I am stunned by all the responses, all the parents writing to say that they have been pushed out of their children’s lives. I grew up thinking this could not have happened to anyone else. No one else’s mother disappears, which had made me feel deeply ashamed, though I hadn’t named that; I had just felt it somewhere beneath the surface of my heart, because children always assume it is their fault when a parent leaves. I had known my father had something to do with it though. And perhaps my mother had done something bad, something that made him furious. I knew it wasn’t only my fault.
To offer my words now, to help a parent understand her own child, gives some purpose to my story; to shed a sliver of light that leads the way to the heart of another child, even if they don’t respond. But I hope they do and you should hope too. Don’t stop believing that they will.
By taking care of my own children, now all nearly grown, I have learned to care for myself as well. To be ones own mother is a gift we are all afforded and it should not be taken lightly. We can lead ourselves out of the dark, like a mother would do if she could. I have so much to be grateful for, not the least of which are my words, flowing through me, turning old pain into power, into light, into love.
It is my fifth birthday, in July of 1971, and my father has been remarried for a few months now.
There is a knock on our door and he answers it. I am playing on the floor of my bedroom, which is off of the kitchen, and my door is wide open. I hear my father mutter something quietly in an angry tone. When I look up, I see Lisa. She is holding a box wrapped in pink tissue paper, and she walks hesitantly to my room.
From a distance, I think I hear the door to Memere’s downstairs apartment open and then my father calling after Kate-or Mom as we are supposed to call her now. He walks down after her. I know my father is angered that our old mother is here. I am uneasy, cautious. I feel like I am dreaming.
Her hair is pulled back in a ponytail. And her face-do I look at her face? She says something and then hands me the present and watches while I open it. It is a mechanical puppy, brown with a red collar, and when I press a button it walks and lets out an abrupt, high pitched yelp at the same time. I keep playing with it with such focused attention, pressing the button, watching it walk, picking it up, again and again. I almost forget that Lisa is still standing there. Is she standing there? Is this real? I feel dazed, but I don’t want her to leave. If only I could say so.
Lisa pokes her head out of my doorway and calls out to Amy. From where I sit I can see Amy turn to face Lisa, to look at the woman who used to be our mother. Lisa walks out of my room and my daze I can hear them talking.
“Do you want to see me anymore? Do you want me to visit you again?” Lisa asks Amy, gently.
“You don’t need to”, Amy says firmly, angrily. She is only six years old but there is power behind her words. “We have a new mother now.”
And I know that Lisa will never be back.
I don’t know if it is a minute or a half hour later when Lisa leaves. Amy has gone downstairs to join Kate and our father in Memere’s apartment. I don’t want to go down there, but like a sleepwalker, I put one foot in front of the other until I am there. I find myself down there. They are consoling Kate who has been crying because Lisa was there.
I know I am not supposed to love Lisa anymore. I know of my powerlessness, but I keep the feeling contained, I put it away. I leave it somewhere within me, somewhere I mustn’t go.
I stay there in the doorway. I betray myself with my silence.