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Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

By gurlonthesun Jun 08, 2008 2723 Words
The Divine Secrets of Vivi Abbott Walker’s Heart
Love is a complex emotion. It has the ability to make you feel like you are flying, literally touching and seeing heaven. Yet it also has the ability to break your heart into a thousand pieces, hurt you in ways you never could have dreamed possible, make you feel all at once like you are living a nightmare and dying at the same time. Love can be wondrous when given freely and unconditionally, or it can be dangerous when wielded as a weapon. There is no love more multifaceted then that of a parent and child. The relationship between Vivi and Sidda personifies both ends of the love spectrum, oftentimes, to the extreme. Through Rebecca Wells’s “Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” we are able to see Vivi’s beautiful, life giving love of Sidda, as well as the ease with which she brandishes her manipulation of the most painful aspects of love. Through Sidda we witness a child’s desperate need for approval, an unending desire to please and placate a mother who is both emotionally absent, and emotionally smothering, sometimes in the same breath. The “Divine Secrets” is a psychologically draining journey of a daughter’s quest to understanding the secrets to her mothers love. From a young age, Sidda learned to read her mother’s moods. “Sidda learned to stay on the ball, she learned to walk the tightrope. She perfected the ability to walk into a room and instantly divine each person’s mood, need, desire. She developed the capacity to take the temperature of a scene, character, a conversation, a single gesture, and to gauge just what was needed and when and how much” (81). Vivi’s ever changing temper created the ability in Sidda to judge with a glance what she could expect from her mother. “What created the paradox of Vivi full of light, Vivi full of dark? For every scene of magic, there were an equal number of terrifying cocktail hours when Vivi’s bourbon and branch water took her far away from her children, although she might never leave the house” (81). On particularly bad days, Sidda would sit sentry outside her mother’s bedroom door, waiting for any sound that might indicate Vivi’s return to her daughter’s world. Sometimes, she did this “for weeks; she considered it her job” (131). There is strong evidence of several such insistences of role reversal on Sidda’s behalf throughout the “Divine Secrets.” In her desperation for her mother’s love and approval, Sidda oftentimes takes on the role of caregiver for, or in place of her mother. “You’re my big girl Sidda. You’re my oldest. You have to help me take care of the little ones, you promise?” (273). Through Sidda’s flashbacks, in conjunction with her present day thoughts and feelings, it is easy to see that no matter her age, a great deal of her being is defined by her mother’s love and attention. “Some days I worshipped at her feet. Some days I would have split her wide open just to get the attention she gave the Ya-Yas. Some days I was so jealous I wished Caro, Teensy, and Necie dead” (42). Even as an adult, Sidda seems consumed by her mother. “ Here in this cabin, twenty-five hundred miles from Louisiana, and many years from my girlhood, if I close my eyes and concentrate, I can smell my mother and the Ya-Yas“ (42). “Once a scent caught me on the street in Greenwich Village. I stopped in my tracks and looked around. The smell made me cry. I stood on the sidewalk feeling suddenly young and terribly open, as if I were waiting for something. I live in an ocean of smell, and that ocean is my mother” (43). Even success came with a price. “I thought my mother was a star for so many years that when I found out she wasn’t, I was stupefied…Somewhere guilt developed whenever I seemed to eclipse Mama…because I never trusted that I could shine without obliterating her” (33). Sidda’s childhood, and more than likely her entire adult life, was led, part in parcel, for Vivi’s approval. Vivi’s love and support are two of the key driving factors in Sidda’s life, because “What heaven it was when Vivi’s light shined on her!” (81). Virtually every aspect of Sidda’s life is viewed with an eye on how it will impact Vivi, or what influence it will have on Vivi’s love for Sidda. Vivi has taught Sidda that her love is not unconditional, as a parents love ought to be, but rather, a privilage that can, and many times has been, withdrawn. This is perhaps the worst of the abuse that Vivi bestows on Sidda throughout the “Divine Secrets.” While there are many instances of physical and verbal abuse alluded to or described, it is the emotional abuse that does the most damage. Sidda does have her strong moments when she can clearly see her mother for who she is. “Mama, you bitch, she thought. You devouring melodramatic bitch…’What I said was not exactly a