This is something I wrote on my 21st birthday (7 years ago now!) It is the only time I've written extensively and honestly about my birth mother. Everything I said then is still true.
Today, or rather yesterday, October 7th, 2006, was my 21st birthday, which has rather arbitrarily been deemed as the final real coming-of-age birthday here in America, and therefore something of a Big Deal. And I had a wonderful day, and tomorrow also will be full of celebration, and I do eventually want to talk about that, and celebrate the fact that I was celebrated. But for me, this birthday is important in a different way, and for a moment I want to talk about that and be a little ( Collapse )
Twenty-one is the age that my mother was when she died. Two days is how old I was when she died, properly, although it was several days before brain scans confirmed that she was truly gone and her body was allowed to stop operating.
I have often said that there has never been a case of a life that could have been so radically changed had just one person on earth given a damn about someone. My mother was six when my grandmother died, leaving her to the care of my grandfather, a man who was at worst abusive and at best distant, and probably afflicted with some form of mental illness, if I'm any judge. In any case, not an appropriate caregiver for a small child. He made her take the city bus alone when she was eight, made her wear her older brothers' hand-me-downs forever (despite the fact that she was considerably taller than them), and at one point, for reasons I am not aware of, broke her nose. Despite the urgings of his oldest daughter and his aunt, he would not ask for help, instead choosing to remarry within a year of my grandmother's death, to a woman who already had two older children of her own, who for reasons of her own truly despised my mother. By the time she was 13 she was running away with such regularity that she was brought before a judge. My grandfather's suggestion was that she be thrown in jail. The judge instead decided to send her to live with a foster family, who at least protected her to some extent, even though she still was not part of their family in the way their own children were.
After reaching her majority, my mother moved from Maryland to Alabama with a man named Ernest Kennedy, and from there to Texas, where she worked as a cab dispatcher making no money. He beat her, and eventually she moved in with one of the cab drivers from her company. It is Ernest Kennedy, however, who was my father, and I have every reason to believe that the reason she decided to keep the baby who was going to become me, when she had had abortions before, was as a bid to try to get him to come back to her. I don't feel bitter about this, because I know that whatever her motives, the truth was that she wanted me, against all sense. I do feel badly for the man she was living with, who appears to have been prepared to actually have been my father figure, who appears to have been at least in some respects a good man, and who appears to have loved my mother, and who, it appears, my mother did not love.
On October 7th, I was born, a month early, probably because my mother smoked when she was pregnant. I was five pounds, and dropped to four, and was all in all a sickly little lump of a thing. I was kept in the hospital after my mother was released, and it was when she was returning home from visiting me that my mother was sitting at a red light in the back seat of her boyfriend's cab that a drunk driver hit the car she was in at such speeds that his truck flew through the air and landed in the cross-street. Neither driver was seriously injured, but the rear pillar of the cab hit my mother in the head, and that was that. She was rushed to the hospital, put in a room a floor above the pediatric ward where I was struggling to start my life, and hers ended. Even then, when no one knew whether she had a chance, at the point before reality had removed all hope, it seems that still, no one could find the extra energy to spare to really care at all about her. When she was given an MRI to determine where her injuries were, her arm was somehow broken in the machine. Of course, a person in a coma can't give signs that they're being damaged, but to me it seems indicative of a lack of care being taken, and a lack of respect. When they shaved her head in order to do scans to determine whether there was any brain activity left at all, her sister asked for a lock of her hair to save, and the nurse threw the entire bag of hair at her, across a room. And I know intellectually that these things did not hurt her, because in reality she was dead before that, and beyond any of these physical and emotional injuries. But for most of her life, my mother was unwanted and uncared for, and it seems to me that if anyone deserved a little basic human decency to be shown to them at the end of their lives, it was her.
And then there was me. If you had looked at me on the day I was born, knowing the circumstances of my mother and her family, you would never have thought, ever, that my life was going to go anywhere. My mother was so poor that the only food in her apartment was cans of baby food, and jars of peanut butter, which is what she craved while she was pregnant. My father was not allowed into the hospital to see me or her, because of his record of putting her in the ER himself, and my grandfather was such an inanely evil man that when asked, he would not lend my mother fifty dollars so that she could return to Maryland while she was pregnant, although he did offer to employ her as his cleaning lady in return for giving her a place to stay, if she could get up there. If there was ever a kid born into miserable prospects, it was me.
And yet, for all that my mother lived and died without anyone to take care of her, when she died it seemed like everyone on earth was clamoring to get me. My birth-father wanted me. The man my mother was living with wanted me, although his plan was to put me in the passenger seat of his cab while he did his rounds. My grandfather wanted me, and all I can say is thank god that they all lost out to his oldest daughter. I think that perhaps the reason she was so determined that she should be the one to raise me stems from the fact that, while she was too young and struggling to start her own life to be able to help while my mother was trapped in such awful circumstances, she was determined that the same wouldn't happen to her baby. And it was all her doing. Her husband did not want children, and their marriage was to all intents and purposes dissolving anyway, and to simply look at the facts, it was not a winning situation for adopting a baby. But it was the best I had, and in any case her greatest and most infuriating quality is her absolute determination, and so she said she was going to adopt me and she did.
And so there is a bit of name shifting. My aunt became my mother, her husband became my father. My birth-father never saw me, and I have less than no desire to see him. By contrast, the man who didn't want children at all became the best father, the most caring, the sweetest. My parents were not originally very wealthy, but my mother rose through the ranks of the fire department and my father through the Navy's Sealift Command as a civilian, and I have always lived comfortably to say the least and been sent through private education and had opportunities and happiness in abundance. The fact that I had bad experiences that in some ways rivaled my birth-mother's for sadness and stress and fear, they have been leavened in a way hers weren't, by love and learning and happiness. For a person who started life in such grim circumstances, this world has been damn good to me, and continues to be so.
While I know that my mother did want me, it is beyond my ability to say why, to say what she could have hoped for me, in the long run, if she even thought that far ahead. I think it's safe to say that she wouldn't have expected this, maybe not even have comprehended it. While my adoptive mother has attempted throughout my life to make me familiar with the facts of my birth mother's life, and also of the truth of her character, the latter half of that has evaded me. What I know is: she loved animals, was generally kind, and perhaps would have wanted to be an architect, like her father, if she could have had any sort of advanced education. I know she looked very much like me, although in the one really good picture I've seen of her as an adult, it appears her features were somewhat finer. In truth, I see her almost as my doppelganger, the sad twin, but also the gentler, the sweeter, the more compassionate. While I don't believe in an afterlife of any sort, am in fact strenuously opposed to belief in such things, I do wish that there was some way that she could have known what I have turned into, and that somehow she could have been here to see it, even though there was no way she could have given me the same opportunities had she lived, although I'm sure she would have done her best. I like to think that for all that I am not particularly kind, or for all that I have a morality that many people wouldn't agree with, and for all my tendencies towards self-absorption, that she would have liked me. Would have seen instead the strong value system, that the self-reflection indicates a desire for improvement, the fact that I have an ability to make and keep friends despite my deep-seated faults because of a reliability that goes deeper than offhanded mockery.
I don't know really why it was important to spend this day, of all days, on these reflections. I suppose because if I were to die tomorrow, at the same age my mother did, I could still be said to have easily outlived her in terms of happiness and experiences and opportunities. And as eager as I am to go forward with my life, it seemed like this was an appropriate time to look back, and show a little extra care for a person who could have used so much more of it.
Your heart is the compass, your mind is the map.
I won't go if you won't.