By Lori Jakiela
Atticus Books, 2015
We all need to believe in something. So says Lori Jakiela in Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe, a memoir chronicling her search for her birth mother, for someone “that looked and moved and laughed and loved and was sad like me” (99). For some people, this belief is firmly set in a god. For others, their only belief is in the cruelty of the world. For both, this belief is their life-line; it is how they survive. Jakiela undertakes this memoir to write, process, and create her own memories and beliefs, “to sketch in the details of what was lost to me” (291). However, it soon becomes clear that Jakiela also bears witness to the stories of others—of her father who never spoke about his time in WWII, of her birth mother who says that she thinks of her often but that she wishes she had aborted her, as well as to each of her readers, to us. We all want our own stories because “everybody needs a compass in this world” (31). And Belief is Jakiela’s compass.
Jakiela is a master at weaving past and present together; at creating a seamless picture between who she was, who she has become, and who she does not remember—the self that she cannot grasp. Her memoir is like her mother’s recipe, the mother who raised her: “as proof of an exchange, a transaction between generations” (283). As Jakiela enters into this virtual, almost otherworldly, correspondence with her birth mother and sister, username Blonde4Eva, we see her struggle with the collision of these new strangers with her familiar husband and kids: on her way to meet her birth brother and sister, her husband holds her close—“‘This,’ and he moves his finger through the air, connecting dots, his face to my face and back to his, “is what matters. This is your family, right here, between us, what we make.’ Then he says, ‘You’ll understand better when I fuck you tonight.’ I love him very much” (192). It is passages like this one, imbued with raw feelings of love and doubt, that make Belief Is Its Own Kind of Truth, Maybe an unforgettable story from the first page to the last.
Although sometimes the tone of the memoir can become heady, as Jakiela is mourning the loss of loved ones as well as of the self that she thought she was and of the self that she always wanted to be. To help the reader, she breaks up the narrative of her own life with stories that have been passed down to her or imagined from orphanage documents. And it is in these stories that Jakiela really shines—you can feel her longing to know more, to be physically connected to the people that she loves, even if it is painful: “I say now because sometimes a clock ticking is just sound and writing in the present lets my parents be alive, which is what I want them to be” (260). Through her writing, she remembers her people and somehow makes the ordinary into something more, so that her father, in his filthy work clothes feeding the sparrows under the maple tree, who “stood back and waited for the birds…to come down like a curtain around him” (287) becomes something extraordinary.
Jakiela gives us a piece of her story, a piece of herself, and she believes: “‘People believe what they need to believe,’ my mother told me…about how people told themselves stories so they could keep going even though they knew the truth about things” (184). And it is this belief, belief in breathing and belief in tomorrows despite knowing the truth about suffering and death, that obliges her to write because writing says, “‘I was here.’ It says, ‘Maybe this life matters a little'” (282). And when we have nothing left, this is what we hold onto. This is what we believe.