There are books that resonate with you long after the last page is turned and Chynna Laird's memoir White Elephants is one of them. This brave, bold memoir starts with the author (then called Tami) at age five overhearing her mother say "I don't want them" in a phone conversation with her grandmother. Her mom was on one of her "vacations," which was really an excuse to leave Tami and her brother with their grandparents so she could go on a drunken bender. Hearing those words broke Tami's heart for the first time, and from that day on it seemed she knew she had to protect her younger brother. But that was not an easy task. Tami had to endure more than any child should ever have to.
Tami's mom had a mental illness, and alcohol only fueled the fire. We get our first glimpse into one of her episodes when Tami sees her mom in the living room getting beat up by the neighbor for hitting on her husband. Something she wouldn't have done had she not been drunk. But her alcoholism led to many bad decisions, including the men she allowed into their lives. Tami witnessed her mom's sexual encounters with these men on several occasions and, at the tender age of twelve, was raped by one of her mom's boyfriends, which resulted in Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. When the doctor asked how she could have a condition you couldn't get without sexual contact, her mother said, "Maybe she's just a tramp." I cried when I read this.
For the length of this honest, inspiring memoir, my heart ached for the author. I felt her pain when she read her mother's diary and found out that her mom was suicidal and wished she never had her. I wasn't surprised when she turned to alcohol and cutting herself and even attempted suicide. Her mother's abuse also led Tami to develop an ulcer at age eighteen, and later on a dangerous "coping mechanism" called anorexia. Her brother wasn't much better off either, turning to alcohol and drugs to ease his pain, even though Tami did all she could throughout their childhood to protect him. And although there are many, many tragic events that take place throughout the volume at hand, the author writes in the perfect voice for this tough subject matter, never diving into the depths of despair, which makes White Elephants a highly readable memoir.
White Elephants is a story of survival, strength, and hope. Chynna's story is a testament to the fact that you can rise above the abuse experienced in childhood and become the woman and mother you always wished for. That's what Chynna is today, and so much more. She's a true inspiration and a gifted writer with the courage to step up and tell her heartbreaking story, warts and all, to help other people who may be experiencing the same thing in their lives. I know it's helped me. And I have to say one thing: even though there may have been an elephant in the room that no one seemed to notice, Chynna did all she could as a young lady. It was a different era and therapy wasn't as common as it is today. Now, we have resources. So if you know someone who is suffering, speak up and find help.
I recommend White Elephants to anyone who has experienced alcoholism, mental illness or abuse in the family. You will find comfort and inspiration in this memoir, knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel.