Lately I've been continuing to plow through my Mom's remaining papers--birth certificate, naturalization documents, college transcripts, diagnostic files--it's startling to see, the flotsam of a life trailing in her wake. It's taken me so long because it's so hard to grasp. One acquires a very different perspective on your parents when you confront the forensic evidence of their human errors: the mis-balanced checkbooks, the extortionate loan agreements, the youthful, blurry photos.
I have distinct memories of our lives when I was 3, 5, 9, etc. The world appeared to me to be a cohesive place, its pieces interlocking, events succeeding one another in more-or-less orderly progression. Overwhelming, of course, and scarcely comprehensible, but the essential unity of it all I never questioned. But seeing all this, in my Mom's effects, all this apparent confusion--the carelessness, the forgetfulness, the unfinished sponsorship/naturalization application my Mom never filed for her sister, the forgotten, half-finished sheet of old stamps--it knocks loose my sense of that world that we lived in, together. The fabric of it was far, far flimsier than I could have thought possible. A deeply rooted disorder lodged in my Mom's very heart--quite literally, from a cardiovascular point of view. And no matter how stubbornly she fought for what she believed in, and the life she wanted for herself and her family, yet that deep disorder wormed its way through her arithmetic, her marriage, her pension plans.
I feel that we, as a culture, have a fair amount of literature and thought concentrating on how to transition from adolescence to adulthood. But I never really prepared--I don't know how you can prepare--for this part of it, where I'm beginning to see how my youthful world really was a sandcastle, whose remains I'm now excavating after the tide has rolled away.