lie, Mother. Or have you forgotten the feel of the belt in your hand?’” (3). She can acknowledge the depth that her mother’s behavior has impacted her life. “With the money I’ve spent trying to deal with the way Mama fucked me up, I could have retired at the age of thirty” (171). However, the moment that Vivi threatens to pull her love away, Sidda reverts into the role of a small child begging forgiveness and confirmation that Vivi can still love her. “It breaks my heart to know that you have divorced me. Please know that I love you. I’m not asking you to stop being angry. I’m just asking you not to cut me out of your heart” (5). Sidda seems to live her life with a constant fear that she will do something that will cause her mother to not love her anymore, or worse, make her go away somewhere. Many times during Sidda’s childhood Vivi had simply left; without a word, or a goodbye, or an explaination. For so many of these, Sidda blamed herself. “’That picture makes me sad..I think it was after we drove Mama away…She went away because of me, didn’t she, Caro?’” (173). This desperate fear of having the person you love the most leave you is most likely the reason that Sidda, at age 40, is still single. Vivi has drilled so deeply into Sidda that love doesn’t mean staying, and love doesn’t mean without cost. Sidda can not see that love should be limitless, and given willingly and freely. Vivi has warped Sidda sense of not only what love is supposed to feel like, but her own self worth and ability to be loved. For Sidda, love and staying seem to be two completely separate entities. While she loves Connor, and almost certainly believes he loves her too, the notion that he won’t some day leave her, like Vivi did countless times before, is something that Sidda is incapable of fathoming. “I know it, she thought. He has left me. He is gone. Forever” (6). This panic she experiences is one that she is finally able to recognize and deal with after the Ya-Yas tell Sidda the truth about the time her mother beat her and then went away. When she finally accepts that it wasn’t her fault that her mother left, that it was never because of her that her mother would disappear, she begins to question the staying power of love, and sees, doubtlessly for the first time, the reason she is so hesitant to marry Connor. “Do I expect Connor to do what Mama couldn’t or wouldn’t? Am I afraid that I don’t deserve him? Am I afraid he will leave me if I’m not good enough?” (175). While the majority of Sidda’s childhood memories are good ones and bad ones intermingled to the point of confusion, there seem to be a few wonderful ones that stand out. Times where Sidda can see and feel Vivi’s love and devotion to her children. It is these memories that Sidda appears to hold on to extremely tightly in order to get her through the times when the bad memories hit her particularly hard. The way that “Vivi worked hard to make every birthday a good one” (177) is one of Sidda’s pure memories of her mother. The way that her mother and siblings would come into her room on her birthday and sing to her, and then her mother would “bend down to kiss Sidda. ’I’m so glad I had you,’ she would whisper into her daughter’s ear” (176). Sidda could recognize that there were years that this was the most difficult thing in the world for Vivi to do. Times where she probably wanted nothing more than to lock herself in her bedroom and not receive any visitors or be disturbed. But always on birthday mornings, Vivi would force herself, if necessary, to sing to her children and bring them a birthday cake breakfast. Nothing was going to ever ruin her children’s birthdays; especially not her. Sidda delights in the memory of the birthday morning ritual, probably not because of the ritual itself, but more likely because no matter her own mood or own demons, Vivi was always there for them. That one constant in Sidda’s life was a necessity given the multitudes of unknowns that came with having Vivi as a mother. “She remembered a dramatic-theory seminar she’d taken in graduate school in which liminal moments on stage were discussed. Liminal moments, those moments apart from time, when you are gripped, taken, when you are so fully absorbed in what you are doing that time ceases to exist. Those early morning birthday moments were liminal, Sidda thought. Mama knew how to embrace liminality” (177). Summer’s at Spring Creek are another constant, seemingly good memory for Sidda. Particularly the “drowning victim” episodes. Sidda relives in vivid detail the “test” that Vivi put herself through every summer to ensure that she could still rescue a drowning person. Being chosen to be the victim was a huge honor amoung the petite Ya-Yas, and probably for Sidda imparticular. “For days after Mama saved you from a watery death, you would recall over and over again the thrill of such a close call. You would remember how confidently she pulled you through the water, and you would