Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Indebted

By Hilary Davidson

You don't want to ask Lily Moore about her mother. If you've read my books, you know they had a terrible relationship. In The Damage Done, the NYPD detectives investigating the death of a woman found in her sister's apartment make the mistake of bringing up Lily's mother in an interview. It doesn't go well. In fact, it goes like this:
“Cards on the table,” said Bruxton. He put both hands on the table and leaned forward, so that his face hovered close to mine. I guessed he was in his late thirties, but up close I saw the fault lines etched into his face. The lines made him look older, but the scars made him seem dangerous. “When were you planning to tell us about your mother?”  
“My mother?” My mouth was dry. “What does she have to do with this?”  
“We know,” he said ominously.  
“Know what?” I wasn’t going to make this easy for him. If he wanted to dredge up the past, he could do it alone.  
“Your mother killed herself on New Year’s Eve eleven years ago.”  
I stared back at him silently while my stomach clenched in a Gordian knot. For a moment I felt 18 again, as if I were hearing the news for the first time, feeling it with the force of a slap. Bruxton’s voice was as flat and jaded as that of the officer who had told me about my mother. There was something triumphant in his face that made it clear he knew more than he was saying. He expected me to roll over in shock, or break down in tears. Instead my hands clenched into fists under the metal table and my nails sliced into my palms. “What does that have to do with this dead woman I’ve never met before?” 
Bruxton stood up straight. “You’re a hard case, aren’t you?”  
“What do you think my mother has to do with this?” I said, my temper boiling over. “What, is that your first line of investigation when you find a dead body?”  
“No, but in this case…” Bruxton snarled back.  
“How did you find out about my mother?”  
There was an awkward glance between the detectives. “Actually, Brux was…” Renfrew started to say, but her partner cut her off.  
“A neighbor mentioned it,” he said.  
“What neighbor?” I demanded.  
“From down the hall. Sarah Lyons.”  
The face of the woman I’d met the day before floated into my mind. Claudia told me a little of your family history, she’d said. I imagined her gleefully spilling every ounce of gossip she’d gathered to the police. She’d pretend to be concerned, but deep down this was amusing for her. I’d disliked her when she’d shown up at Claudia’s door; now I loathed her. 
“Lily, it’s important you understand,” Renfrew continued. “We need to know all the facts in an investigation. Even if they don’t seem relevant to you.” Her calm voice was like balm on a wound. 
I took a deep breath. “My mother killed herself, but before she did, she had made many attempts. She would take pills, then call for help. They had to pump her stomach out at the hospital. You can check with Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca. She was there four times.” My shoulders were trembling. “I don’t think she wanted to die. It was her way of controlling Claudia and me. If we did something she didn’t like, she would threaten to kill herself.” 
“Had you done something she didn’t like?” Renfrew’s voice was soft. I nodded and looked down at my hands. They were wrestling in my lap like palsied snakes. “She didn’t want me to go back to college in New York City. I don’t think she meant to die. She just wanted me to come back, and not leave again.”
There's no way to antagonize Lily faster than bringing up her family history. But it follows her around wherever she goes. In the latest book, Evil in All Its Disguises, she knows something is terribly wrong at the Acapulco resort where she's staying, but she finds it hard to accept. Deep down, she's terrified that her feelings are a sign of mental illness and that she's following in her mother shadowy footsteps:
It took all of my energy to get my laptop out of the safe and onto the bed. At least I wasn’t dizzy anymore. The pounding in my head was probably from my paranoid delusions. Had I really thought someone was poisoning me? That was pure paranoia, and if there was one thing that terrified me more than anything else, it was the idea that I might end up like my mother. She was a drunk, but that wasn’t the worst of it. My mother had paranoid delusions that sometimes made her abusive, though she wasn’t completely crazy. She was also incredibly manipulative, and she had a talent for getting under my skin, and Claudia’s, wounding us with barbed words that went in like arrows and couldn’t ever be cleanly extracted. The last thing my mother ever said to me was, You only care about yourself, you selfish little bitch. I used to spend a lot of time wondering if she’d really meant that, or if she’d simply relished wielding words like weapons. Then I’d made the decision to put her out of my mind, and I did my best to stick to that.

When I was getting The Damage Done ready for publication, it hit me suddenly that people might mistake Lily's mother for my own. I realized that I'd given Lily my career and travel history and some of my personal quirks, and so it wouldn't be a stretch for people to wonder if my family history was like Lily's. That couldn't be further from the truth. My mom, Sheila Davidson, is my best friend, main cheerleader, and the kindest person I've ever known. She is also an unusually wise woman: when I was in second grade, she recognized my nature for what it was and got me into karate (a gift that keeps on giving). She's also the first reader on all of my books. This Mother's Day, all I can say is that I won the lottery when it comes to moms, and it's made all the difference in my life. I ended up dedicating The Damage Done to my mom, saying, "For my mother, Sheila Davidson, for so many reasons." Now you know some of the reasons!

4 comments:

Sue Ann Jaffarian said...

Love the photo with your mom! I get asked all the time if Odelia's mom is like mine. NOT!

Hilary Davidson said...

Thanks so much, Sue Ann! Since many people conflate a character's history with an author's, I guess that's an unsurprising question, but it can be SO far off the mark...

Barry Knister said...

Hilary--
I admire the way you humanize and complicate Lily by developing her family relationships. And I truly appreciate the way you work by your own rules--that is, by not relying on cop/sleuth conventions. My Brenda Contay mysteries are going to owe a lot to your work. Thanks!

Catriona McPherson said...

Loved this post! And the pic of you and your mom. I think the realtionships are what brings a lot of people back to series instalments - I know that's true for me.