Table of Contents
The San Gabriel Mountains, Eva Margueriette, WC, 22 x 30, The Kommerstad collection.
The sins of the father are to be laid upon the children, William Shakespeare
THINKING BACK ON THOSE hectic times, nothing unusual set that September morning in 1974 apart from any other second day of a new school year. Terry and Melissa ate ketchup-smeared eggs on English muffins, grabbed their lunch boxes, sprinted over broken branches from last night’s windstorm, and turned the corner headed toward Royal Oaks Elementary School nestled in the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains.
In the 1950’s asphalt roads and rock-roofed tract houses like ours, twenty-miles east of Los Angeles, supplanted the uprooted citrus trees. Thousands of Australian blue gum eucalyptus had been imported to protect the orange groves from Santa Ana winds and thirteen of the century old, camphor-scented windbreakers stood sentinel in our backyard, too close to the house.
Every fall the prescient devil winds blew in from the upper Mohave Desert fanning wildfires and suicides. When they roared out of the canyons and down the wash behind our house at fifty-miles-per-hour, I feared our stand of eucalyptus crashing through the roof.
In the hushed light of summer’s end with the kids back in school and free from sibling fights and swimming lessons, I worked on a painting for my upcoming exhibit. At two-o-clock in the afternoon, the phone rang in my kitchen studio. I set my brush on the palette, removed my powerful hearing aid from my right ear—my better ear since losing most of my hearing at age two—and pressed it against the receiver of my amplifier phone.
“This is Mrs. Strong.” I recognized his new fourth-grade teacher’s name. “I’m calling about Terry,” she said. “He’s been absent the first two days of school.”
Hot, dry wind rattled the windowpanes above the kitchen sink. “Did I hear you say, absent? I don’t understand, I saw him turn the corner with his sister. He took his lunch box.”
“There’s more. We caught him in the bushes smoking with a sixth grader named, Alex.”
“Alex?” More than eucalyptus falling on our house, I’d feared our neighbor, Alex’s influence on my son since both boys jumped off the roof last summer.
“Terry’s waiting for you in the principal’s office,” she said. “I’ll see you and your husband tomorrow morning at ten.”
I found my husband shaving before leaving to work his swing-shift as a newspaper printer. He seemed strangely calm, saying, “I’ll take care of it tomorrow.”
When I told Terry he was in trouble for lying and sneaking around, he said, “I’m sorry, I promise I won’t do it again.” We ate in silence and went to bed early. I couldn’t sleep. Again, the malevolent winds howled all night like a hurricane on dry land. Even without my hearing aids on, I heard the eucalyptus branches slapping against the house.
The next morning, the bedroom curtains drawn against the light; Stuart’s thin five-foot-nine frame sprawled across our queen-sized bed, I touched his shoulder. “It’s almost ten, time to go talk to the teacher.”
He jerked away. “I’m not going.” His grayed complexion, clouded eyes, and body reeking of stale beer confirmed he cared more about drinking every night with his swing-shift buddies.
“I promised the teacher.”
“Nope. I’m too tired,” he said, pulling the sheet over his face.
“Dammit, Stuart! I’m tired too!”
I wriggled into flesh-toned pantyhose and a too tight skirt bunched at the waist, applied mascara to hide my fatigue and walked to the school three blocks away. Inhaling air washed clean by wind not rain, gusts whipping at my feet, I felt my life blowing away like the fuzzy tufts on the dandelions growing in the sidewalk cracks.
The San Gabriel Mountains, rising ten thousand feet above the valley as they had for eons, glowed pink, translucent in morning light. I was eight on that clear January day, standing neck crooked looking straight up at Mount Wilson for the first time. “You can’t get lost in this valley,” my Uncle Green said. “Just look toward the mountains, they’re always true north.” From that moment, I believed I had a powerful guide helping me navigate life without a compass.
At the school entrance, orange remnants clung for life to the branches of a liquid amber sapling ravaged by last night’s windstorm yowling through the canyons. Beyond the tender tree, children dashed across the sunburnt grass, laughing. The sidewalk led past rows of classrooms wedged into the foothill slope. Mrs. Strong, well-coiffed and a bit older than me, sat at her desk against a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows framing the mountains close enough to touch. On the corkboard, push pins secured fourth grade cursive written on lined newsprint. I squeezed into a child’s desk opposite the teacher, waiting to be reprimanded for my failure as a parent.
“Where’s Terry’s father?”
“I’m sorry, he couldn’t come.”
