I was just a few weeks into my freshman year of college when my mother’s life was rearranged by a pair of thieves who, after robbing her in a dress shop, pushed her beneath their getaway car when she ran into the street toward them. She was left with eternal nerve damage and pain.
Even typing these words, even abbreviating her story for the purpose of this note, leaves me helpless with all that I will never know about what occurred that day. I cannot summon the scene. I cannot see the thieves’ faces. I cannot see my mother, in the moment when the car jolted over her legs. I cannot know what it was to be her, where her anger lived, how she might have tried to tame it.
How is it that I don’t have answers? How is it that the thing that changed my mother’s life became the thing we weren’t to talk about, save to call it her “accident”?
I have been haunted by this event in her life for years. I have been desperate to fully empathize, which is to say, to see. When, in August of 2021, my own ankle was broken due to circumstances that felt, in so many ways, like a thieving, I lay on the couch, as my mother had long lain on her couch, and tried to find my way back to her. Tried to use my experience as a way to understand her newly. A couch, a blanket, an arrangement—these shared elements created parallels, touchstones. Except. Not really. Because she was then and I am now, and we can never fully know. One by one, as I wrote, the shared elements peeled away, until I was left, again, outside of my mother’s story, bewildered.
That, then, is how this piece came into being—the assertion of similarity and its disappearance, the gap of then and now, becoming the structural frame.
BETH KEPHART is the award-winning author of three dozen books in multiple genres, an award-winning teacher at the University of Pennsylvania, cofounder of Juncture Workshops, and a widely published essayist. Her new books are Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays, We Are the Words: The Memoir Master Class, and the picture book Beautiful Useful Things: What William Morris Made. Her handmade books are available through her Etsy shop BINDbyBIND.