Kat Meads

Niece Notes:
Love & Such

West Coast
Sunday

Dear DeeDee,

In my first-round Virginia Woolf infatuation, I came across a photo of the author leaning against a stone doorway, right hand stuck in the pocket of one of many layers of clothing, left hand crooked and rising toward her chin, right foot kicked out behind her. You likely know the one I mean. It is now everywhere published. New to my eyes, the most riveting aspect of the image, besides its seeming informality, was Woolf’s tilted head and facial expression. I made a photocopy because I thought it captured the writer in one of her mad/near-mad moments and eerily conveyed the essence of that mind state—off-kilter, vulnerable, ever so slightly on guard. I was wrong, of course. The photo was taken at Knole, Vita Sackville West’s ancestral digs. And it wasn’t a visual of Virginia mad; it was a visual of Virginia in love.

Love,
Aunt K

***

West Coast
Tuesday

Dear DeeDee,

Confessional poets—and, let’s be honest, the suicides of confessional poets—turned a sizeable chunk of your aunt’s college contemporaries into anguished romantics. The fragmented self’s fragmentations exhaustively examined. Psychic wounds owned up to and flagrantly exposed. Such unabashed, unashamed and uncensored revealing left us awestruck—and envious. But whereas self-evisceration on the page came off empowering, in life mode that kind of sensibility got folks ostracized, hospitalized, electroshocked and dismissed as a functioning member of the body politic. Regardless, before we aged out, awe carried the day. And what has any of this to do with your kin? Not much, except as illustration of the path not taken. However miserable the living, none in our family seem to have opted to speed the finale. Our collective MO tracks more ornery—and more resigned. In the face of failure and disappointment, disaster and heartbreak, the Meadses, as one non-relation put it, “set their jaw and hunker down.”

Love,
Aunt K

***

West Coast
Thursday

Dear DeeDee,

Your grandparents and I first met your mother when she and your dad drove in for the weekend—a visit that couldn’t have been without anxiety for your dad, concerned as he must have been about receptions. (Not in terms of what we’d think of your mother; rather, what your mother might make of us.) The day was dreary and damp and so our living room looked more dreary and damp than usual. Adding to the dampness, I’d miscalculated their arrival time and was just out of the shower—a crushing turn of events. I’d desperately wanted to make a good impression on your mother and how could that be accomplished with a “wet head”? They sat close together, your parents, on the couch, your mother with her standout elegance looking like someone from another world (as she was). And yet she behaved as nervously as your father, holding his hand, working hard to make us like her, as if any other outcome were possible. It was obvious she adored your dad, and anyone who adored your dad had the inside track to our affections. But the truth is, quite apart from her adoration of our son and brother, we fell madly in love with your mother that afternoon. Every last one of us.

Aunt K

***

West Coast
Friday

Dear DeeDee,

Did your parents share they’d considered building a house on a back acre of the farm? Their choice would have made a spectacular lot. Surrounded on three sides by old-growth oak and pine, they would have looked out into open fields: a wide view from a protected spot. They would have lived Appleton’s prospect-refuge theory of geographical contentment to a T. Since the woods hadn’t then been cut for timber, you’d have had a choice of massive trees to climb or field rows to run. In any direction—north, south, east or west—you wouldn’t have felt penned in, not in the slightest. I understood your dad’s wish to return home and work with your grandfather and because the idea meant so much to him felt grateful to your mom for supporting the plan. Your grandparents would have gladly given over the acreage, thrilled to have your parents live so close by. But the farm couldn’t support two salaries then, perhaps never could. It was hard for your grandparents—hard to acknowledge their helplessness in the face of incontrovertible fact, extremely hard to disappoint your dad’s hopes. I know it was hard because whenever your grandmother talked about that conversation, even after your grandfather died, she cried.

Love,
Aunt K

***

West Coast
Saturday

DeeDee,

You’ve noticed, I’m sure, that while previously I’ve not been shy about discussing the end of my own marriage, I’ve said little about your parents’. Avoidance, pure and simple. I’ve been circling the subject of their split because, despite the time gap between then and now, I’d rather not admit (or believe) it happened. Your parents’ divorce was infinitely more distressing than mine—on your dad (of course), but also on your grandparents and (yes) on me. Because we believed in your parents’ coupledom, you see. Believed in its rightness, its fitness, its resiliency. Proved wrong, we not only lost the regular companionship of your mother, we lost faith in the accuracy of our perceptions, in our interpretation of the manifestly true. In terms of age and wedding dates, your dad and I divorced out of sequence. I was twenty-six when I called it quits, a mere year and a half into the contract. Your parents’ union lasted twelve times that. I so vividly remember opening your dad’s letter outside the Northampton post office. Where I stood on the sidewalk. The level of snow clumps on either side. The thin, high voice of someone behind me. I assume your father wrote not trusting himself (or me) to discuss it over the phone. He gave no reason for the separation in the letter. Neither he nor your mother ever shared the reason/reasons. For me to speculate here would be heretical, disrespectful of that discretion. But I do brood about their breakup. To this hour, I brood and miss your mother terribly.

Love,
Aunt K

Kat Meads is the author of 2:12 a.m. – Essays (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2013), a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year finalist and the recipient of an Independent Press Publishers (IPPY) Gold Medal. Her nonfiction has appeared in The Prague Revue, Identity Theory, Hotel Amerika, Zone 3, The Southern Review and elsewhere. Her essays have received four Notable citations in the Best American Essays series, the Dorothy Churchill Cappon prize from New Letters and the Editors’ Choice Award in Nonfiction from Drunken Boat. She teaches in Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA program. (www.katmeads.com)

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