M Sophie Schneider
 

                 Standing On One Leg

Standing on One Leg

a creative memoir

M. Sophie Schneider


    Carl Jung said that nothing influences children more than the unlived lives of their parents. I think about this a lot.

    Up until now, I didn’t know anything about my parents, separate from me, I mean.  We weren’t the kind of family that sat around the table sharing our day.  I learned what I know standing in doorways, my mother’s faded gray sweater buttoned up to my neck, watching the heave-ho of her shoulder’s, the clenching and unclenching of her fists.  All the while thinking it had something to do with me.

    So now I sit one sharp pencil in hand to write my story. It begins with the search for my father’s family.  Only Uncle Stan, my mother’s brother, said that Rudy wasn’t my father, but he gave me a sly look and my sister Kat a wink.  And Rudy wasn’t daddy’s real name anyway.  I think it was Randy Newman who said that what people choose to lie about tells you a great deal about them.  I also think about this a lot.  My parents lied and I do too.  Quite often it’s not what we say, but what we don’t.  It is in the silent spaces where stories are often told.

    My name is Sophie, and I am Zosha and Rudy’s youngest daughter. I spend hours talking with my sister, Kat, over the phone, the cord wrapped around my hand like a bandage, rocking in my chair, while I hear her pace up and down the hard wood floors of her home, hashing and rehashing our childhood, filling in the blank spaces between one slippery memory and the next. There was a time when Kat didn’t care, but things change.  Perhaps it was the death of our parents that freed her?  Our mother had cancer, she was supposed to die first, but daddy elbowed his way into the front of the line.  I like to suppose it was because he couldn’t live with out her. But Rudy was a survivor. He ran away from home when he was twelve. He told Kat and me that he gave up his family for Lent. My sister and I roll this fact around like worry beads. Who gives their family up for Lent and where do they go? “Times were different then,” Kat tells me.  My mother would have said you do what you have to do.

    After Zosha died, I found a slip of paper that had floated out from between the pages of her little black book.  There was a woman’s name written in red on the paper that skid quietly across the floor. My mother always writes in red when it’s important and she forms her letters carefully. I had bent to pick the paper up and saw my father’s name, his given name, Frank, though I don’t know who gave it to him, centered on the crumpled white sheet. Directly beneath it was a woman’s name with the word MOTHER in capital letters.  I remember tucking the paper into the waistband of my jeans where I could wear it close to my belly.

    I spoke to someone once, on the phone. My father’s back was to me as dialed her number. “You have to take them,” he said as he shoved the receiver into my lip. “What’s your name?” the voice was not mean, but kept its distance. Before he tip-toed back into his bedroom, my father turned and wagged his finger at me in warning. And that was that, I never heard that voice again.

And then there was the car accident. It was a rainy night and I was counting the number of times the wipers swished across the windshield. Our overstuffed bags spilled out from behind the front seat of my godfather’s Ford as daddy’s blue Studebaker screeched to halt in front of us, blocking the road. Kats and I stepped over the broken glass that twinkled like stars on the dark street, then, we watched from our knees as we looked out the back window of daddy’s car at the fading lights of the ambulance that took mommy and her broken leg away. “Where do you think we were going?”  I asked my sister as I rocked back and forth. Were we leaving him?  The phone line crackled “I think it’s going to rain,” I heard her say. Was this, I wondered the point in my mother’s life when she turned into a bruised and swollen woman? 

    Or was it the time we all went for a walk in our brand new shiny shoes, my father’s coat bulging over his heart; the sound of a car backfiring as daddy runs slip sliding from the building, his shoes slap slapping the black topped street.  “It’s over, whore!” I can still hear him shout to my mother. I see myself take my sister’s hand as I lean into her and whisper, “What’s a whore, Kat?” I ask.

    These are the mysteries of my life.

    I survey my mother’s family, the remaining uncles and aunts, the last of the lucky seven who weren’t very lucky after all. But no one knows anything, or they are used to keeping quiet.  Blood runs thick in Zosha’s family.  My mother was the oldest. She took care of them, keeping them away from their father.  But that’s someone else’s story.  The walls in this family are fragile.  I can only imagine their story, as I do my father’s, in my pages. I did find out about my sister’s father though, the other Frank. But when I think about it, it was my father who was the other Frank, the remaining one of two. I can’t find him though. It’s as if BANG! he disappeared, as my mother would say, off the face of the earth.

    So the story comes back to Zosha.  In families it is never about one person. Some stories have to be told in circles.

    My husband doesn’t understand any of this. He knows his family, both sides, who they are and when they were born, where they came from and where they are now.  They keep track of each other like you keep track of religious holidays.  He doesn’t know how it feels to be one sided, like standing on one leg. My oldest cousin Joan, the one who knows the most asks what difference does it make. “You are who you are,” she tells me. But there is no hope in that.

        

New York,

           New York