Secrets, Lies, and Conditional Love
Updated: Aug 1
Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me
By: Adrienne Brodeur
When I was little, I lived next door to a girl who was two years older than me. Elisabeth was older and much cooler then I would ever be. When I was in kindergarten she told me about the birds and the bees. I have no idea how she even knew what they were and to my horror, she filled me in on every gory detail. Most of what she told me was completely fabricated, just a seven-year old’s version of sex. I immediately ran home to my mother and asked her if it was true. Keep in mind, the year was 1979, my mother simply answered “yes, it’s true” and continued making dinner without the blink of an eye, business as usual. The seven-year old’s version was all I ever learned until I eventually figured it out on my own later in life.
My mother never spoke about sex and I certainly was never my mother’s confidante or someone she told her secrets to. Growing up during that time, children were expected to keep their noses out of adult business. Parents were the parents and kids were the kids and there was a very distinct line between the two. I also grew up with the belief that my parents were always right. They may not be fair and I certainly didn’t like many of the decisions they made but they knew what was best. It wasn’t until I got to college that I realized they made mistakes too.
When I picked up this week’s book, I was immediately transfixed on the title, Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me. WHAT????? The author, Adrienne Brodeur is a few years older than me, yet she had a completely different upbringing then I did. The book’s opening chapter is about how her mother woke her up when she was 14 years-old to tell her that her step-father’s best friend had just kissed her. I was instantly captivated. How could this have happened? This woman grew up a few years before me and yet, sex and sexual relationships were openly talked about? No way!
From this moment on, Adrienne (nicknamed Rennie) became her mother’s confidante. Not only was she someone her mother confided in, but she actually became an accomplice in her mother’s tangled web of lies. I kept reading on because I couldn’t understand how a mother could subject her daughter to such a deceitful life. Adrienne clearly knew this was wrong, but she loved her mother wholeheartedly and it was so important that she please her.
Malabar, Adrienne’s mother was a complicated woman with a very strong and narcissistic personality. She was married to Adrienne’s father but divorced when Adrienne and her brother Peter were young. Malabar soon moved on to marry Adrienne’s wealthy step-father Charles, whom she loved very much. She moved her children from NYC to Boston to grow up in his massive, ten-bedroom house. Soon after Malabar married Charles he suffered a massive stroke and never fully recovered. The world that Malabar envisioned with her husband soon shattered. There would be no world travel, no exciting adventures and while they enjoyed a wonderful life of privilege, he wasn’t mobile enough to provide Malabar with the life she had hoped to experience.
The family spent much of their summers on the Cape. During the summer when Adrienne turned 14, her step-father’s best friend, Ben, came to visit with his wife Lily. One night, Malabar woke Adrienne up to tell her she had just kissed Ben. She told her daughter that she would need her help to pull the affair off, and Adrienne writes, “This marked the beginning of the rest of my life.”
Adrienne suddenly found herself lying to her step-father about her mother’s trips to NY for her rendezvous with Ben. She would ask Ben and Malabar to take nightly strolls with her while Ben and his wife visited the Cape for the weekend. Adrienne would then veer off to allow Ben and Malabar to go off to the guest house together.
By this point, you’re wondering how Malabar could do this to her daughter? Most importantly, why did Rennie go along with it? With a mother who is a narcissist, unconditional love is a fleeting thought. A true narcissist can’t look beyond their own needs to understand that her daughter has needs as well. Her 14-year-old daughter needed to be loved, and cared for and made to feel safe. From the day I became a mother, it was my belief that my purpose in life was to bestow unconditional love onto my children. Rennie didn’t have this kind of security and was so desperate for her mother’s love that she did what she needed to do to stay in her good graces.
The book’s title Wild Game comes from the dangerous game Malabar, Ben and Rennie played but also from the cookbook they decided they would create as a way to see each other more often. Ben was a hunter, he always brought wild game home to Malabar’s house on Cape Cod because she was a fantastic cook. They thought, if they could create a cookbook with recipes for all the wild game he caught, then they would have an excuse to get together more often. Rennie was in on the devious plan as well. She knew it was wrong but it was too late to extricate herself.
As Rennie grew up, she went through some hardships and stressful times in her life until she eventually came to a point where she had a career that she loved and a life that she was proud of. At this point, she no longer needed to be her mother’s confidante and the relationship changed. Her mother no longer needed her, so she was essentially tossed away.
You may guess that Adrienne became a basket case in her adult life, but ironically, she is a completely functioning, extremely bright career woman with a family of her own. And she decided at the birth of her first child that she would never be the kind of mother that Malabar was to her. Most importantly, while Malabar never gave her daughter unconditional love, Adrienne, always unconditionally loved her mother. She saw her faults and her weaknesses, her cruelty and her frailty, and yet she still continued to love her mother for all her flaws and she was able to forgive her. Forgiveness is the most important part of unconditional love.
The voice in this memoir is a strong voice, it is the voice of someone who came out of a terrible situation and can reflect on it with clarity and understanding. I can’t imagine how difficult this was for Adrienne Brodeur to write. She had promised to keep the secret until her grave but she had forgiven herself for the deception and wanted to cleanse herself of the story.
Good luck to all of you this week. I know as I sit here writing this, I go through periods of fear and anxiety of how to keep everyone safe while also occupying their time at home for the next few weeks. Rather than worry about how we can possibly get through this time with the kids at home with no way to go to the movies, please take this time to unconditionally love your family members. Instead of looking at this time as an annoyance, look at it as a gift. These next two weeks, or two months, will be something that we will never forget but hopefully time to make some memories.
And please take some time for yourself. Go up to your room, close the door and take an hour a day to read!
Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me
By: Adrienne Brodeur
Publication Date: October 15, 2019
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt