I never told my mother some of the most frightening and painful moments of my teenage years.  I didn’t share the stories of risky nights that involved drugs and alcohol, or the nights I slept in my car after getting kicked out of the house where I was living, or the depression that made me toy with thoughts of death. Turns out, I learned how to keep secrets too.

There’s a popular school of thought that says when writing about real life it’s best to wait until the main players are dead. Actor and former child star Jeanette McCurdy took that idea to a new level with her bestselling memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died.  I chose a different tack.  I decided to read my stories out loud to my mother and ask for her help.

My mom has an excellent memory.  She knows the birthdays of every distant relative and details of our ancestors’ lives. In journalism parlance, she’s what we call an extremely solid source.  But she’s a highly conflicted one. One afternoon, as we sat at her kitchen table, I asked how she and my father picked our home.  My mom is a great storyteller and she started regaling me with the reasons, then stopped herself mid-sentence and said “Why am I cooperating with this?”

But she stuck around through my writing process, even when our memories were at odds.  Like my memory of being seven, just before my parents divorced, when I watched my mother, out of nowhere, heave a whole eggplant across the kitchen in anger.  She wasn’t throwing it at me, but I was standing near the wall that it thwacked against. I was horribly startled.

“No,” my mom said.  “I threw the eggplant down the stairs at Dad.”

“No, Mom, that happened in the kitchen. You were at the stove. I remember it well.”

“I do too. I threw it at Dad, down the stairs.”

“That makes no sense, Mom.  Why would you have an eggplant upstairs?”

We agreed to disagree.

These conversations with my mother became more than fact-finding missions.  They became bonding sessions.  Talking through our painful memories gave us the chance to sit face-to-face as two adult women, ready to hear each other.  Before then, I hadn’t understood what my mom was searching for, or why “home” was not her safe haven. Stoic silence, I’ve learned, only gets us so far.  As my journalism career has taught me, denial and half-truths divide us. True stories create connection.

Today my mom and I are enjoying a wonderful new chapter.  Though our discussions were difficult, they’ve led to a more authentic, happier place.  It doesn’t fit neatly on a cover, but now the title of my book could be, “I am so Glad that My Mom is Alive to Finish Our Story.”

Alisyn Camerota is a CNN anchor and two-time Emmy Award winner. She’s the author of the novel Amanda Wakes Up, and her memoir, Combat Love: A Story of Leaving, Longing, and Searching for Home, will be released on March 26.

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