Published : Tuesday, August 27, 2019 | 7:36 PM
It may not be easy
This blended family, but baby
That’s what you do, what you do, what you do
What you do for love
[Updated] In her memoir, “One Day on the Gold Line,” author Carla Rachel Sameth reveals a person unafraid to transgress established social norms, and mostly willing to pay the price.
Traversing the 1970s through to the present, “One Day” follows the Pasadena Rose Poet through her personal journey including interracial engagements with men, lesbian relationships with women, the birthing of a brown-skinned child, attempts at artificial insemination, and the ways, good and bad, she dealt with the consequences of these decisions.
“And Life Happens” might have been a very apt subtitle, for “One Day” is really the story of a tenacious woman who tended to get what she wanted, only to be confronted with the reality of that desired thing, rather than the vision she had constructed around it.
Like sausage-making, and legislation, it’s not always pretty. Sameth has the courage to share her processes, and the fact she might be taking a pharmaceutical at the time they were unfolding, which impacted them.
“One Day” is a memoir, sprinkled with many diverting chapters on favorite dishes, or music, and other things that define the author’s unique humanity, but it is mostly about two specific phases in the author’s life: her Herculean efforts to have a baby; and the difficulties of navigating through the circumstances under which that baby was born.
She married, in the early 90s, a man who worked in the trade union movement named Larry. It took some doing because, as Sameth notes, “Many rabbis will not marry an interfaith couple; Larry was black and had been raised Southern Baptist.”
Prior to her nuptials, Sameth had aborted at least twice and, with Larry, she miscarried two more times, but was not to be deterred, not even by the fact of her husband’s violence.
“I was attending an abused women’s group,” she explains, “and the women there were baffled as to why I would choose to have a baby with a man who hurt me. I was determined to believe it was all possible — love, marriage and baby — even if the danger signs existed before the wedding.”
Between abortions and miscarriages, Sameth reaches a Mother’s Day where she has been pregnant six times. “Six unborn children clamoring to have been brought to life,” she laments. “I felt of death instead.”
Around the same time, she was to teach a career exploration workshop to pregnant and parenting teen moms at John Muir High School.
“I considered canceling rather than facing all those big bellies while mine remained an empty tomb,” she recalls. “The classroom walls were covered with pictures of very pregnant girls with captions like ‘Will I always be pregnant.’ My poster would have read, ‘Will I ever stay pregnant?’”
Finally, she and Larry meet with success.
“Our baby was the rich color of caffe latte,” she describes the result, “with probing, dark-brown eyes, lashes that seem endless, curling around like baroque designs, and a ‘strong’ nose that was round and long… He could have been mistaken for being from any number of different places in the world — Ethiopia, Veracruz, the Dominican Republican — but he was an Afro-Jew, African American and Jewish.”
And so begins the second half of the book, during which Sameth is exposed to the complications of raising a dark-skinned Jewish boy, exacerbated by the fact her marriage ends eight months after the birth; adding finding a mate for mom, and sibling for little Raphael, to the mix.
When her son is five years old, Sameth begins to think about finding a sperm donor to get him the brother/sister she thinks they both need.
“I desperately sought self-value,” she explains. “I thought I could fix the hole by creating a family to love and nurture. I believed I could raise children who couldn’t wonder about that hole inside of them, but would instead feel loved and okay. They would get most of the classes and trips and shoes they wanted, go to the schools that were best suited to them, go to the universities of their choosing, and not have to worry about money… but this is easier said than done.”
The quest for a second child goes unfulfilled and Sameth turns her efforts to finding a lesbian lover.
“I had already met a Brady Bunch kind of lesbian couple in the lesbian moms group,” she remembers. “Their blended family consisted of six kids between them! I felt a strong desire to have a partner and more children — happy chaos.”
She kindles a home-sharing relationship with one Lizette, which goes okay for a few years, the family “blending,” as the new mate’s daughter and the author’s son become something like siblings and the moms become moms to one another’s kid.
But youth is a transitional time and the kids hit hormonal development phases that strain the household, and the bonds holding the quartet close, until they finally sever.
Young Raphael is not so enamored with his mom’s vision of a “We Are the World” family (her words), wishing nothing more than to live in a unit, “with bio siblings and two middle-class African American parents who were happily married to each other. He struggled in school and in sports and wanted to be ‘normal’ like his black classmates, who played football, got good grades, and live in intact heterosexual families.”
Now on the hunt for a home, Sameth falls for the real estate agent, Jessica, who is selling her a little piece of Pasadena: “[The condo] was located within walking distance of everything we needed, including my office, the Metro, three movie theaters, and one of the city’s last standing and most inviting bookstores, Vroman’s.”
The love affair is launched in spite of the fact the woman lives with a lover from Zimbabwe and the failed result is one the reader can anticipate.
“One Day on the Gold Line,” the title chapter, recounts an awful event for Sameth, who gets roughed up in a Metro Station by County Sheriff’’s deputies because she can’t find her ticket. They break her nose, she writes, treat her “like garbage” during an eight-hour detention and, much later, end up paying a decent sum to settle her court claims against the department.
“I crouched, handcuffed and in a pool of my own blood, on the Highland Park Metro Station platform, begging, ‘Help someone, pleeease!’ and crying out, ‘Mommy’. Passengers were walking in and out of trains but making a wide berth, staring, not stopping.
“I was a fifty-year-old Jewish woman, a single mother of a thirteen-year-old Afro-Jewish son, a writer, and the owner of a PR firm in Pasadena.”
The chapter serves as a turning point in the story, which gets darker, because of the way it disposes with the “women and children” fiction our culture purportedly adheres to, introducing a level of vulnerability that clings to Sameth throughout the rest of her yarn.
As she crouches before her tormentors, the writer’s thoughts follow her instinctive, maternal heart and clarify the challenge before her as a mother: “I wondered where my son was right then. I didn’t want to think of him being in this position. If this could happen to me, a middle-aged Jewish woman, what might they do to my black teenage son? I’d read the statistics — an estimated one in three African American males would go to jail in their lifetimes.
“Looking at what happened to me and at what happens inside the jails, I continue to ask: How many more stories like mine are out there?”
The story, from then on, becomes one of Sameth’s struggles to keep the child she wanted so bad, from killing himself, for Raphael becomes a very troubled teen addict.
Sameth’s resourcefulness, her overreaching and other mistakes, her navigating the legal and medical systems on behalf of both she and Raphael are instructive, cautionary tales for any parent raising a kid today, and they unfold entirely beneath the shadow of the San Gabriel Mountains under the deft hand of the responsible scribe.