Featured in Colorado Review
Searching for the Duck HoleFeatured, Nonfiction
Published Spring 2017
Click here to listen to the author read this essay.
Contact with My Mother, from Whom I Am Estranged
My mother started calling me about a year and a half ago. She is in her late eighties and suffers from cognitive decline, so she does not remember that we haven’t had a relationship for more than twenty-five years. Despite her memory struggles, she figured out my home number and leaves messages on it. The first one, transcribed to include her pauses, looks like poetry:
The message is for Emily Sinclair (she begins)
I want you to know
that you are the first person to know
that I have just been
On the house phone
On my iPad calling you
I’m also on
I didn’t know whether you had a new last name
Or a professional name still of Emily Sinclair
You’re in my telephone Emily Sinclair
With a very strange number that I decoded and made into (my phone number)
And I put that
I guess that’s either your iPhone or
Sorry. I’m a professional too. My number is
(Mom says her name here) all small caps at outlook.com
The love you! slays me, seduces me. It’s all I ever wanted. My husband says, “You can make a phone call from an iPad?”
The Writer Writes about the Duck Hole
Around the time Mom started calling, I was working on a short story that takes place in Dallas, the city in which I grew up and where Mom still lives. In the story, I write about the duck hole. That’s my private name for a forty-foot-wide circular opening in the middle of the slow, olive-green currents of Turtle Creek, a fork of the Trinity River that runs through Highland Park and toward downtown Dallas. While the currents of Turtle Creek move slowly, the water that courses down the sides of the duck hole rushes like a waterfall. Ducks swim around it, and sometimes stop and manage to teeter on the edge, alongside resting turtles. In heavy rains, a scummy, yellow, bubbly foam rises up from the hole. Surely there’s a better name than duck hole, but I don’t know it. Like so many things in my childhood, we didn’t talk about it, so it didn’t need a name.
The thing that captivated me was the mystery of the duck hole: Did anything ever fall in? Like . . . a child? What if some fool got in the water and swam toward the duck hole and got sucked down? Where would the fool go? What if the fool were me? What did the bottom look like? Was there a bottom?
How can a thing that is, essentially, nothing—a space where something else should be—have such pull?
The story is a sexual coming-of-age story that takes place in 1970: Ella, a girl from the right family, meets a boy from the wrong family, and they sit on the grassy slope above the duck hole, smoking dope and making out. He is older, dangerous, and exciting. She is consumed with lust. She imagines disappearing from the life she knows. She is terrified. And thrilled.
What she doesn’t know is that her story will ultimately be about loss.
The Intervention: A Brief Episode in Late-’80s Psychobabble
My relationship with my mother ended when I was twenty-two, with a family intervention, an event orchestrated by one of my sisters, who thought we should confront our mother about addiction. We four children, of whom I am the youngest, agreed. It was clear to all of us that she was troubled psychologically. The idea was that we’d confront her about her drinking and pill taking (which were relatively modest, by wealthy-housewife standards), and she’d go clean out her system in rehab; thus purified, she’d be ready to tackle her other issues.
It was a naïve plan, a product of its time, when every talk show host nattered on about “codependency,” a cheap and palatable faux diagnosis that monetized itself in an era of endless twelve-step programs and simplified notions of addiction—as if addiction is distinct from personality, as if the self can be sliced up like a ham into neat little portions. This part has a little narcissism; that part a little depression; over here, some borderline tendencies. But it was our plan and we stuck to it, my siblings and I, meeting at a hotel in Dallas, where we reserved a penthouse suite for a day and managed to get my mother to come so we could confront her.
Emily Sinclair's stories and essays have appeared in Colorado Review, the Normal School, Third Coast, and elsewhere. She received her MFA in fiction from the Program for Writers at Warren Wilson and currently teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop in Denver, Colorado. When not writing, she's working on becoming a cowgirl.