Tuesday, May 02, 2006

augusta, gone

I became busier and busier. Work. Meetings. Off in my car. The only times I went to anything was when I had to. Teacher conferences were no longer the contented exchanges of pleasantries and congratulations they had been when the children were younger. Now I dreaded every phone call from the school. Jack had done something. Been sent out of class. Augusta was in trouble again. She smelled like smoke. She skipped school. She swore in class. She looked stoned. She was missing again. She fell asleep. She said she was sick.

In the car, driving somewhere—to the store, maybe—she starts in on me. “I just want to be free,” she tells me. “I need to be free. You can’t control me. I want to be my own person. That’s my right. You can’t control me. Someday I’m just going to go. I’ll just leave. You’ll see.”

From Augusta, Gone, by Martha Tod Dudman

I’ve taken, lately, to reading a lot of memoir, as I have an afore-mentioned fascination with the stories of people’s lives. (That and I’ve sworn off anything resembling a self-help book in any way, shape, or form. They give me hives. And they’re poorly written.) On the whole, it has been an incredibly enjoyable and gratifying decision. Until, that is, I found Augusta, Gone while perusing the tables at Barnes and Noble, and, against my better judgment, entered into the lives of Martha and her children. I’ve regretted it ever since.

I read the book a month ago, at least, and it is still on my mind. While it is well written (albeit a little too stream of consciousness for my taste at times), it is not the writing itself that made the deepest impression. It was the anxiety-provoking, superimposed images of my daughter and my self, woven throughout my reading of the book, that linger like the smell of gasoline on my hands and offend my nose when I least expect it—reaching up to brush my hair from my face, taking a drink from my glass, putting my hand to my chin as I struggle for clarity of thought in session. My squeaky-clean, sanitized life cannot wash away the smell of fear that spilled over from the pages of their lives onto my innocent hands. And its scent is giving me a headache.

I will be unflatteringly honest. Everything within me wants to judge this woman. Divorced. Single parent. Working full-time. Working over-time. Over-indulgent and permissive. Unwilling to set limits. Unchurched. Sleeping with her boyfriend. Trying to be her daughter’s friend. Her own history of rebellion. Of drugs. Of sex. Of running away. I want to judge her. Some of you may think I would be justified in doing so. She’s reaping what she’s sown, you may think. What did she think would happen? It’s her own fault. I want to think this. I desperately want to think this.

Because if I can think this—if I can ramble down this list of offenses that create an equation for parental failure—then I can avoid it. If X + Y + Z = drugs, alcohol, running away, hatred of authority, rebellion, and heartbreak, then I know to avoid X, Y, and Z. Don’t get divorced. Check. Don’t abhor church. Check. Don’t work full time. Check. Don’t have a history of rebellion. Check. Parenting is reduced to a “to-don’t” list, and I am safe. My daughter is safe. My heart is safe.

I was good at algebra—I can memorize any equation and plug in all the right variables and know exactly what my answer will be. Faith. Strong parenting skills. Solid marriage. Good communication. Involvement. Time. Plug them all in and the answer is a healthy adolescent. But the reality is this—there is no such perfect equation. And as much as I want to believe she doesn’t, as much as I want to believe that she simply had the variables all wrong, Martha Tod Dudman knows this all too well.

I know it, too, and it scares me.


michaela said...

i don't have children so i feel a little apprehensive even as i type these words...what do i know...im single...29 and haven't liveed and learned as much life as you but in some ways i think this book clings to you cuz we all know that sometimes no matter how much and how many right things we do and train our children...sometimes even if jus for a little while they "just want to be free" and misjudge in their innocence and niavty what freedom really is and they end up less innocent and more bond...and the realization of that fact i can imagine scares the heck out of parents! and thats ok...cuz ultimately God's got dis! He's yet on the throne and it doesn't look like He's about to get up anytime soon, regardless of what we or our kids venture into, seeking in sometimes "all the wrong places"...God.. which prayerfully they'll eventually bump into cuz you put it in them...the EVENTUALLY season i guess is the scary part...mmm..i dunno

angie said...

An amazing memior I highly recommend is "A Single Step" by Heather Mills McCartney

I read this book last summer. Overall, a great read. She is a fabulous inspiration

lorie said...

Thanks, Angie! I'll check it out!

That's all I can cling to, Michaela! You said it-- God is on the thone. It IS scary-- planting all the seeds and then waiting to see if they take root and bear fruit. The gardner can't control that, no matter how much she'd like to!

Beth said...

I know now that I will NEVER read this book because it's the kind of thing that would leave a residue of worry on me about my own daughter. Wow, does each day really have enough trouble of its own!

Great writing, by the way. Really, really vivid.