“Has Terry been upset about anything?” she said, settling into her adult-sized chair. “Getting into trouble like this is often a cry for help.”
The mountain’s pink aura faded in the light of the rising sun. “No, everything’s fine.”
She sighed, smoothing a strand of stray hair with her thin manicured hand. “In that case, I recommended seeing a doctor.”
She said she only wanted to get to the root of the problem. “Often boys his age can be helped, you know—to settle down. He might need medication to help him focus.”
“Focus? Terry is focused!” I stammered on about how he’d played accordion since the age of seven and been a star pitcher in Little League and was now obsessed with reading, The Secrets of Magic and perfecting simple sleight-of-hand tricks.
She understood, but still, it might be a sign of a deeper problem. “Perhaps a doctor could prescribe Ritalin, a drug to help him control his impulsive behavior.”
Impulsive behavior? I dared not mention Terry and Alex jumping off the roof, or the reason drugs scared me, prescribed or otherwise.
God knows I’d tried to quit drugging myself. My mother, sister, and husband smoked. I started smoking at eighteen and taking doctor-prescribed amphetamine-laced diet pills on and off since seventh grade. I also worried Terry’s biological father might not be Stuart, but a one-night-stand drug addict just released from prison.
“My son’s only nine. I don’t want him taking drugs!”
“I understand.” Her voice softened. “I’m only asking you to consider it.”
Her kind eyes brought tears to mine, smearing my mascara. “Thank you, Mrs. Strong. I’ll think about what you said.”
Leaves whirled in eddies of hot wind as I walked back home in the shadow of the mountains bleached gray in midday sun, their morning luster lost.
Back home, I cleared my palette and paint rags off the kitchen table, peeled potatoes, and shoved a chicken in the oven to roast. When Stuart and I married two weeks before Terry was born, a day after my twenty-first birthday, he expected me to cook like his Pennsylvania Dutch mother, a good cook also named Eva. The first time I served pinto beans and cornbread for dinner, my southern family’s favorite, my new husband demanded meat and potatoes.
“What’s wrong with red beans?”
He scowled. “Beans are a side dish!”
Perhaps, we both craved our childhood comfort foods, but I sacrificed mine. I stopped cooking pinto beans, black-eyed peas, ham hocks, and lima beans and instead warmed up canned peas and creamed corn and learned to cook potatoes: mashed, baked, hash-browned, or French fried. The daily menu included roast beef, chicken, or meat loaf—but always potatoes.
Stuart dragged himself out of bed, shaved, and sat at the head of the table scooping chicken and buttered potatoes onto his fork. “What did the teacher say?”
“She said it’s serious.”
I didn’t mention Mrs. Strong suggested Terry see a doctor who prescribed drugs for impulsive, overexuberant boys like ours. “A little father son chat will straighten him out,” he said, reaching for a cigarette in his shirt pocket.
When our son came home from school, Stuart sat him at the kitchen table. I settled on the couch close enough to read their lips, pretending to read a book. Sunlight illuminating Terry’s freckled face in Rembrandt lighting, he resembled the Dutch master’s brooding portrait of Titus, the artist’s only child who survived after birth.
Late for work, my husband dismissed Terry and headed for the door. “Everything’s under control,” he said. “I grounded him from that troublemaker, Alex.”
He grinned, looking pleased with himself. “You know, boys will be boys!”
No, I didn’t know. Boys and men mystified me. My sister and I had no brothers. Our father disappeared six years before mother married Lee, her first cousin. She was only thirty-two. I was eleven when Lee adopted us and legally stripped our inherited New Orleans, French family name, Commagere, from our birth certificates. Mother remained forever grateful to him for giving us his name, but he never became a male role model or satisfied my need for a father.
Maybe puberty blew in like a windstorm when least expected, but my sweet boy was too young to relinquish childhood. Adolescence loomed on the horizon. Our children needed role models. I cornered Stuart. “We’ve got to quit smoking, so we’ll be good examples for our kids.”
“I’m not going to quit,” he said. “Stop bugging me about it!”
He leaned against the car in the driveway, cupping his hands to protect the flame from the wind. Lighting a Camel, he looked like the Trickster, the sinister clown I’d painted in The Harlequins, a cubistic piece exploring my inner battle between good and evil.
What did he mean, boys will be boys? Stuart’s father smoked. Stuart started at thirteen. Did my husband consider our nine-year-old boy smoking and ditching school a mere incident, some sick sort of masculine bonding, or ritual, like the sins of the fathers, passed down from generation to generation? Mrs. Strong suggested playing hooky signaled a deeper problem, but what if the upheaval of pre-adolescence had caused Terry’s impetuous behavior? I wanted to believe my husband had everything under control and the crisis might be a normal rite of passage. “Boys will be boys,” like he said.
