The Diary of a Metaphysical Bookworm by Suzanne Valtsioti
The Young Coral Brackford, aka “Coco”
Okay, Raz…It is officially time for a complete investigation as to who I really am. For crying out loud, how messed up am I? I really have no idea what I am about. All I know is that I am different. And I don’t mean socially and all that…because God knows that I just don’t fit in. But I mean I feel spiritually different too.
If I don’t dig in now, and get to the heart of the matter, I will become a recluse… and in time I will morph into an old cat lady that talks to herself.
NOW is the time that I can write down anything and everything that is tough to handle, or painful to hold onto. NOW is the time that I can jot down everything and anything that was and is difficult to overcome. NOW is the time that I can write down all I know about all the unusual and unexplainable experiences that I have had up to now.
And if all of this gets recorded in your pages, Raz, then I will be getting somewhere. I will have unloaded heavy baggage. And then I can take my time and rummage through the baggage and examine its contents so that I can finally get a picture and an idea of the whole person that I am.
I suppose that people like me with ‘untraditional’ or dysfunctional types of ‘families’, if you could call them that, never really get a chance to know themselves.
We are too busy all our lives trying to figure out those that were and are around us, and later on, we are too busy trying to explain away all the pain and suffering that accumulated over the years.
My childhood was definitely ‘different’ because I was never really a child. I was too serious. And I certainly wasn’t in an environment that was suitable for children. That is for sure.
But, looking at the bright side, we made it. I don’t know how, but we did. And here I am, fifty some odd years later, trying to figure out life.
I suppose that if I didn’t have Coco, my grandmother, I would have been a lost cause. I would have been a street urchin or some sort of endangered species.
Coco loved me, in her own way. But Coco had too many issues of her own to deal with, and raising a child was never on her agenda. That is why my mother ended up like she did. But on the other hand, I got to grow up in places all over the world. And that would never have happened if it wasn’t for Coco.
Oh Raz…I don’t want to sound like some spoiled brat of privilege. I don’t want to sound as if I am criticizing the only people that cared for me. But there are wounds. And I want them to turn into scars. I want them to close.
Maybe it is better that I start out writing a bit about my mother. I could confide in you, Raz, tons of pages worth of thoughts that I never once confided and feelings that I never, ever shared. With anyone.
Maybe because I never had a brother or sister.
Maybe because I couldn’t have friends when I was young.
Maybe because now that I am an adult I wouldn’t know how to find a friend that I could really talk to. Maybe because I am alone.
Maybe because I am a loner at heart.
Being alone isn’t all that bad. After all, I am a bookworm. I can spend my whole day and night reading. Reading everything. I am definitely more comfortable with the reality within the books than with the physical reality around me. I can’t seem to function in society, in the physical world that exists outside my home, in the town. I don’t understand it. But then again, I never really lived in it. I really wouldn’t know how to survive in it.
My childhood was spent roaming the world, swept away from place to place by the wild Coco. No roots anywhere, really.
And then weirdness happened, and I began to see things and understand things that weren’t part of this physical world. From then.
But these things that would suddenly appear, activity from another world, from another place in time and space, suddenly would superimpose itself on my surroundings, out of nowhere going on around me, it was all very real, and I was a part of this different world that was suddenly bursting into my world and appearing to me.
I can’t really explain it yet. I don’t think that I am ready to.
But I need to, and it’s time to be told is coming. After all, I am finally coming out with this now, after all these years of keeping it a secret. It is hard to just come out and babble it all. How do you tell someone that you can actually see yourself living another life in another ‘time’ or another ‘place’? You don’t. You can’t. They would never understand. I wanted to tell Coco about it when I was growing up, and I almost did. But there were reasons that stopped me. Serious ones.
If my mother was only around then, when it started happening to me, maybe I could have told her about it. Maybe she would have understood. Maybe she had experienced it too. But she was already gone, out of my life, and out of Coco’s life…We never used to mention her name. It was too painful. For all sorts of reasons. But it was a pain that we never acknowledged and that we never allowed ourselves to feel. Coco and I were pros at burying our true feelings.
To this day I don’t know what became of my mother. That is a very long story. One that I feel must have some missing piece or some sort of clue in it about her that I am just missing. Her name is Summer. Yes, that is my mother’s real name. Summer. Coco didn’t want to give her a last name.
My mother never met her father. Coco said that he was just there to insert the sperm. They were very clear about that. There was no relationship between those two, Coco and my ‘grandfather’. They took great pride in meeting just for the sperm. For a sacred union, Coco would say. But that is a very long story. One that I never understood as a child, but that I grew to understand later on.
Well, Coco, my grandmother, whose real name is Coral Brackford, hailed from the East Coast Brackfords, the steel magnates…big money then. She was raised in a very stuffy, traditional and quite anal environment, cloistered inside her grandparents’ Manhattan brownstone. She was born in 1920. She was well educated by governesses because her parents were away most of the time. So here we go.
Coco, my dearest grandmother, never really knew what it was like to have parents. They left home right after my grandmother was born. How could she know as an adult how to parent, how to relate to a child when she herself was deprived of her own parents?
She was left to grow up with old lady Brackford, her grandmother. My grandmother was left in the care of her grandmother. And her grandmother was hardly the type to pay attention to the child. Poor Coco, left in the care of a despot. Children should be neither seen nor heard until adulthood according to despot Old Mrs. Brackford. No one really liked the old lady. Neither her husband, nor her children…and my grandmother was abandoned by her parents to be raised by this cold woman.
No wonder my grandmother’s parents married, had the baby and took off for Africa. The pity was that they left this baby behind, my grandmother, dearest Coco, abandoned in the ‘safety’ of the palatial Manhattan home…to be sheltered from danger but dangerously deprived of family and from familial love.
