I was never angry with my mother for leaving…she never promised she’d stay. I’ve never felt a loss, or that something was missing. I was just…curious. This is how I feel it happened, by way of some telepathically divine being.
Deep breath in, deep breath out. She watched her chest rise and fall. the black void in her eyes grew larger. One more breath. “Ok, you can do this.” Her mind’s voice echoed in the middle of the night.
One more glance at her husband in the mirror. He must have felt it. As he repositioned himself on their waterbed he asked, still half asleep, “Did you say goodbye to her yet?”
“No, I was just about to.”
“Ok, I love you, have a good trip.”
“I will…I love you too…” the ellipses could be heard in her voice.
She kissed him quickly, missing one side of his lips. He had already returned to sleep as she walked out of the bedroom. The 5 foot hallway to her daughter’s room seemed like a mile, but she could still make out a toddler-sized silhouette. Each step felt like walking upstream through a churning river. The walls spun into a blur and each breath was louder in her ear.
She breathed in her daughter’s scent before she kissed her and whispered, “I love you”…hoping there would be an eternal echo. The words left a heartbreakingly putrid taste in her mouth. Another deep breath.
She walked around the hall through the kitchen and looked at her baby blue Ford Escort through the window, she decided against taking one last look at everything else. The car was already waiting out front anyway, she rationalized. She grabbed her single suitcase and turned the handle. She walked with a costume of confidence to the car in the dark morning hours of December 6th, 1989.
With her last ounce of mental energy she calmly spoke, “Good morning, I’m all set.” She rode away, already trying to block out her life thus far. She was unable to see the shadow of the elderly neighbor woman watching from her window.
Soon, along with the car and the smoke from the exhaust, she was also gone. Missing to everyone, and maybe even herself.
My father received a phone call at work that morning.
“She didn’t show up for work today, and hasn’t called in. Is she ok?”
“Well, she left for that conference in Wyoming this morning.”
“What conference? There is no conference.”
And with that, chaos was unleashed.
For the longest time I had said the only thing my mother gave me was the gap between my teeth, and the only thing she taught me was to leave.
After my first heartbreak, as my cold heart began to quickly melt, I realized she never taught me how to leave. There was no nurture there. It was all nature. I was in my genes. In my blood.
I’d spend years growing up thinking one day she’d return. When the day came that I finally realized she and I were the same, it was the same day I realized she’d never return. I never did (return to anything). I avoided confrontation, apologizing and fighting for my heart. And so did she. It was finally being able to let go of her that allowed me to let go of myself a little. To feel something and show it. To be vulnerable. Lose control, stay around and see how things go. To forgive her when I never thought I was even angry with her. And to forgive myself, because angry was all I ever was with myself.
I have 3 memories of her. They weren’t the most comforting of memories, which may have aided in my temporarily successful yet ultimate failure in detaching myself from her.
1. We took a shower together. Possibly my first, I was around age 3. I remember stop-motion type snippets. Flesh. Steam. Hot water. That’s it. But I know it happened. I was a toddler, and remember feeling like such a “big girl” since I was taking a shower with my mom instead of a bath by myself.
2. She and my father were arguing. Over bills. In the kitchen. (With Colonel Mustard, and a knife…) I toddled in, as most kids do when their parents are fighting (proof that yes, children notice!) and it was my father who comforted me. She was sitting at the table. The side closest to the window. My father was standing, but leaning over the papers on the table. He gave me a kiss and said everything was fine. I left to go play.
3. In our basement I had an entire section devoted to my toys, but this one particular day, I decided to go to the other side, and in “Sleeping Beauty” style, pricked my finger on a cactus I’d constantly been warned about. Well it fucking hurt and I ran upstairs screaming as if I was really surprised (my goodness are children dumb sometimes!) at my condition, only to be rescued at the doorway by my father. He took me to the bathroom, sat me down on top of the toilet where I had the perfect view of my mother. She was sitting on the couch in the living room reading a magazine. She did manage to look up, just for a second, then return to her page. I remember the sinking feeling that she didn’t care, and the comforting feeling that my father did, as he bandaged me up.
It wasn’t until my 23rd Christmas, spending 8 hours talking (and laughing and crying) with my grandmother (paternal) that I came to realize how much my mother may have actually loved me. While I have heard stories of my mother’s infidelity, my grandmother tells me how she made it known that between the hours of 8-9pm she would not take phone calls, as that was the time she put me to bed. Stories of how she debated not returning to work as a journalist/editor until I attended preschool in order to spend more time with me. She left before preschool began.
My father always told me she was sick. An unknown blood disease constantly gave her stomach problems. He said she was depressed and felt she was an unfit mother and wife. Maybe he was right, and maybe it was true. I had a very happy childhood and I never remember feeling like anything was missing. It wasn’t until I was 20 years old, and placed my first child (daughter) up for adoption that I understood and truly believed that maybe, and even most likely, she gave me a better life, and through that, loved me as much as she possibly could. (Life lesson #1: Single fathers don’t get enough credit. My father is the most amazing person in the world. I am 100% sure that is a fact.)
It’s funny, the saying, “you grow up to be like your parents”…she and I have so much in common, I feel like I’m growing up to be like someone I don’t even know. I just hope I’m done running. I’m tired.
KERRY O’BRIEN KRUEGER:
Missing person info: