I hear this, and the mother I believe I know slips out of focus. I squint at her, as I might have squinted at myself on the playground, had I advanced such a tale. "What about your wedding outfit?" I have such a vivid image of the pale green suit and corsage that I've constructed a photograph of my mother the bride pouty mouth, slim hand in a white glove, lacy sprig of baby's breath against a soft lapel. My father as groom is the same bespectacled graduate student who stares out from my bedroom wall. I imagine separate portraits hanging over my bed, almost touching in their cheap gilt frames. Apparently I cannot imagine my parents together in the same scene.
She laughs and tugs the loose curls at the back of my neck. Yes, the green suit was a real suit, a detail recalled from one of my father's visits.
My mother then teaches me how to lie: "It's always best to stay as close to the truth as possible," she says, as if she has not just spent sixteen years drilling the importance of honesty into me. I am trained to return extra change to the penny, to raise my hand to confess wrongdoing, to resist the pressure of peers and authority figures alike.
She grimaces and gives her head a rueful shake. "I'm not a very good liar," she confesses. "I have such a poor memory."
I will later discover that my mother's poor memory spans most of my parents' break-up and the entire duration of her pregnancy. This is partly because her family kept her hidden like an insane aunt in the attic. No verbal or photographic record exists of her experience. Her recollection is a series of brief vignettes, fading into a broader, cloudy background like the constant rotation of a camera lens seeking focus.
And what she does remember is difficult to verify. "If you keep telling the same lies over and over," she warns me, "after a while you forget the truth."
My mother does not remember telling her parents she was pregnant. "But I remember roaming barefoot at dusk through the airport fields and contemplating suicide. Your grandfather was threatening to toss me into the street if I didn't get an abortion, and of course I didn't have any money of my own and neither did your poppie. He was the eldest of eleven and had been supporting himself on meager teaching fellowships for years." It was at this point that my nineteen-year-old mother fell to the floor of her father's house and resolved not to get up until she had decided once and for all what to do.