Me & My Shadows

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PrologueThere's a scene at the beginning of "Peter Pan" where Peter returns to Wendy's room in the middle of the night to find his shadow, which he'd accidentally left behind the night before. As Mary Martin played the role, Peter flinches painfully as Wendy sews his shadow back on with a needle and thread. Peter, it seems, isn't comfortable flying without his shadow.

Mine has been the opposite problem. I have spent much of my adult life flinching with pain as I tried to pull out the threads that bound the shadows of my past to me. The biggest shadow has been my mother. To this day, people come up to me as I leave the stage after a performance and tell me that they saw my mother onstage with me every time they heard me sing. I try to keep a sense of humor about it and pass off the remark with a wisecrack. "Was she up there again? You just can't drag Mama off a stage." But the truth is it's difficult to live your life haunted by the ghosts of the past.

It has taken me twenty-eight years to come to terms with the fact that the mother I loved so much left me too soon, taken by a disease that I did not understand. It's hard for me to put into words the irony of being unable to escape my mother's presence while feeling her absence so painfully. In one sense, she's everywhere I turn, but in another, her absence has been agonizing. It hasn't been easy at times, but if there's one thing I learned at the Betty Ford Center, it's that it doesn't matter whether or not your mother is a Hollywood legend. The pain of having a parent who is held captive by prescription drugs or alcohol is the same for everyone. That knowledge has proven deeply healing for me. It has allos.

My mom often toyedwith the idea of writing an autobiography herself, but by the end of her life she was too sick and too frightened of the process to follow through. So our family story has been chronicled instead by a long list of people who don't know us and weren't present for any of the events, real or imaginary, they wrote about. Each of these writers has had an agenda, and the result was they usually ended up either glorifying or vilifying a group of people they really knew little about. With one or two exceptions, the result has been a fairy tale that tells more about the writer than it does about my family.

One last thing: this is my story. It's not my brother's or my sister's or my father's, though I've drawn on their experience in writing it. Joe and Liza and Dad each have their own stories to tell. We all do. I wouldn't presume to tell it for them. I simply want to share with you the journey of my life,hoping that what I've learned along the way will have meaning for you, too.

Copyright © 1998 by Lorna Luft

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