recollect the taste of her mouth and the smell of her breath” (35). Although these are part of Sidda’s good memories of Vivi, they too are haunted. “You would wonder, What would happen if you were drowning and Mama wasn’t around to dive in and save you? Say she simply went away…That time you went to the window again and again and she was not there. You were bad and she hit you, then just went away” (36). Perhaps the memory that caused the greatest impact, the one that Rebecca Wells chose to turn the whole novel on, is the one of Luwanda. As Sidda grips the key stamped with the number of their turn to ride the elephant, the most pure and true memory of Sidda’s childhood returns to her. Luwanda the Magnificent came to town the summer after Sidda’s second grade year. When Sidda and her familys turn to ride her came, Sidda was too afraid to ride, and too afraid to stay and watch her family ride. “They will all be killed, I thought…If I lose Baylor and Little Shep, and Lulu, I’ll be sad. If I lose Mama, I will die” (319). Somewhere between the parking lot, and Sidda’s home, she desperately began to regret passing up the chance to ride the beautiful beast. Vivi, in a rare act of complete love and selflessness, does everything in her power to ensure that Sidda does indeed get to ride Luwanda. As Sidda remembers the magical ride she shared with her mother, Vivi’s voice echos in her head. “There is nothing, anywhere, to be afraid of! Lawanda loves us and we are not afraid!” (326). This memory of Luwanda, and the words Vivi spoke to Sidda so many years ago, “Its life, Sidda. You just climb on the beast and ride” (326) are the reason Sidda is able to go home to Louisiana and face her mother. Although it is this memory of Luwanda that pushes Sidda back to her home town, and back to her mother, it is Sidda calling off her wedding, followed by Vivi’s sharing of the book of Divine Secrets, that begins the entire healing process for both of them. After deciding to send the book, Vivi relieves the night that she beat the children so badly they bled, and then left for the “hospital that nobody called a hospital” (18). She wonders if this event, if she, is the cause of Sidda calling off her wedding to Connor. “Is it my punishment now to watch my oldest one turn away from love? I do not want this guilt, I do not want this weight” (18). Vivi prays to the Virgin Mary asking her, in her “oh so Vivi way,” to help her, and to help Sidda. It seems that Sidda’s willingness to run away from her true love causes Vivi to question what lasting impact her absences and abuse have had on her daughter. “Let me see my daughter like my mother could never see me. Let her see me, too” (20). Sidda has worshipped her mother, and desperately desired her approval for so many years, that Vivi’s sharing the book of Divine Secrets overwhelmed her. Not because Vivi shared the book, but because Vivi was finally sharing part of herself. “Mama parted with these Divine Secrets because I asked her to, Sidda thought. The reason I feel like crying, is not just because this scrapbook is vulnerable, but because Mama, whether she knows it or not, has made herself so vulnerable to me” (29). This act of opening up on Vivi’s part seems to be something that Sidda has needed and waited her whole life for. After looking through the scrapbook, and seeing her mother in different lights and ways, Sidda realizes more than she bargined for. What she thought she was getting was a look at the lifelong friendship between four amazing women, what she got instead was a far more powerful insite. “My mother is not the Holy Lady. My mother’s love is not perfect. My mother’s love is good enough. My lover’s love is good enough. Maybe I am good enough” (327). The story of Sidda and Vivi is an emotionally wraught roller coaster of feelings and desires. Rebecca Wells, through this mother and daughter, shows us that sometimes love isn’t about anything more than accepting the other person for who and what they are. Loving someone for their shortcomings as well as for their successes. Sidda learns this about Vivi, and herself as well, as she pours over the contents of the Divine Secrets. Perhaps for the first time she sees her mother as more than just a mother, but as someone’s best friend, someone’s first love, someone who can love. Realizing who and what Vivi is, knowing what her inadequacy and limitations are what help Sidda accept her mother, and to accept herself as well. She finds, through Vivi’s memories, a mother she can love, and a mother who does indeed love her in the only way she knows how. In the Divine Secrets Sidda finds a definition of love. “I have been missing the point. The point is not knowing another person, or learning to love another person. The point is simply this: how tender can we bear to be? What good manners can we show as we welcome ourselves and others into our hearts?” (346).

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