In her memoir, "Creating Myself," Mia Tyler, a plus-size model and the daughter of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, reveals what it was like growing up in the shadow of her father and how she learned to love herself. An excerpt.
My dad's offhand comment caught me by surprise. We were on our way to New Hampshire to see his parents. We had started our road trip in Massachusetts, where my dad lived. Dad was behind the wheel, while I enjoyed the view from the passenger seat, realizing how much I liked the lush countryside and dense woods compared to the concrete and crowds of New York City, where I lived.
This was the first time Dad and I had ever been alone for this length of time, and it gave us time to talk without interruption, a rarity around him.
We caught each other up on our recent travels and personal lives, then lapsed easily into conversation about the past. For us, it was always a favorite topic. In our own ways, both of us were interested in figuring out what the hell had happened back then. The past was also a fitting topic since we were going to spend the night at the family home on the lake in Sunapee, where I grew up.
"By the way, you should go over to the Gray House and see if you want any of the stuff in it," he said. "I'm going to tear it down."
Wow. The Gray House was an old four-bedroom home. It was next door to the larger, nicer, and completely refurbished residence where I had lived until I turned eleven. I shut my eyes and pictured both places perfectly. Images of my mom and me flooded my head. I could even see the power cords that my mom had run across the lawn from the big home into the Gray House after circumstances had forced us into the less desirable place. We'd stayed there for a year before moving to New York.
"What's in there?" I asked.
"I don't know," my dad said. "You gotta look around."
I could only imagine. Our move to the city had been abrupt and hurried, like an escape, even though there was nothing to escape at the time other than my mom's inability to restart her life after splitting from my dad. Our stuff must've still been in the Gray House sixteen years after we'd left it.
"Take anything you don't want thrown out," he added. " It's probably a bunch of junk."
"Hey," I said, pretending to take offense, "are you calling my New Kids on the Block posters junk?"
The conversation moved on to my mom. On a very personal level, one of the benefits of my dad's fame is that he has given so many interviews that few subjects are off-limits in conversation. He will, and can, talk about anything, including my mom. She was a sore, confusing, frustrating, and sad subject for both of us. My dad had divorced her, and I'd never liked her. Scratch that. I was angry at her for being so unhappy and not doing anything about it. When she died from brain cancer in 2002, I was relieved to know that she no longer had to suffer, but goddamn it, I was pissed at her for having wasted so much time being miserable and feeling sorry for herself.
"I should've tried to get her into rehab when I went," he said of the time he got sober in the late '80s. "Maybe things would've been different."
"Maybe," I said. "But you don't know if they'd have been better or worse."
"But your mom — "
I shushed him.
"I'd be a different person, not who I am today," I said. "And I like the way I've turned out. Mommy lived her life a certain way. You did, too. No regrets."
As soon as my dad turned down the dirt road leading to the house, I craned my head from side to side, trying to see everything at once. Suddenly there weren't enough windows in the car. I hadn't been back for a while, yet the familiarity of this place that I still considered home rushed at me until I was swamped by memories that hung in my brain like mental sticky notes.
The main house looked the same from the outside, but the interior had been redone by my stepmother in a faux Native American theme that made me think of cheap hotels and tacky souvenir shops. I didn't mention anything to my dad. After dinner, I spent the night in my old room and had weird dreams about my mom that disappeared as soon as I opened my eyes.
The next day, following a warm visit with my grandparents, I walked around the property. I wanted to take in the smells and feel of the woods and the lake. If New York was on one side of the planet, this felt like the opposite end. I was in no hurry to get to the Gray House, and when I finally did walk up to the front door I was telling myself that it wasn't a big deal.
I was wrong. As soon as I opened the front door, which was unlocked, I felt as if I had stepped into a time warp. It was a sci-fi movie starring me in dual roles, as myself in the present and as a little girl in the past. Weird. For a moment, I expected to see my mom come around the corner and tell me that I was going to lose my TV if I didn't clean my room. I shook my head. I could almost see myself unplugging the TV in my room and putting it in the hall outside my bedroom door.
That made me laugh. I so didn't give a sh-- about being in trouble as a kid.
Then I blinked a few times and returned to the present. I walked through several of the downstairs rooms until I came to a few large, green, extra-strength garbage bags. I knew they held the stuff I probably cared about, all of it crammed together and sealed with a twisted tie like time capsules.
One by one, I opened the bags and rummaged through them. I actually found myself having fun. Why hadn't I studied archaeology in school? Better question: why hadn't I studied, period? At any rate, I wasn't expecting to find anything of value or interest, but I surprised myself when I found a couple of my old sketchbooks. I sat down and looked through them. The pages were filled with drawings (horses and landscapes) and poems (variations on the "I hate my mother" theme). They came back to me as if I'd just done them.
From another bag, I pulled out some costume jewelry. I also found a couple books that meant something to me. Ah yes, then I came upon my old posters of Axl Rose, Sebastian Bach, and the New Kids on the Block, who were as cute as when I'd last seen them on my bedroom wall.
I spent a couple hours sifting through things, and at the end of that time I sat in the midst of a pile of stuff — some that I wanted and some that was fun to look at for the moment but I was going to be fine without. I didn't go through the things that had belonged to my mom. I'd already done enough of that after she'd died.
It was still emotional. Several times I was close to tears. At other times I felt like laughing. Once I did actually chuckle out loud. I also wondered if I'd feel my mom's presence. I know it sounds strange, but several times after she passed away I know that she visited me. There was an occasion when my computer kept turning on and off by itself. There was also another time when my cell phone kept ringing but no one was calling me. Both times I'd sensed my mom.
But not this time, and after a couple hours, I was ready to close up the house. I had a pile of things that I wanted to take with me — enough to fill a box. Nothing I found was going to change my life, but I did wonder why my mom had left so much stuff behind when we moved.
I knew the answer. She was always running away from her life; this was more proof. I wanted to be angry with her, but I couldn't. I realized that in her haste to leave she'd given me a gift. She'd allowed me to return to our life together here in a way she never could while she was alive: with forgiveness in my heart.
Then a weird thing happened. Before shutting the door, something on a table caught my eye. It was my Puss 'n Boots pop-up book — the only book I remembered my mom reading to me when I was little. I hadn't seen it on the table earlier, but seeing it then made me smile. I put it in the box of stuff I was taking with me.
"Thanks, Mom," I said, taking one last look around before shutting the door.
Later, as my dad and I got ready for the drive back to Massachusetts, he saw me put the box of stuff in the back of the car. I described a few of the things that I'd found. Some of those items, like my Sebastian Bach poster, inspired a few stories that made us laugh. As we hit the highway, we stopped talking and listened to the radio.
Somewhere during that stretch I realized that I'd taken more from the Gray House than was in the box.
Excerpted from "Creating Myself." Copyright © 2008 by Mia Tyler. Reprinted with permission from Simon & Schuster.