I sat on the couch inhaling the minty scent of eucalyptus in our backyard. The tall tree’s silvery leaves hung limp, silently pointing toward the earth, denying the mayhem of last night’s windstorm like a dysfunctional family—acting as if nothing happened.
The Harlequins, Eva Margueriette, 30 x 36, oil on canvas, 1973
“MY CHILDREN NEED a full-time mother,” I said, but it wasn’t the real reason I stopped painting after graduating from CAL ARTS in 1967. I put my brushes away because I believed I wasn’t good enough to be a real artist.
My creative self survived mixing paint at Terry’s nursery school and sewing potholders, curtains from sheets and muumuus, the Hawaiian dress I learned to sew because nothing else fit. One night a neighbor invited me to her macrame class at Covina Adult Education, where
I discovered a figure drawing class taught by Mr. Claude Ellington. Even though I hadn’t drawn anything for five years, he encouraged me to sign up. The following week I arrived with my drawing board, paper, and a box of vine charcoal. When the male model assumed his first pose completely naked, I found it difficult to focus on other parts of his anatomy. I complained to the instructor. “When I was in art school the male models always wore jock straps.”
“Things have changed in five years,” he said in a fatherly voice.
Mr. Ellington’s knowledge of craft and teaching style mirrored art school and under his guidance, I reclaimed my art spirit. I had studied with him for three years, painting live models in portrait and figure, and setting up still life compositions in his studio, when he suggested I launch a one-man-show of my accumulated work. The summer before Terry ditched school, I’d secured gallery space in the Duarte Public Library and planned a December opening reception.
Mrs. Strong had not called again, and assuming Terry had settled down, I focused on my show. I looked forward to displaying The Harlequins inspired by Cézanne’s Mardi Gras, Pierrot, and Harlequin, completed two years earlier. In my first cubist piece, I’d explored Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes in our collective unconscious.
Terry was eight when he and Melissa posed for The Harlequins. He sat pretending to strum his guitar and she stood beside him as the evil dancing clown.
“How much longer do we have to sit still?” he said.
Recording their innocence in charcoal marks, I’d forgotten to give them the customary every twenty-minute model-break.
“Take five!” Unable to evaluate my work during breaks, answer the phone, finish a meal, or drink coffee without a cigarette in hand, I lit a Kool and flicked the ashes in the metal ashtray inherited from my mother. As a child, I hated her smoking and swore I’d never be like her.
Melissa squinted at the canvas. “It doesn’t look like me.”
“I know, I’m imagining you as a clown with bells on his hat that jingle when he twirls.” “What’re you making, Mom?” Terry said, his brown eyes wide.
“Music, magic, and mayhem!” An apt alliteration. A medieval passion play, good versus evil, pandemonium, the trickster archetype taunting the lute-playing clown, my son.
Like Cézanne, I clothed the harlequins in cadmium red and black rhombus shapes and painted the trickster’s profile in dark wicked lines.
In the past three months, I had designed and mailed invitations, framed my work, made title cards, planned a post exhibit champagne party at our house. The day before the show, I printed a price sheet as if I might sell something.
Opening night, December 3, 1974, my long dark hair curled, I stood in the library gallery surrounded by my ink-wash drawings of live models and cubist oils painted in the kitchen. Jim Jarboe, a professional photographer, friend, and neighbor volunteered to shoot black-and-white photos of me mingling with potential collectors.
Cathy and her husband, Ken Peters, a journalist at Stuart’s newspaper, bought Cleo, an ink wash drawing of my favorite model for $45. Congratulating me on my first sale, the librarian handed me a box of gold stars. “Stick these on your sold paintings.”
Soon a former nursery school mom chose The Bagpiper, a 30-by-40 inch oil for $300. A neighbor bought Meditation, A Self-Portrait, with a Holy Spirit dove hidden in the oil washes and charcoal lines. Stuart promised to buy me a dishwasher in exchange for Pablo Casals.
Two hours later, more than half the paintings sold, everyone came to our house to celebrate my success— everyone except my mother who said she was angry because I hadn’t introduced her as the guest of honor.
“I’m proud of you, Eva,” Mr. Ellington said, sipping champagne with his wife, Sue. After everyone left, I fell asleep envisioning angels floating above my bed, happier than any time in my thirty years of living.
