Where to begin this? From her life or mine? Where one ends and another begins, where they meet. It is not quite clear to me. My mother. Teresa Jean O’Shea. I would say that she is a survivor, but that word would be lost on her life. It would become confused, entangled, intertwined with her past and her daily attempts at living. Jonestown. Yes. It doesn’t begin there, but for me, it always comes back to this. It is not what defines her, but it is in her bones. In her constant nightmares, her screams in the night. It has been so thoroughly wrapped around and through her ligaments, arteries, shaking hands. It has redefined her basic makeup. It has altered her molecules in such a way that it has become almost invisible. Science may disagree. But I know better.
My mother, like her writing, is beautiful and elusive. I have much of my life trying to get to understand her. And while I do, instinctively, know who she is, there is a part that remains hidden. For years I have collected her poetry in secret. I have searched through the darkness of the house we once shared, turning through journals and scraps of paper where she has unintentionally left bits of her mind. I have tried to piece them together, to make them whole, to bring them to life. This is my attempt to make these parts known, to allow them to see the light of day. To no longer allow them to hide, shaking, in the darkness. It has been an invasion of privacy, but she was never angry, only afraid of what I’d found. She was afraid that each letter written was incriminating. She feared that they would lock her up for what she’d said. I don’t know who “they” are, and I’m not sure she does either. But she has believed, with unarticulated but absolute conviction, that they were real and that someday they would come for her.
I’ve stolen these poems. And after putting them together, trying to show her a beauty she still cannot believe in, she has begun to write again. Maybe it was a relief, all these hidden pieces brought out for her to see. Maybe she was inspired by her own words, though they brought out a deep fear in her. That fear, I think, is what has kept her going for so long. That and the small piece of hope for a new beginning. Both are constant themes in her writing, her speaking, her every action. I won’t attempt to tell her story. Writing the few details I know of her history would not only fail to explain anything at all, but it would be a great insult. It is her poetry, I think, which can express what stories will not.
(Vita Thais O’Shea also prepared a tribute to her mother this past Mother’s Day for YouTube. It appears here.)