-excerpt from Walking Through Walls by Philip Smith
On May 6th, 1936 My great grandmother, Doris, married Michael Cassone. Both immigrants to the U.S. (Doris from Holland and Michael from Italy) they raised a family of 2 girls and 1 boy. Michael, who I know as a quirky old man who carries an envelope of blonde jokes in his pocket at all times, loves to talk about money, and incessantly points at everyone to emphasize his point, has been and, though softened a little by his senescence, continues to be an overbearing and controlling husband and father.
On February 14th, 1959, Michael's daughter, Diane, wed Keith Johnson. 17, and pregnant, Diane married this handsome and charismatic man out of social obligation. They raised 3 children and traveled around the country living in California, New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan, and Minnesota. After 19 years of living with an abrasive alcoholic, Diane called it quits. With little money or resources other than her astounding creativity and artistic ability, she went to school for graphic design, enrolled in Alanon, and eventually started a successful clothing company with her only daughter.
Kelly, Diane's first born, married Jim, had 2 children and divorced 6 years later due to there differing opinions on life. On the brink of starting her new solitary existence in a funky apartment in St. Paul, Kelly met Davis on a tropical vacation. His charming smile and raspy voice won her over as he said to her on their second date: "We're gonna get married, have 1 boy and 1 girl and live happily ever after." On April 20th, 1995, Kelly and Davis eloped in a courthouse in Barbados. They had Bronte on March 30th, 1997 and Tyler on July 4th, 2000. As for the happily ever after...though still married, they are currently living in different countries as Davis's 15 year long chain of threats to leave my mother finally came to fruition. Mom keeps him at a distance emotionally, as her life long fear of being alone melts away and she finds peace in her man-free existence.
On June 4th, 2010, I brought a child in to the world co-created by a hopelessly sweet man with several demons, a couple of them being drugs and alcohol. He left me April of this year and despite his efforts to maintain a front of loving behavior, I simply can't see myself going back. Lately I have been having terrible flashbacks to the wide array of disrespectful and disheartening words he spat my way, and I find myself welling up with anger, not only at him, but at myself. I am angry that I allowed myself to become part of this sequence of women choosing men that don't treat them right. That despite the hundreds of times Chloe said "You and Keikai are exactly like mom and Davis," I still didn't reconsider. Angry that after every time he called me a bitch, a word that never ceased to shoot knives in to my soul, I didn't break it off. Even though in hindsight I would have done things much differently, I have the most perfect baby girl as a result of our relationship, so I can't complain. The way in which I can alter the rhythm set by the women who preceded me is to act with grace, to do the hard but right thing and allow Tallulah to know her father, despite my judgements of him.
A few years ago when we took my great grandparents to Barbados for a vacation, after witnessing how Michael treated her, mom urged Doris to leave his aggression behind. She saw the validity in the argument, and cried, something that I had never witnessed her do. In the end, she decided that it was her duty to remain faithful to the man she married and see out the future, whatever it may hold. Doris and Michael are still married, living in an assisted living center in Atlanta. Nana and mom are both living without men, and I have been fortunate to watch their journey's unfold and learn from their developed wisdom. Having just welcomed our 5th generation of woman to the family, I know that if I am able to brush this chip off my shoulder and continue heading in my current direction, Tallulah will have a fresh start, a perception not jaded by witnessing hurtful words and difficult separations, rather an awareness of endless love and opportunity.