Three strikes

My parents tried and tried and tried, but neither marriage nor divorce could bring them together.

By Patt Blue

Published November 19, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

My parents, J.W. and Louise, were married to each other, and then divorced, three times. By the time I was 18, we had lived in 11 houses, having moved from our hometown in western Kentucky down to New Orleans and finally to south Texas.

We were always leaving, hoping to start a new life, running from J.W.'s girlfriend, Norma, and her threats. My two brothers, Wiley and Davy, and I were in the path of our parents' self-destruction.

My introduction to photography had begun when I was a child watching my father hold up a print in the amber light of his darkroom, a tiny room in our house on Clover Street in Greenfield, Ky. He was an amateur photographer, and, no matter where we lived, even if it meant that my brother had to sleep in the living room, there was always a darkroom.

Over a period of 10 years I have traveled to our many family homes, photographing, retrieving memories and writing down my thoughts. My mother handed over to me all the family photographs and negatives. I have copied, enlarged, lightened, darkened, cropped and sequenced them with the utmost respect and sincerity.

I made three long trips to Houston to interview my mother. Her stories are the heart of this document. My father's presence was strongly felt; with his photographs spread around us, we hacked our way back through the thicket of the past.

Our differences became evident as we went -- I revealed my resentment that she wasn't the mother I had wanted, the one who was a fighter against her husband's dominance, and she put up defenses to my questioning and criticism. We battled. Occasionally Louise forgot that it was her daughter asking the questions and told me more than she meant to. There were times when she repeated a story but gave it a different slant. We were often in disagreement and also often in each other's arms, trying to understand and to heal our lives by the telling of this story.

Louise's story will infuriate many feminists and they will hate Louise for her fears and immobility. However, rather than judge, we can learn from Louise's life. She lacked the essentials to escape her dour circumstances. She had no awareness of her rights. She had no money of her own. She didn't drive. She had become brainwashed to believe she couldn't take care of herself. To whom could she go for help? Her life stands as a living example of a woman who has been psychologically and emotionally abused.

Patt Blue

Patt Blue is a photographer who has received many awards, including a Robert F. Kennedy Citation for Outstanding Coverage of the Disadvantaged and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Coupling Divorce