After nearly two years of absence from each other’s lives, although the feeling had been lingering like a vague shadow on a cloudy day, it finally hit me that I may never see you alive again. Though it may seem unnatural, I feel like I’ve made peace with this revelation. Maybe I had already made peace with losing you all those decades ago, as we watched our paths diverge in one not so ordinary moment, a rare private juncture of whispered words between you and I. I bet you hoped I forgot and I bet you convinced yourself that you forgot as well. But I am a mother now too, and experience has taught me that there are some words that pass between parent and child which can never be forgotten.
Why don’t we just leave him?
Remember? I was eight. In my naive thinking, through youthful and eager eyes which saw hope, intuition guiding me to glimpse the possibility of light through darkness, I thought maybe, if we just laid our cards on the table, if we just spoke the truth of the matter out loud, maybe we could save each other. And it wasn’t just watching him beat on you — that was the least of my worries, you were big and I was small — no, it was that days had bled into nights, until long months of my young life dragged into tortured years. I thought, surely an end had to be somewhere in sight, having little courage to spell it out, I was pleading my case to you: Mama, help me.
Your immediate, dismissive reaction told me all I didn’t want to know, asking me if I was crazy; asking, how would we live and how would we eat. The flash of anger in your eyes hinted at something else, a reveal any eight year old would have failed to interpret. All these years of feeling lost and invisible in the world, meanwhile you were the one person who had seen, peered into my eyes, saw what was there before even I knew who I was. If you blanched you hid it well, pretending to unsee what you saw. Devil-child, right?
Eight years later, mayhem! You were right. Our gravy train careened off the rails because I had had enough, Lady, I had drawn a line into the fuckin sand. Now I was sixteen and I could see the writing on the wall. Saving me was never in your cards, Papa was never going to stop, therefore I had to save myself. Do you remember how sunny that Saturday morning was? I do, it was a warm summer day. But it was still early, so although the streets were sun-bathed, and fully leaved trees rustled gently, outside was still quiet, and neighbors, cocooned in the comfort of their homes, must have been busy with breakfast or morning chores. I bet they ran to their windows when they saw the police car, the rotating red and yellow lights flashing atop, and then — gasp! handcuffs? — isn’t that the man who beats on his kids and wife?
By the time you got home from work, the street was quiet again, the tear stains had dried on my face and your husband was sitting in a jail cell.
What did you do?!
My goodness! I stared, searching your face, unprepared, your reaction almost knocked me down. Your voice, Mama, those words sounded like an accusation. My heart had begun to race, I felt trapped, felt so alone, nowhere to turn from your wrath and your bewildered rage. Your eyes were wild in defense of him, you flailed your arms, your eyes filled with tears.
Do you understand what you’ve done?! In jail?! You put him in there with murderers and rapists! How could you do that? How could you do such a thing?!
You paced, you clutched your heart, shaking your head and ignoring my angry pleas. You muttered words of comfort to yourself, saying, Alright, think think think.
That was some day, huh Lady? It was a day that changed us all, changed everything we thought we knew, brought alliances to the forefront and fractured the family ties the way a stone meets a car’s windshield. Unfortunately for me, I was the stone.
We all managed to get through that season, you were always a clever lady, Lady. You hid Papa in the basement, squirreled away his clothes and belongings from the dutiful perusal of the social worker assigned to our home. I know you couldn’t imagine allowing outsiders to help us, you two, a reprehensible team of fric and frac, left me no choice. We all paid dearly, feels like we each made our own separate deals with the devil. Your deal, to pretend nothing awry ever happened, forced my own soul crushing deal to zip my interloping lips.
Did I ever forgive you? You know I did. We moved on, despite our splinteredness as family, having had our Christmases, our Thanksgivings, our celebrations. The only hate I ever swallowed was that of self-loathing, what could I have know about unforgiveness. I tried it, but learned not quick enough about the cold, loneliness of the world. So despite your clear inability to GRANDparent, I couldn’t imagine blocking you from my kids. You seemed to love them in your own reluctant and angry way, but I had no manual for family dysfunction, I did what I thought was right even if in my heart it all felt wrong.
Finally, you went too far. Oh there were little hurtful moments throughout our years, your micro-aggressions, the snide remarks, the little digs and insults, your “accidental” loss of things I cherished. Meh. I told myself they were slight, like a mere seven hundred and fifty-nine paper cuts to my psyche, I would live. Thankfully, we age, because I must have begun to feel tired of you at last. When you created such a bad scene at your own granddaughter’s graduation, I knew I had had enough of all our years of pretense.
Do you ever re-read my letter? Or after twenty-one months, does it remain hidden at the back of some private drawer? Maybe, you ponder, on those gloomy, rainy days, when you’re feeling lonely and nostalgic. Maybe you tell yourself an apology might not be the worst thing in the world. Do you? But then again, maybe you say, dammit! That would mean acknowledging everything we have been through. And you refuse because, according to you, we should leave the past in the past.
Here’s the thing, Lady. I know you thought that keeping our past buried was the best decision for us all, but really, it was the best thing for you. You chose to keep your deal with the devil. As for me? I reneged and saw my life exponentially bloom. It surprised me — once the grief period had passed — how good I could truly feel. I felt lighter, I felt more loved and for the first time I was full with love for situations and people I previously felt little tolerance for. The wonder of self-love, Lady, I hope you embrace it some day.
Thank you, Mama, you taught me things I imagine you probably hated that you had to teach. I hope you find your own peace, if not in this life, then surely the next. I think when we eventually meet each other on the other side, we’ll hug with the relief of long lost sisters reunited. Because I believe that we are angels with specific assignments here on this earth and when we are done, we get to go back to our angel life, having done what we were sent to do. I love you, Lady and I have no doubt you love me too.
Who is to say how our connection as mother and daughter should meet its worldly end? It isn’t for others to understand, as long as we do for ourselves, what our heart’s promptings inspire. I’m better, Lady. And I hope you are better too.