“Look!” I said, handing Stuart my gold-starred price sheet the next morning. “I’m so excited about the success of my show.”
“Success?” He scanned the numbers. “How much did you make?” “$1600!” I pointed to the shiny stars. “See, I sold seventeen pieces.”
“I mean profit,” he said. “What’s left after you bought frames, art supplies, invitations, stamps, champagne. Everything.”
“But the champagne was on sale.”
“You didn’t charge enough to cover expenses.” He waved the price sheet too close to my face. “The paintings should cost more than the frames.”
I’d loved painting and putting on the exhibit and believing I could be a real artist after all.
My husband was probably right. Afraid to ask too much, I didn’t know how much to charge. I didn’t know much about business and nothing of my worth.
“So, my show wasn’t a success?”
“Success is a matter of profit and loss,” he said.
Did he mean the three joyful years I spent drawing live models and painting in the kitchen, day and night, amounted to nothing? What about the art lovers who came to my one- man-show and those who bought my paintings? Neither of us fully appreciated the gift of people in our lives nor did we know artists seldom made a profit on their first exhibition.
The following evening Jim spread a stack of 8-by-10 inch, black-and-white photos on our coffee table. A talented photographer, he’d captured: Terry holding a pen in his dimpled hand
signing the guest book in fourth-grade cursive, Melissa in her nightgown sprawled in the recliner at our home reception, and my you’ve-got-to-be-kidding expression when the Peters bought the drawing of Cleo.
Eva Margueriette, Exhibit photo by Jim Jarboe, 1974
He’d caught me in front of The Harlequins greeting a fellow member of Women Painters West and Mr. Ellington in his dressy leather jacket, his back to the camera. The woman in the bottom corner of the photo had the same-shaped face, hair, partly closed eyes, nose, and peaceful smile as the seated harlequin modeled by Terry in the painting.
I stood clutching my tiny box of gold stars, a teacher’s reward for stellar performance. My hair and black-clad torso merged into the shapes of the painting. Looking in opposite directions, but both in profile, my eyes, nose, and mouth matched the clown’s features. I had painted the trickster’s face, a mirror image of my own.
It’s true, every portrait an artist paints is to some degree a self-portrait, but nothing compared to the double-exposed apparition captured on film in that holy instant. I’d accused my husband of looking like the sinister clown in my Harlequin painting. Studying the exhibit photo,
I realized Stuart wasn’t the trickster after all. Neither Terry, though he’d exhibited mischievous behavior, nor Melissa who posed as the devilish dancing clown. Comparing my image with the harlequin’s masked persona, I had a sudden epiphany. The trickster was me!
Saint George Slaying the Dragon, Eva Margueriette, 1975, 50 x 60, oil on linen
In mythology, folklore and religion, the Trickster is a creative magician who exhibits high intelligence, plays tricks, disobeys rules, and defies conventional behavior.
THE UNSETTLING REVELATION I was the Trickster piqued my curiosity. The painted evil harlequin was only a flat, two-dimensional stock character. In years to come, as my son and I negotiated the thin line between genius and insanity, a sacred, more complex trickster played a role in our lives.
In January, five months after the teacher conference, we celebrated Terry’s tenth birthday. When he blew out his candles and made a wish, my fear for his future roared back. I remembered telling Stuart I wanted to be better role models for our children, I decided to try to quit smoking even if he didn’t.
Before the show, I’d stretched a 50-by-60 inch linen canvas, my largest ever, and begun working on Saint George Slaying the Dragon. The theme symbolized my struggle with guilt, shame, and addiction. Though no longer a virgin princess, I identified with the maiden imprisoned in the tower praying for the holy knight to slay the dragon and set her free.
Days after the birthday party, I dragged the huge canvas into the backyard and leaned it against the bullseye Terry had chalked on the cinderblock wall to practice pitching. The San Gabriel Mountains rising behind me, my feet anchored on the grass, I stood holding a paint brush in my right hand. Contrary to my twelve-year habit, I did not have a cigarette in the other.
I drew myself in the tower and brushed oil paint washes on the smudged canvas. Unlike
The Harlequins in festive red, Saint George exuded somber metallic grays and steel blues.
Not smoking proved to be a quest worthy of the Holy Grail. “You’ll fail, you know,” said the voice inside my head. My mother, sister, and husband joined in chanting like the chorus in a Shakespearean tragedy. “So, you think you’re better than us, huh?”