The matriarch that ‘raised’ my grandmother, old Mrs. Coral Brackford wasn’t American. She was British. The daughter of a wealthy family from the South of England. She had married James Brackford, a native New Yorker and inheritor of a large fortune, while he was in London and returned to New York with him to make their home in his family’s brownstone. The one that Coco grew up in.
James Brackford died when he was 50 leaving the British aristocratic Mrs. Coral Brackford, widow and ‘matriarch’ to rule over the finances and the social standing of the Brackford name.
Coral and James had one surviving son, Reese.That was my great-grandfather. The other sons that were born to the old matriarch never made it to adulthood. There were a few daughters. But they were suitably married off at a young age and so Mrs. Coral Brackford was finally rid of the obligation to look after them and thus she was delightfully able to ignore them.
Reese Brackford, Coco’s father, my great-grandfather, was the anthropologist. He married the much younger Nora, the daughter of a wealthy family of Dutch descent. Reese and Nora were Coco’s parents but took off without even considering raising their own daughter. Reese was a great traveler and left New York to spend most of his life studying in Africa, along with his wife.
When Nora became pregnant with my grandmother, she gave birth in New York, left the baby with the nanny, under the strict supervision of the matriarch old Mrs. Brackford, Coco’s grandmother. Coco was officially named Coral after her. as old lady Brackford, the wealthy matriarch was also named Coral.
Old Mrs. Brackford was very old school. She thought that the baby’s place was in the nursery, with the help. And so, Coco grew up, with amazing nannies and governesses, in the upstairs nursery of a huge brownstone mansion. Luckily for her, the nannies and the governesses were very kind, loving and well read. They were the only family she had really.
And so, my grandmother had her own little world created for the baby up there, and as my grandmother grew up, she never left the nursery area, except for her daily walks to the park with the nanny.
Meanwhile, old Mrs. Brackford was living her own quiet life on the ground floor and the first floor of the home, removed from this terrible burden of raising a child. Her exhausting days were consumed by tending to the much-needed administration of the household staff and to the demanding array of luncheon and tea engagements. She was hardly aware that my grandmother was there, growing up among the household help, in the nursery.
There was a lot of money in the family. From all sides. Turn of the century steel money, railroad money and all that. This is why my great-grandfather Reese, could afford to live his life studying primitive tribal customs and trying to make his name in anthropology. Apparently, there were very few social scientists there, and so for years in Africa, he was working alongside some British and Swiss colleagues.And he took Nora with him to live in Africa. It was best for baby Coral to be left in New York with Grandmama Coral, they believed.
Over the years, Reese and Nora made very few visits back to New York. By the time Coco was seventeen, her parents were both dead. She received word about both of them in a letter addressed to her and her grandmother from her father’s Swiss friend and colleague. Her mother, Nora, had died first, and her father, Reese, died a few months later.
It was said that young Coco’s mother,Nora, had became pregnant again, and died from complications in childbirth. It was said that her father Reese died of heartbreak and of malaria. It was said that the baby was stillborn. Others said it died soon after birth. Others say that it didn’t die. There were many conflicting stories that managed to reach young Coral’s, or Coco’s – as I like to call her, ears over the years.
For some reason, neither one of those stories seemed to have an impact on Coco. Either she didn’t care or she cared too deeply and the pain was unbearable. There was never any mention in the social circles of the time about the infant in Africa. That was a detail that was best forgotten according to them. People of their standing did not roam the jungles, fornicate among the natives and give birth in the midst of barbarians.
But nevertheless, Mrs. Coral Brackford, the old NY matriarch, couldn’t survive the idea that her only son Reese was dead. And so she closed her eyes, and never reopened them.
Coco or ‘young Coral’ was left all alone.
Coco had many relatives but no family. They were all very cold and indifferent people. The family solicitors took care of the funerals as per directions left in the wills. And Coco, in 1937, was left with a fortune. Her share of her grandmother’s inheritance as well as all of her father’s.
She remained home under the supervision of the family lawyers and the household help until she became eighteen. She received a letter on her eighteenth birthday from England. There was yet another inheritance there to be claimed by her, it came from her grandmother Coral’s side of the family. A branch of the family that Coco never knew anything about. An inheritance that would have gone to Reese upon the old lady’s death, and now belonged to dear Coco.
So, my grandmother, the young Coral Brackford was escorted by the New York solicitors onto the steamship and sailed to England. There she was met by the solicitors handling the estate in England. They met her at the docks and brought her to the hotel in London where she would stay.
The next day she went to the solicitors’ offices and her financial situation was put into some sort of order. It was arranged for her to receive monthly income from a large estate left in trust. And she had a sizeable income from the NY Brackford money coming in as well.
So the wealthy young Coral Brackford was set. She was young, very wealthy and inexperienced. She was lively, and all of a sudden found herself to be free. Completely free. And it was 1940. What a time to be free and with no one to say ‘no’ to a girl who was housing a very wild spirit inside of her all this time. And she wanted to try everything, to see everything and to live life to the fullest.
And that she did. Talking about sowing oats.
And this is when Coral Brackford officially became Coco. Not Coco Brackford.
She became a free spirit, one that rocked Europe. She spread her wings like no other.
And this new life of hers is the turning point in Coco’s life that came to be the decisive factor that would greatly influence my life when I came into this world years later. There is so much that needs to be said about my grandmother Coco.
Bare with me Raz, because I need to write it all out. I don’t want her story to get lost in time. There is too much to tell.
First of all, when Coco saw London, she fell in love with life, freedom and the wild ways of the forties. And that is when she discovered that she was gay.