CeeCee: A post about my mother, as requested by a reader
January 24, 2016 by Thomas Wictor
I’ve been asked to write about my mother, CeeCee. She was born February 28, 1928, and she died October 13, 2013.
CeeCee was a mystery. She and I never got along, but it was due to a secret she carried. I discovered it after she died. It wasn’t written down anywhere; it’s just that I’m my mother’s son, and I share her bottomless curiosity. Although she refused to learn how to use the Internet, she sent off for books to answer her questions. I found notebook after notebook of…explanations. She always put her newfound knowledge to paper so that she wouldn’t forget it. Name the subject, and she’d read about it.
When I want to know the answer to something, I’ll find it. I determined who and what my father was, and I did the same for CeeCee. All I’ll say is that I represented unimaginable trauma to her, so she could never accept me. This is CeeCee and me when I was brought home from the hospital, two days after I was born.
Here we are when I was one year old.
Two years old.
And so on. We never touched. There was a barrier between us that we could never break down. I confronted her about it once when I was an angry, drunk eighteen-year-old. The scene was so terrible that I erased it from my memory until my brother Tim reminded me of it last year.
A very early Sunday morning in 1980, I came home and found the downstairs door locked. I went in through the front door, and there was CeeCee on the sofa, waiting for me. She asked where I’d been. Eighteen years of rage exploded out of me. I yelled that she’d never even liked me, so why was she pretending to care now? Then I stumbled downstairs and passed out. The next day I tried to apologize, but she ordered me to stop talking and never mention it again.
What I can tell readers is that some problems can’t be solved, and any attempt to change the status quo will be disastrous. I didn’t know why CeeCee and I didn’t get along, or why she singled me out for extra-severe punishment. But there was no way to make her acknowledge this without forcing her to face something that contributed to her to suicide three and a half decades after my one confrontation with her.
But in a twist that I could never have anticipated, I became her closest confidant in her final three years. I went over to her house every night, and we talked for hours. She told me things about herself that she’d never shared with anyone.
She went to Venezuela in 1957, to teach the children of American expatriates working for oil companies. All the bachelorette teachers lived in pairs in a special camp. They taught and they partied.
I thought CeeCee was a lifelong teetotaler.
She’s in the striped shirt, third from the right. The reason she stopped drinking?
“It made my elbows feel heavy,” she said. “I know that sounds crazy, but every time I drank, my elbows got heavy. It was really annoying. So I stopped. I hate having heavy elbows.”
In 1958 she became involved with this guy.
His name was Bill, and he was very similar to my father. CeeCee liked bad boys. Not violent, criminal men, but fellow rebels who hid their idiosyncrasies under a mask of respectability.
My father in 1948.
When CeeCee and my father went on their first date, she suddenly knew she’d spend the rest of her life with him. It scared her. She said I was the only person to whom she’d ever admitted that.
CeeCee once got the giggles at a funeral. She was a very caring person, but this was an elderly aunt of an acquaintance. The woman died in her sleep in her late nineties. CeeCee didn’t want to go, so she brought along Bill. As the service droned on, CeeCee and Bill made eye contact and lost it. They both began snorting and choking until the tears ran down their faces.
“Everyone was so self-consciously grim,” CeeCee told me. “Nobody was happy that this woman had lived as long as she had and died without suffering. The funeral should’ve been a celebration, but they made it…funereal!”
I got to experience something similar with CeeCee at the funeral of a very unpleasant, conniving woman whose daughter gave an utterly phony eulogy, telling us how her mother was her best friend, always ready with a kind word and a helping hand. Total lies. Her mother was a notorious witch, as was the daughter herself.
As soon as the service ended, a front-end loader drove up.
There were straps around the coffin, which the gravediggers hooked to the loader’s bucket. The casket was lifted, the gravediggers pulled out the boards that had supported it over the gaping hole in the ground, and the driver dropped the woman into her final resting place—WHAM!
They did this in front of everybody. The coffin hit the bottom so hard that a cloud of dust rose from the grave.
“Next,” I shouted, and CeeCee almost fell over trying to stifle her laughter. She had a very macabre, self-deprecating sense of humor. When she had her hips replaced, she wrote me a letter—even though I lived next door to her—that went into her fear that she’d die on the operating table. The letter had a cartoon of her in the morgue, with X’s for eyes and her tongue hanging out.
What I inherited from CeeCee
Arthritis and the ability to always keep my head. I’ve gone crazy with fear only once in my life, on December 28, 1995. But that was because this came out of the darkness and tried to murder me.
I ran, but then I remembered that my brother Tim was back there, so I turned around and ran back to die with him, furious but also aware of the incredibly stupid way that we were going to leave the planet: murdered while unloading boxes of books that had been fed on and crapped on for forty years by rats, wasps, termites, and silverfish until the paper had become what Tim said looked like Satan’s mummified vomit. I was remembering that as I ran back to die, so even though I was terrified, I was laughing.
The last time I saw CeeCee was in the hospital, hours before she went into her final coma. I was really angry at her for killing herself—I still am—but now I realize that her end was preordained. She’d been sent to a boarding school when she was five; my grandmother Carolina had mental breakdowns after two children died in infancy between 1935 and 1938.
It was a Catholic boarding school, run by merciless nuns. CeeCee was taught by the nuns and her parents to be a good, quiet girl and not cause trouble by speaking out when something was wrong. There was a lot wrong in our family, but CeeCee couldn’t speak out. That would’ve been a betrayal of her parents. So after her cancer surgery, she atoned for everything by refusing to eat or cooperate in her treatment. She became more obstreperous when I visited, so Tim and I decided to keep me away from her as much as possible.
This is my favorite photo of CeeCee.
She’s got the same glamour and enigma as Suzanne Vega. I like the fact that the image is out of focus. CeeCee was always out of focus to me. She came into focus after she died, but only because I was determined to solve the mystery.
Another thing I inherited from CeeCee is the ability to put disparate pieces together to form a whole. On birthdays, she sent us on treasure hunts. We solved riddles that took us to the next clue. There’d be little folded pieces of paper all over the yard, tucked into nooks and crannies. The prize wasn’t important; it was the hunt that counted.
Sometimes it’s hard to think about CeeCee, but usually not. I’m not like my mother in one very important way: I always want to know. Several times doctors found something that could’ve indicated a fatal malady. I told them to give me the unvarnished truth. When I underwent therapy, I told the psychologist that I had to be sweating bullets at the end of every session.
There’s no such thing as a universal pedagogy. What works for me could be a disaster for others. CeeCee didn’t want to know. She pushed it away. In contrast, I go after the truth regardless of where it takes me. Now I’m paying for it, in the form of the worst nightmares of my life. But I don’t have regrets. Nightmares can’t kill you. And these won’t last forever.
Here’s another great photo. It’s CeeCee holding my brother Paul, with Tim at her feet.
Taken at the house next door in 1961, that picture is strangely Edwardian, one of my favorite periods for art.
Below is Among the Laurel Blossoms (1914) by Charles Courtney Curran.
For me, photos of CeeCee have become Edwardian paintings.
In many ways, she was a genuine work of art.
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