For a long time I did not know who I was. Who I really was, I mean. Who I am.
When I was little, I was positive who I was: My name was Victoria (Vickie) Stone. I was sure of that, as sure as any girl can be about her identity. I had no middle name, but I never really worried about it except when, later on, I had to fill out forms at school. Then I had to leave blank the part that said Middle Name or Initial.
I lived with my father in Franconia, Ohio, a small town on the Ohio River.[i] Just across the river is West Virginia, but the nearest bridge was ten miles away, so I didn’t go over there very often. But I looked across the river every day, staring at the heavily wooded hills, wondering what it was like. Wondering what the people were like. Wondering if one of them was over there wondering about me.
Older people in Franconia said that once in a great while the Ohio River would freeze. And when it did, brave—or foolish—people would race across to the other side. West Virginians to our side, Ohioans to their side. Some stopped and talked with strangers, right in the middle of the river. Every winter I hoped the river would freeze so I could cross it, just to see. I knew, of course, that my father would never let me do it. He would tell me that the ice would break, that I would fall in and drown. Parents always figure the worst will happen. Sometimes they’re right.
I never knew my mother. She died just a week and a half after I was born.[ii] My father always told me it wasn’t my fault that she died. But whose fault is it, if not mine? If I hadn’t been born, my mother wouldn’t have died, not then. My birth killed her, plain and simple.
Her name was Mary Waldman—before she married my father, of course. Then she became Mary Waldman Stone. I have a picture of her in my room on my dresser. She’s at her wedding reception. Laughing. A hand is reaching into the picture, putting a piece of white cake into her mouth. It is my father’s hand. My mother looks so happy.
The picture makes me sad. It makes me wish I could have been at the wedding. It makes me wish my mother were alive. I want to see her smile, hear her laugh. Hold her hand. Feel her hair, her breath.
When I was a little girl, I used to think my mother looked old. Now—as I write this, I am nearly fourteen—she seems so young. So impossibly young. She was twenty-two years old when she married my father. She was twenty-three when she died. She is buried in the little cemetery behind the old Lutheran church in Franconia.[iii]
When we still lived in Franconia, I used to go to the cemetery all the time, especially in the warm seasons, but sometimes in the winter, too. I would sit with a book near her grave and I would read. Sometimes I would read aloud to my mother, especially when I found something funny or sad or interesting. Sometimes I would talk to her. But she never answered. Just a silent stone, a lonely daughter.[iv]
The gravestone is very simple. It’s white granite, and here’s what it says:
Mary Waldman Stone
Beloved wife and mother.
“And flights of angels
sing thee to thy rest.”
My father told me that the quotation about the angels is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A character named Horatio says it to Hamlet, his best friend, who is dying at the end of the play. It’s very sad. I had a mother for only a handful of days, but I will always be her daughter.