I don’t really remember if it was both my mother and my father who came to pick my sister and me up at the orphanage.
I write about that day as if it was only my father. In reality, while I am positive it was my mother only who had dropped us off there, I can’t imagine that only one of them without the other would have come to pick us up.
I do remember that when I got home I was so angry at my mother I couldn’t look at her, and in not looking at her, I never really saw her—then, or for the rest of my life.
Can a three-year-old be so angry? So angry as to wipe someone from the face of the earth?
I can only say yes.
My mother felt my anger at her, but I was trapped in it. I had fallen into a cell made of rage and didn’t know how to open the door to get out. I didn’t even know there was a door.
Neither did she, and life went on with me collecting proof that my anger was justified, that she couldn’t be trusted and that she didn’t love me.
“She didn’t even have birthday parties for me.”
“She made me stay home from school to take care of my baby brother.”
“She lied to Daddy.”
There was nothing she could do to get through to me—so she gave up and gave me away again. This time to my father who lived right there in the house with us.
“You take care of her.”
“I don’t know what to do with her.”
“I can’t stand the sight of her.”
To be honest, I think that over time she really didn’t know what to do with either one of us—my father and his roaming-never-satisfied-PTSD view of his world, and me and my resentful-demanding-never-satisfied-blaming-her-for-abandoning-me view of mine.
And so we all lived together, locked in our personal justifications and grievances—starving for contact with one other.
I was in the Emergency Room of a hospital somewhere in New York when I called my answering machine back home in Tucson to see if there were any messages. It was pre-voicemail, definitely pre-cell phone days, and I rewound the tape remotely to hear the message my brother left again—and again—and again.
I had just been examined by some kind of doctor who told me that I had bacterial infections in both ears and that one ear drum had burst. Whatever the hell my 60-something-year-old self was doing in New York with ear infections in both ears doesn’t matter.
What does matter is the message my brother left on the phone.
“They don’t expect mom to make it through the night. Come home.”
In the background I could hear my sister sobbing and my uncensored, raw, honest-to-God immediate reaction was,
“Thank God I’m not there.”
I actually felt spared from something. I knew not what, but I knew I was grateful for not having to be part of it.
In the end, I never had to talk to anybody about not being there when they gave my mother the morphine to help her finally let go. I never had to say to anyone in my family, “I can’t make it. She’s in Arizona; I’m in New York.” All I had to do was hang up the phone while she died.
Which is exactly what I did.
I still haven’t cried for my mother. I honestly don’t think I knew her well enough to cry for the loss of “her.” What I might have cried for was what she and I didn’t have or for what might have been. But I haven’t cried for that either, because I didn’t know what we didn’t have.
Every now and then I get an inkling of what mothers and daughters have when I see how my own daughters react to me or when I see how other daughters mourn their mothers or when I find myself wondering what I might have missed out on, but it’s just every now and then.
Mostly, I feel like a motherless child—and I don’t want to feel broken like that. I want to do something that in some magical way, even across the boundaries of life and death, allows both she and I to feel that we had something—something called “each other.”
I want to tell my mother that I’m sorry for not knowing more and for not knowing how. That I’m sorry for what she and I might have missed out on in giving and getting from each other.
“Most of all, Mom. Most of all,” I want to say to her, “I’m sorry you didn’t know that I got over it all and that I realized that it wasn’t all about me, that you were a whole, individual person in your own right, and that no matter what you did or the reasons you did it, you didn’t deserve my scorn.”
Just like that stupid telephone message machine, I want to be able to rewind.
Author: Carmelene Siani
Editor: Toby Israel