Melissa Cistaro, the events coordinator at Book Passage in Corte Madera, Calif., has lived a child's worst nightmare: she and her two brothers were abandoned by their mother, who drove off in a car one day and didn't come back. The children at the time were all under the age of five.
"It's a story that wouldn't let me go," Cistaro says of Pieces of My Mother (May), her memoir of growing up with a mother who was physically absent from her life, except for intermittent visits during her childhood. The two finally reconnected when, as an adult, Cistaro spent six days at her dying mother's bedside. "I didn't always feel like I had a choice in telling my story. I needed to tell people. I could do nothing without telling the story," she says.
A lot of the compulsion to write Pieces of My Mother was driven by Cistaro's own experience of motherhood and her fear that history would repeat itself—as it so often does to those who forget the past. Becoming a mother, Cistaro says, made her confront daily the sadness of growing up without a mother, she says. "I needed to make sense of how my mother—how any mother—could leave her child." Plus, there was an added tragic element: Cistaro feared that she might herself end up leaving her own three children and perpetuate the cycle. "I come from a family of women who were abandoned as children," Cistaro says, disclosing that her paternal grandmother was dropped off at a convent when she was two years old, and that her maternal grandmother had died young, drinking herself to death. "Did I have a leaving gene?" she asks.
While she says she didn't start out writing Pieces of My Mother as a form of therapy, it ended up being therapeutic. She may never know if she does or doesn't have a "leaving gene," she says, but, just like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she made a discovery that was even more important. "I always wanted to go back home, but what I was looking for was inside of me the whole time," she says.
Cistaro signs copies of Pieces of My Mother today at 2 p.m. in the Sourcebooks booth (3039).
This article appeared in the May 27, 2015 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.