I didn’t know such dark thoughts originated in my own mind and I had the power to shut them up. Attributing the critical voices to an outside evil force, I attacked the canvas with my long-handled bristle brush, defining the dragon’s claws and saurian horns. I added fire spewing out between his sharp teeth and echoed the shadows of its wings in the knight’s shining armor.
“Have a cigarette,” the voice said. “You deserve it.”
I’d sought solutions in books since the age of eleven when I read Emerson’s Essay on Friendship because I had no friends and wanted them. Opening The Twelve Steps and Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous, a book I’d bought for fifty cents at a garage sale to help my husband, I found the steps alcoholics used for forty years to stop drinking:
Step 1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable. Step 2. We came to believe a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step 3. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him, praying only for knowledge of his will for us and the power to carry it out.
I believed if I changed the word alcohol to cigarettes, the steps would help me overcome my nicotine addiction. I chanted them like a mantra aloud and in silence while working on Saint George in the backyard. One nerve-wracking minute at a time, those crucial hours turned into one full day. I’d never gone that long without a cigarette. Grateful to have defied such odds, I went to bed early.
Drug free for twenty-four hours, I awoke tingling. Electric currents whirled within me. Not joy. Not yet, but the beginning of joy, like little green shoots popping up in a fertile field.
I wanted to sing praises. “I turn my life and will over to the care of God.” But as soon as I got out of bed, my euphoria evaporated like morning mist. All that second day, paranoid and anxious, I repeated step two, “I believe a power greater than myself can restore me to sanity.”
I felt like dying, dying for a smoke. “I’m powerless over nicotine.” I recalled the purpose of my sacrifice—to save my son from being dragged into the darkness of addiction.
On that second blessed day in January, I knew I could never be a social smoker. If tricked into indulging in one nicotine fix, I’d want another one and soon be sucked back into my one- every-hour habit, and never get another chance to quit. I held to my belief. If I didn’t smoke for three days–the cursed spell would be broken.
At the end of the third day, the true-north mountains glowed beneath a pale sky. Like an alchemist, the last ray of sunlight transformed our stand of eucalyptus into gold for a brief spell. I scraped gray puddles off my palette, cleaned my brushes, and maneuvered the not-yet-completed canvas back into the garage. While painting Saint George, three days had passed. Gratitude for the miracle of that first twenty-four hours kept me from lighting a cigarette the second and third day. I was free. It was done unto me as I believed.
WHEN ATTENDING ART school our family doctor suggested tranquilizers as an alternative to diet pills. I said no. I wanted amphetamines to keep me awake all night completing design homework and studying for tests.
As a young mother, I’d bypassed doctors, haunting diet clinics, popular in the seventies. For a pittance, someone weighed me, took my blood pressure, and gave me a stash of addictive appetite suppressants. I attempted to control my dependency by taking pills only a few days a month. Thriving on jitter and drug induced energy, I cleaned house, washed windows, planted flowers, organized cupboards, stayed up all night painting and lost seven pounds in five days.
On that February morning, days after I’d quit smoking; I flushed the diet pills down the toilet. As if on cue, the voice said, “You’ll gain weight, you know.”
“I don’t care. I’ll be a better mother.”
Without the monthly dose of amphetamine and the hourly hit of nicotine, I lay on the couch lethargic, hungry, unable to read or concentrate. Dishes piled in the sink, newspapers in the corner, clothes unwashed. Stuart fixed himself Campbell soup and Wonder bread and left for work. I helped the children make Kraft Mac and Cheese and crashed again.
Two weeks later, I returned to portrait class and propped my board on an art bench just as the model assumed her first pose. At the break, Mr. Ellington joined the smokers outside. I’d always enjoyed the ritual and comradery. Being excluded felt like that first day of fourth grade when I arrived on the playground with ear molds sticking out of both ears, wires dangling down my neck connected to my new hearing aid, the size of a transistor radio stuffed in my training bra. I knew I’d never be one of the popular kids.
When the model resumed her pose, I finished the drawing, put my art supplies back in my toolbox, and dumped the ink-stained water in the sink.
It had been six months since the conference with Terry’s teacher when I hauled Saint George into the backyard for the last time. The princess remained locked in the tower. The battle for my soul was not yet won. The holy knight had freed me from my addictions, but still imprisoned by my guilty past and fear of the future, I concluded I had to save myself.
First, I had to save the children from the sins of the fathers. Feeling like a single parent, it was all up to me to give them the time and attention they needed. It seemed logical, I had to choose between being an artist or a good mother.
I strengthened the structure lines, slid the canvas into the frame, attached the wire and hung the enormous painting over the fireplace, unaware of slaying a part of myself.
