Every time I read about the Ya-Yas I always save Little Altars Everywhere for last. Probably because it’s so dark compared to Divine Secrets and especially In Bloom. I always tell myself to start from the darkest to the lightest but every time I go from light to dark.
There’s always a great divide when people read these books, there are those that love it, those that dismiss it as fluff and don’t get me started on the characters! I always try to avoid reading up people’s opinions on Vivi on the internet because it’s never satisfying.
Yes, she did some truly horrific things to her children but there’s still something about her… that je ne sais quoi… it’s true about everyone in this book. They are all so deeply flawed and rough but I can’t help but love all of them.
The Ya-Yas make me ache for my friends like nothing else does. It sharpens that pain in my chest and I want to just round them all up and lie with them for hours not saying anything just to be near them. It makes me miss the laughing, the crying and all the jokes and conversations.
Ya-Yas in Bloom makes me think about babies that I have vehemently said I do not want. But when I read In Bloom all I can picture are my future babies, sometimes just two and sometimes a whole brood of pudgy little arms and legs, rounded bellies and wide eyes that miss nothing. I hear giggles and mumbling and I swear I can feel that soft skin slide underneath my hand, can feel it against my cheek and smell that baby-fresh smell that’s just skin and warm breath.
I imagine the type of play I’ll join them in, imagine introducing them to all the books in the world, I imagine my friends’ babies and have their babies play with mine and grow up to be the best friends that I am with their mothers. I imagine the advice I’d give them, I imagine when my daughter is about 16 giving her my journals so she can understand me the way I never could understand my own mother. I imagine giving her the books that changed my life at the same critical points in my life that they entered mine.
I hope that they will have best friends like I have. I hope they find love but what I want most for them to have is best friends. People they can turn to when they can’t turn to me. People who they won’t be afraid to run to when they’re afraid to run to me. Most parents wish for their babies to find good marriages, but I want mine to find best friends.
I think about the type of people I’ll help bring into the world and wonder how my mothering will help them make an impact on the world. Several times during In Bloom I close my eyes and see this little boy growing up and I hope he is sweet, sensitive and charming.
I can plan whole family vacations and outings. I imagine hordes of little children coming into my home after school and the whole house being filled with laughter and noise. My arms start to ache and I know the only thing that can cure it is to scoop up some little child that loves and trusts me.
And then the fear sets in. The fear that I’ll never be able to connect with them, that I’ll have to raise two strangers. I fear the future fights, the hurts, and not knowing how to care for them. I fear not giving the right advice, I fear not knowing what to do. I fear the inevitable time when they will not want my love or my hugs. I fear getting so mad that I lose control and keep walloping them until they fear me for life. I fear hurting them with my words, I fear getting hurt by their words. I fear that I may stop loving them. I fear feeling suffocated and resenting them, I fear that they will turn into all the worst parts of me.
But the biggest alligator of them all is when I imagine them dying. It’s strange but at any time during any year I’ll suddenly start thinking about what would happen if my mother died, or my brother or my friend. It’s all crystal clear how I hear the news, what I’ll say at the funeral and I can see myself broken clear on the other side. But during the summer after I finish this damn book I can imagine my babies dying young. Some car accident, some disease, suicide, all the things I’ve imagine happening to my friends and family happening to them and then I just start tearing up.
It’s just… too much emotion for me to deal with. It’s too much happy, and that always comes with a side of too much sadness that I don’t think I can cope with yet.
By the time I move onto Divine Secrets I’m just a big ball of emotions, and that book always gets me to thinking about my mother and her mother. How we all relate to each other, how her relationship to my grandmother is similar to my relationship to her. These are the times that I want to crawl back into her lap, when I think about how I never fall into a deep sleep until I hear that she’s home, or how I really do enjoy how she comes into my room to pull the blankets up and smooths the hair off my face. I remember how she always tries to hug me and kiss me because her mother never did that for her. (It just wasn’t the thing to do when she was growing up.) I remember how I got into that phase when I was thirteen when I didn’t want to be touched, I think about how I’ve outgrown that phase but now I don’t know how to ask for it.
I think about the strength my mother has and has passed onto me. I think about how even though she works hard every day her hands are still soft and smooth. I can picture all of the photo albums she has of me, and the home videos. I think about how as I grow older our relationship is settling down, it’s not as volatile as before. I’m grateful we’re finally approaching a place of peace.
I’m going to see my grandmother in September and I am sincerely excited. Lately everytime I think about my grandma I think about her arms. How incredibly soft and fleshy they are, the arms my mother’s are becoming. I remember how soft my grandma’s skin is, and how she always smells like pastries, lotion and flowers.
I remember my grandmother’s keen eye for jewels and how she use to lavish them on me. I can’t think about her without thinking about Elizabeth Taylor, how she’s my grandmother’s idol and how to me my grandmother was always Elizabeth Taylor. I just can’t seem to shake the comparison from my mind even though all they really have in common is a love affair with jewelry. I think about my grandmother’s own type of strength. How she was a strict disciplinarian, lost her business and got it back.
And I’m reminded how history sometime repeats itself, my grandmother was yanked from her life of privilege and cast down low but she somehow bore up and reclaimed her life. Right now I’m trying to reclaim my life.
The only time I’ve ever been excited about reading Little Altars was the first time I read it. (I had watched the movie Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood first, then read In Bloom and finally Divine.) This book is the darkest of the trilogy and what always struck me was Vivi and Shep’s marriage. (The only part of Altars in the movie was their marriage.)
The other books showed all their love and their fights but mostly you came away with how much they loved each other. Altars just showcases the darkness in their marriage but it’s the little light hearted moments tucked in that stay with me. Even though they’ve been in separate bedrooms for years Vivi still gets goosebumps when she hears his voice on the phone when they haven’t seen each other in a day. Shep still feels that chemistry when Vivi listens to him.
It makes me think about my parent’s marriage, and how it looks like Vivi and Shep’s. I’ve wanted my parents to get a divorce ever since I was seven, and even now my mom still has moments when she’s going to leave my father but she never does. I see how for five days they can scream at each other, throwing things but then on the sixth day they’ll joke around for a couple days and the cycle starts all over again. Sometimes I think they just hold out for those days of peace, and that somehow makes up for everything.
I remember how a few years back during one of the bad fights that had my dad all in a wreck. I could actually smell the alcohol on him and that’s how I knew it was really bad, when he reeks and you hear all the tears in his voice. He gave me this battered old red agenda to give to my mother and in it was recorded all of their dates, up to the day he planned to ask for her hand in marriage.
I remember being shocked, I had never expected this from my dad after I gave it to my mother I haven’t found it since. It’s this one moment that I keep revisiting that make me see my father in a different light.
The thing that gets me about these books is the fact despite all of the tragedy and all the hurt they’ve caused each other… they still can’t help but love each other and it’s the only thing I’ve ever read that I could really relate myself and my family to.
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