It felt good to know who I was. My job paid enough that I lived in Beverly Hills adjacent. Just a one bedroom apartment but fine for a single, career woman. Only ten minutes from work and in Southern California’s one to two hour commutes, I was living easy. My circle of friends from church and I went to movies, ate out and cared for each other. I was loving it.
When I moved back to California, Mother wanted me to live and work near her and Daddy but my skills meant LA’s financial center and living near them in Pomona meant a two hour commute. Still, weekend trips were doable. I had the best of both worlds.
I had lost weight, had a new wardrobe, learned which colors and hairstyles looked good on me, was taking voice lessons and singing regularly at church. The new pianist had a red sports car. He was cute. Life was good.
Mother was working on family genealogy when I got to the house that Friday night. The dining room table held picture albums and family tree info. She jumped up, piled things together and fretted over how she meant to have the table cleared for dinner. At his desk, Daddy gave me a warm smile, a kiss and a hug.
Mother made Daddy’s favorite meal of steak and baked potatoes. As we ate, I asked Daddy about his work driving around Southern California to meet with churches that needed financing for construction. The talk turned to the genealogy Mother was compiling.
I was content. The old, Spanish house with craftsman hardwoods was filled with pictures of my brothers and sister and their kids, Mother’s plants and knick-knacks covered every space, her various projects were stacked around. The book shelves were overflowing. Cozy and lived-in.
Daddy pushed his chair back, took off his glasses and cleaned them with his napkin. Mother was still eating tiny bites.
“I found pictures of the house we lived in when you were born.” She said. “I had two babies and a toddler, all in diapers. Your father was out working all day. We propped you up in the corner of the couch with your bottle.” She sipped her iced tea. “Mama” she went on, “came out for the weekend and said, ‘That baby is failing; if you don’t want her, I’ll take her.’”
A knife-like pain hit my gut. I couldn’t breathe. I flushed hot.
“Well, it scared us to death, of course. We never did that again. We held you for every bottle.” Mother went on cutting and chewing. Daddy smiled at me and stood and carried his plate to the kitchen sink.
My head was spinning. I didn’t remember the rest of the evening, but in the spare room, the twin bed tight against storage boxes, my sleep was flooded with old thoughts and feelings. I didn’t fit in at school, was afraid to take an art class or join in sports or school clubs. I could never make Mother happy. She never approved of my hair, what I wore, what I wanted to do. I never felt pretty or useful. I was worthless. I jerked awake as bile rose and threatened suffocation. The pain in my gut told me I finally understood.
The next day I limped back to Beverly Hills adjacent, wounded and scarred. One part of me weighed the facts: she was a young mother, busy, overwhelmed, tired; Daddy was working; they did the best they could. The other part of me felt pain in my gut; ache in my heart; the need to know I was loved and valuable to Mother. Life with Mother had always been about her, not me. I felt weighted, drugged, my nose barely above the surface of heavy water, the swirling mists taking the shape of Mother.
I opened the door to my apartment and knew I had to choose. I could drown in the nightmare of old memories, old programmed responses or I could embrace the new person I had become. There was only one way out. It would take time, but I couldn’t go back. I would have to forgive. I pushed through the heavy funk that swirled around me, opened the drapes and let in the light. The specter of Mother in the murk faded away.
[3rd Place Award, LinkedIn Writing Contest #14]