“Are you crazy?” a friend said. “You can’t quit painting,”
My creative life, once filled with joyous expectation, slipped into despair. Believing I’d worked so hard, so long, for nothing, Stuart’s remark, “Success is a matter of profit and loss,” still rang in my ears. Like someone contemplating suicide, I felt better once I’d hatched my plan.
I informed everyone who loved me: church friends, fellow artists, my new students and collectors, family, neighbors, Stuart, his sister Mona, everyone–except Mr. Ellington.
I found my teacher sweeping up charcoal in his studio after class. Turpentine fumes and cigarette smoke swirled like incense out the door. Shadows gathered in the skylights as we settled on folding chairs surrounded by easels. “We’ve missed you, Eva.”
“I haven’t been painting since I finished Saint George.”
“So, I heard. I don’t get it.” The irritation in his voice surprised me. He’d always been kind, never angry.
“My son got caught smoking. I’m worried about him.”
“I worry about my children, too.” He shifted his tall frame in the metal chair. The room darkened. “Are you serious, about not painting?”
“Yes. My children need a full-time mother.”
“Well Eva, I’m disappointed.” He stroked his graying beard. In the fading light, his elongated face resembled a self-portrait by George Rouault, his favorite artist. “I thought you loved art as much as I do, but I guess I was wrong.”
I’d failed at business, but excelled as a painter because I loved my work, even scraping my palette and cleaning brushes. Obsessive, I know, but I knew how to focus. With enough time and energy, I could fix anything, solve any painting problem. Passion and determination had served me in the creative process, and if applied to the art of parenting, guaranteed success.
I bequeathed my oil paints to a fellow artist. “I don’t want you to stop painting,” she said, fingering a tube of Alizarin Crimson. I gave her my sales pitch about my children needing me, and why, at the age of thirty-one, had chosen early retirement so soon after launching my career.
I kept two illustrated art books, my greatest inspirations, Bridgman’s Complete Guide to Drawing from Life, called the artist’s Bible, and Juan Gris with mounted prints of his Cubist work. I carried the rest of the books to the garage, including, Cézanne, Monet, Modigliani, Degas, Cassatt, and Klee with their original $100 price stickers, I’d bought on sale at LACMA or Vroman’s, our beloved Pasadena bookstore.
Terry and Melissa hammered GARAGE SALE signs on neighborhood telephone poles. At sunrise, a crowd of strangers showed up. The children sold their old toys and clothes. The customers bought all my brushes, drawing paper, charcoal, unused canvases, and art books and all the beauty bound within their hard covers, adorned with masterpieces—for $5 each.
I DREAMED I boarded a cruise ship departing on a long journey to an exotic destination. I told someone why I had to quit painting, though in my awakened life, I’d finally stopped talking about it. Everyone I’d confided in about my scheme to save my children—who might not need saving—stood on the dock waving white handkerchiefs like bon voyage well-wishers, not cheering. Leaving the harbor, my loved ones grew smaller, white dots in the distance.
Gray water. Gray sky. No land in sight. “Where are my children?” I discovered I was the only passenger on board and had no idea where the ship was headed.
SYNOPSIS: The Trickster, A Memoir is a love story about Eva, a young, almost deaf artist-mother troubled by addictions, loyalties, and lies. In love with art, seeking love in all the wrong places, she marries her alcoholic high school sweetheart. When Terry, her nine-year-old son, is caught ditching school and smoking, Eva, afraid he’s becoming like his father, begs her husband to quit drinking and smoking. Motivated by his refusal, she quits smoking and taking diet pills to be a better role model. Confusing love with sacrifice, Eva gives up painting and her art career to save her family.
Focused on parenting and fueled by fear of the pending socioeconomic collapse survivalists preach on the radio, she embraces her vision of Mother Earth: home schooling, canning, quilting, and raising egg-laying chickens in the backyard of their tract house in a Los Angeles suburb preparing for the end times. At thirteen, Terry becomes a handsome, talented magician and star athlete. The mother believes her sacrifice has paid off and her son is safe, but two years later he descends into alcoholism and drug addiction. Panicked, she redoubles her efforts to save him.
Slipping into mental illness, Terry attempts suicide at sixteen. Eva finally seeks help and discovers she has a lot to learn about love, to “love him enough to let him go” and to love herself. To survive, she must find a way to reclaim her creative spirit. She returns to her love of painting and eventually thrives.
Much later she understands Terry’s life was not for her to save. In her misguided attempts to save her son, to find the love that would save them both, he saved her.