pearls around the neck • 49
Grandma was so sweet; she practically raised us, my brother and I. She was always there to help us,
comfort us, dress us, feed us. I never heard her complain even once. Yet, she would have had many
reasons to do so because Mom was far from being pleasant with her. Their relationship was such a
strain for all of us. And these horrible self-portraits? What are these all about?” She asked, wiping her
I knew that she loved her mother and her grandmother and that their death had deeply upset her. The
moment was ill chosen to tell her the story of this other woman her mother had been.
I bailed out; I am ashamed to admit, by unveiling another facet of her mother.
“Your mother was a ravishing woman, stunningly beautiful. But she was also very much afraid of
getting old. It was a visceral fear in her. Your grandmother, who lived with you and raised you and your
brother, was a very dignified and distinguished woman; but for your mother she was only the depiction
of old age, of this decrepitude she wanted to avoid at all cost. She confessed so many times that every
time she saw your grandmother, she only saw her as the reflection of her own degeneration.”
“But what you are saying is horrible. I can’t believe it!”
“Your mother suffered a lot. You have to forgive her. You will understand, one day.”
Much later, she learned the whole truth and it only made her harbor even more love for these two
women, who were so different but who had each in her own way, both lived with a terrible wound
buried deep inside them.
Author: R.V.I., Brussels, Belgium, 2011
English translator: Sylvie Froschl
Illustration: oil on canvas by Suzanne Van Damme, 1938, private collection.