or sustain her in any meaningful way.
And, she became very good at marching.
Then one day, the girl, who had become a grown woman, received a phone call. Her French Connection had cancer with only a few days to live.
Did she ever really know her French Connection? Did she ever really know who the woman was who called herself her mother and once looked like Meryl Streep?
The woman who liked markets and gypsy jewelry as much as she did yet they never shopped together.
The woman who didn’t like to burden people so did everything on her own, just like she did.
The woman who had this odd freckle on her wrist in the very same place she had one.
The woman who gave birth to her in another chapter, at another time and what now felt like another galaxy.
It would not be like losing the mother who raised her, this she knew. It wouldn’t be like losing the man who raised her, who wasn’t her real father…..this she knew too.
But, what was clear was this. She knew that the French Connection would finally die a permanent death, only to be remembered as a Chapter with its own name, the one in the forgotten book that had gathered dust and mildew.
In the chapter now over, one which was kept alive by a flickering dim light for nearly a lifetime, the story ends too, and with it, a generation as well as an era in time. It’s the kind of chapter that closes another family’s photo album and history book just like it has since the beginning of time itself.
And for the girl…it was death to yet another tribe, the most primal one, but in a period of time where it was no longer necessary to tell her it was time to move on.