Family, Hushabye

The truth will out especially when you’re 9. Then you’ll write a musical about it!

The truth she’s at her best knowing
The truth she know you most of all
And never will yield
The truth she knows a fool and her gold
The truth she holds you the tightest
When she isn’t told

On a hot Texas summer day in 1978 I was taught to hide. Not for the first time. But for the first fully knowledgeable, H-I-D-I-N-G time. It was the day that my mother sat me down sometime in the boiling afternoon to the circa 70’s round Formica kitchen table and very simply and directly told me that my eldest sister (19 years my elder) was, in fact, my mother.

While you are processing that I’ll show you what a round Formica kitchen table looks like:

This one seems nicer than I remember. I think our wood was more fake. But isn’t it funny the things we remember about the things we remember? How we endow objects with thought, feeling and specific stories. With attachments. Some innocuous. Some not so…healthy.

My mother’s name is Ann and my sister’s name is Ann. But the family calls her “Annie” to delineate. So this first moment of truth didn’t go so smoothly. Not because I was confused. I wasn’t at all. I quickly surmised that my “mother” was though, and I offered to help her out:

Mom:  Ann is your mother.

Me:  Yes. You’re Ann. You’re my mother.

Mom:  No. “Annie” is your mother.

I had a thumb sucking habit all of my young life (surprise!) and, at this moment, realizing that my “mother” was now supposedly, (because I wasn’t quite sure this was all true in this fraction of a moment), my grandmother, I had no words. So I stuck my thumb in my mouth and just stared at her. Not having words of her own and in solidarity with me of this new absurd situation we found ourselves in, she stuck her thumb in her mouth, too. There. No words needed. For the time being. Today I realize she was validating me in my moment of shock. So we just sat there. Sucking our thumbs.

I sucked my thumb until I was 13 years old. Seems so textbook psychology to me now. And I had 2.5+ years of braces, rubber bands, head gear, et all to show for it too. I ended up stopping because one day I thought to myself, am I going to be 16 and sucking thumb? I decided this would be a pretty sad situation so I stopped. I just stopped. I guess for me 16 was too grown up. Maybe I’d be dating. I didn’t want to be in High School with a thumb sucking habit. But I got other habits. Habits that weren’t as easily visible.

After the communal we’re-in-this-together thumb sucking moment of truth had served its purpose the conversation (conversation?) was over. Those words that weren’t “needed” were lurking in my brain cells waiting for my thumb to release its own authority over my ability to speak. But it didn’t and I didn’t. And neither did my mom. Sorry. “Mom”. Awkwardly I arose from my seat and for whatever reason walked into my brother’s room. Brother. Hmm. Have to think on this. Dots being connected. ever. so. slowly. He stood there. 8 years older. Said nothing. But knew. I studied his profile. He didn’t look at me but downward; the general direction where shame is located on the map of secrets. It was one of the few times he didn’t just say “get out” in his unemotional monotone Texas accent. That was affirmation enough.

I went out onto our small back porch we called a patio, a small luxury for an apartment, and saw my brother, Patrick. He is my closest sibling, three years my senior, and my childlong antagonist.

I walked up close to him, just a head taller than me, and started to cry. Patrick, my dearest enemy of a brother who daily chased me, dunked me in the pool, laughed at me, pointed at me with no sound and snickered, told me to go away and leave him alone, to stop touching his things, pestered me and mocked me, this daily opponent, quietly reached with his 12 year old arm and put it around my 9 year old shoulder and stood with me for one soft holy moment. My enemy. My brother. Loving me. Dearest Pat. He would be putting Tabasco sauce in my Kool-Aid tomorrow. But today he loved me the way God loved me.

A short amount of time passed that afternoon before the questions began rolling in. I walked back to the kitchen:

Me: Mo— (WAIT. Do I still call you Mom?) Mom?
Mom: Yes?

Ok, so we are status quo. First question answered.

The 2nd Question requires a little background. My sister (“sister/mother”), Annie, was married now and had been for around 7 years. So I’m thinking:

Me: Is Ashley my father?

Mom: (with disdain and a tone to end the conversations) No.

I think she may have even said “No more questions” but if she didn’t she insinuated it. So I stopped and held it in. And that, friends, is where the hiding began on a hot Texas summer day in ’78.

And it’s where the story of Hushabye the Musical begins. Because when I began writing this story it refused to come out in anything but verse. So I obeyed. And now we have a sung-through musical with many current themes of family secrets, shame, guilt, forgiveness, questioning, searching, regret, redemption and grace.

The truth she’s at her best knowing
The truth she know you most of all
And never will yield
The truth she knows a fool and her gold
The truth she holds you the tightest
When she isn’t told*

Oh but there’s more to it as is usually the case with family secrets. There’s never just one. Shhhh. There’s a reason it’s called Hushabye.

To be continued….

*lyrics from the new musical Hushabye

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