My Dead Parents

My Dead Parents

by Anya Yurchyshyn

Hardcover

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780553447040
Publisher: Crown/Archetype
Publication date: 03/27/2018
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 264,980
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

ANYA YURCHYSHYN’s writing has appeared in Esquire, Granta, N+1 and NOON, and was included in The Best Small Fictions 2015. She received her MFA from Columbia University.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***
My mother, Anita, died in her sleep in 2010, when she was sixty-four and I was thirty-two. The official cause of death was heart failure, but what she really died from was unabashed alcoholism, the kind where you drink whatever you can get your hands on and cause so much brain damage you lose the ability to walk unsupported. The cause of her death was herself, and her many problems.

The month after she died, I began cleaning out her house, my childhood home, in downtown Boston. As a kid, my house sometimes seemed enchanting, filled to the ceiling with items my parents had collected on their many trips around the globe. But when my father, George, was killed in a car accident in Ukraine in 1994, my mother lost interest in our home, and it started to die as well. By the time she died, treasured rugs were being eaten by moths and mice, the fire escape was dangling off the back, and some windows wouldn’t open, while others wouldn’t close. Everything that once seemed special was chipped or cracked and buried under sticky dust. I saw cleaning out the house as my final goodbye to her and my dad. I thought I would box up what I wanted, toss what I didn’t, and avoid being caught by what had become its most potent force—sadness.

My parents were brilliant and had exciting careers, but that wasn’t what mattered to me as their child. My father had been emotionally distant and occasionally abusive. My mother hadn’t protected me. She was resentful and selfish, and this was before her drinking brought out, or created, qualities that were much worse. My parents were married for twenty-seven years, but rarely seemed to even like each other. I believed that they’d never been in love.

I began my work in my mother’s large study. When I was young, it had been the part of the house that was specifically hers, an area where the air was still and sacred. It was where she wrote and practiced her speeches for the Sierra Club, kept her favorite books and special jewelry. But over last ten years, it became a haphazard storage room for everything from empty wine bottles to years of unopened mail. I spent days sorting the clothing piled on the room’s red couches and the incredible amount of panty hose she’d purchased from Filene’s Basement and never worn. I’d anticipated this task for years, and getting rid of things so banal and expected was both boring and surreal: There goes that stained cotton turtleneck, that longpink coat she made my father buy for her because she thought it madeher look regal.

The room slowly opened up. I split the wall of books between boxes that would be donated and boxes that I’d bring back to Brooklyn. I reached deep into her closet and, when I came across something that my sister and I might want to keep—silk kimonos, a leopard jacket—I brought it into mother’s room and placed it on her bed, which had been stripped by her aide the morning she’d been found dead in it.

I tried to summon a memory of getting rid of my father’s belongings after he died, but couldn’t. Then I remembered that my mother’s best friend Sylvia had traveled from Chicago to help with the job, sparing me from having to fold his suits and throw away his underwear, and from seeing my mother doing it. Although the house had been my parents’ and they’d acquired the majority of its contents together, I’d gotten used to thinking of it as my mother’s. What I was going through those first few days was the soggy life she’d lived after my father died.

Once I’d pried loose this first layer, I began to move more slowly. I had to pay attention to what was passing through my fingers—my mother’s work files, broken necklaces with beads my sister might want to repurpose, our grade-school report cards. At the bottom of a small wooden chest, I found a collection of letters bound by a cracked rubber band. After I’d managed to remove it, I unfolded the letter on top of the pile. It was typed on thin, crinkly paper, dated 1966, and addressed to my mom, who would have been twenty-one.

I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, I miss you, I (sorry I ran off the end of the line, I meant to say: I miss you). It’s so hard to convince myself that you are so terrible far away. I have such a desire to just call you up, run over to the dorms and pick you up so that we could run along the beach, roll on the Midway, sail out boat, fly a kite, goose each other down the street . . .

 

I laughed. Who’d write such goofy things to her? I scanned the pages that followed, but it was only the signature, handwritten in blue ink, that revealed the author’s identity: George. “What?” I whispered. My father would have never written such silly things or have been so free with his affection.

I made my way through the rest. In 1971, my father wrote, “Whenever I leave you I feel a powerful and wonderfully terrible series of emotions . . . there is an emptiness inside me, a true aching of the heart. It is a longing and a dull sorrow for leaving behind that which I love.”

In 1973, my mother told him that she’d “never be fully able to write what loving you has meant. Our love is wondrous; it has a life almost of its own which encompasses us whether we are together or apart.”

My mind went into revolt. What I was reading contradicted what I’d long ago decided: that my parents had never been really happy with each other, never had hope. I read their letters again and again, and argued with what I’d found. My father couldn’t have been the person whom I knew and someone who was so articulate, generous, and vulnerable. I was defending the story I’d arrived with against mounting counterevidence, and losing.

There were more letters in other boxes, as well as postcards, faxes, and trunks full of pictures and slides. Each offered a window into my parents’ lives and revealed a part of them I’d never seen. Almost every year of their relationship was accounted for in their own words. It was intimate and foreign territory, unfathomably vast. The space I’d created in my mother’s study was filled up again; the whole house could not contain everything I didn’t know. If they weren’t who I thought they were, and hadn’t had the relationship I assumed they did, then the stories I’d told myself about them, and about myself, were wrong.

I sat in the filth of mother’s study for days, trying to take in my parents’ lives and relationship, to see them for who they really were, feeling ashamed and uneasy. When my sister called to ask how the work was going, I lied and said “Great,” though it had come to a sharp stop. I didn’t know how to talk about what I’d found, and I wasn’t ready to share it.

I had so many questions, and I couldn’t ask my parents any of them. I wanted to wave their letters in their faces and say, “Hey, what the hell is this? And what the hell happened to you?”

I searched and gathered and read and reread, until I slowly began accepting what was so obviously true: I didn’t know my parents at all. I didn’t understand them, either. And instead of pushing them away as I’d planned, I brought them closer, hoping I could learn who they were and what had happened to their love.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "My Dead Parents"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Anya Yurchyshyn.
Excerpted by permission of Crown/Archetype.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Part 1

Introduction 3

Chapter 1 Unhooked 9

Chapter 2 Ghosts 31

Chapter 3 Ukrainian Death 69

Chapter 4 My Mother's "Waltz 121

Part 2

Introduction 149

Chapter 5 Secret Garden 155

Chapter 6 Kiss of Fire 173

Chapter 7 Mountains 199

Chapter 8 Shamefully Happy 215

Chapter 9 Unternehmungslustig 241

Part 3

Introduction 263

Chapter 10 The Painter's Honeymoon 267

Chapter 11 The Giant's Seat 287

Chapter 12 Ukrainian Death: Part Two 295

Afterword 331

Acknowledgments 335

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