“Some of us are born losers.” My mother said, “but not you honey, no, you’re special.
It was the 80’s, and I was in high school. I wasn’t exactly sure where her words were coming from, but I could guess. She had just lost her job or maybe it was her boyfriend or maybe both. Something prompted her to say it. Maybe it was me. Maybe I was crying. I cried a lot in high school. Maybe I asked her why something didn’t work out for her; why those people at the store sneered when she took out her food stamps; why we never had any money; how come the IRS was auditing her, a poor woman, who made less than 10,000.00 a year, and not some rich white man who made over 10,000.00 a month.
“Life is not fair!”
“No one said life is fair. Life.” She paused and I could see the pain and sadness in her face. “Life is not fair honey. Life is hard.”
The day I got attacked at school by a group of four or five kids I decided I was ready to throw the towel in on this whole life thing.
“Kids are mean.” My mother said. “They’re just jealous.” She said. “You’re so beautiful.” She said.
“You say that because you’re my mom.”
“That’s not true.” She was shocked that I would accuse her of such a thing.
But it was true. She did say it because she was my mom. I knew this because we live in a democracy, and the majority rules, and the majority of kids at school said I was scum.
Kids can be so cruel.
I never told her what happened. I never told her about getting held against the lockers. Never told her about hiding under the bathroom sink. I could never explain the level of humiliation. It was too hard to tell her. I felt like too much of a failure. A failure to her, and to her God. If I told her about what was going on at school, what was happening to her baby girl, that her baby was stupid and ugly, that she was scum; trash. I couldn’t tell her God did not look upon me as more special than the neighbor’s kids. I couldn’t tell her that my life was not enough for her to keep on living. If she knew the truth would she die? No, I knew she wouldn’t die, but my pain was too great and I couldn’t carry the hurt she would feel. I knew she would blame herself. She didn’t teach me to be strong. She couldn’t help me. I learned from example. I needed her to find something else worth living for something inside herself.
“God brought you to me, honey.” She touched my face and her eyes sparkled with love. “You’re the only reason I’m alive.”
I had this dream. A desire. A want. It hit me one day. It hit me hard. I had been out of school for a few years lolling about helpless trying to figure out what to do with my self. I could not for the life of me figure out what I was doing on this planet and then it hit me. I wanted to work for National Geographic. I considered my self a conservationist and a humanitarian, and I grew up with the magazine. My fantasy life began to unfold. There I was traveling, interviewing scientists, trudging through the jungles of exotic landscapes, meeting people of diverse and varied cultures, becoming educated and sharing that education with the world at large. Yes! I was going to write for them. Take amazing cover worthy photographs for them. I would be giving people the opportunity to open a book and discover Macedonia or Jane Goodall or the realities of a nuclear fall out. I was going to go back to school to study writing, and photography and, of course, science.
Sometimes I miss her. Mother. We live so far from each other now. Her love crushes, sometimes, to a point where I can not breath, and I need to be away from her. But, I worry. I worry all the time like she might die. Our relationship is not like in television or in the parenting books, and sometimes I want a mother.
I called to tell her about my new plan for my future.
“Mom, I’m going to work for National Geographic.” I said this after mentioning signing up for science courses.
She is silent on the other side of the phone.
“What?” She says.
“What do you think?”
“What do I think about what?” She says.
I’m annoyed. “What do you think about my idea?”
“What do I think about your idea? What do I think?”
“You want to be a scientist? You? We’ve never been any good at math. You know that. You’ll fail.” She was beginning to yell.
I was silent now. It was the only way I knew how to communicate.
“What!” She barked. “What? Are you mad now?”
“Well, yes, I’m a little upset.”
“Ya, wanted to know what I thought.” She said.
“Well, I didn’t expect you to be so harsh.”
“What did you expect.”
“You’re my mom!” I was yelling now. “You’re suppose to be supportive! It was just an idea.”
“Well how ’bout this: next time you call why don’t you just tell me what you want me to say.”
“Mom, I was trying to tell you what I wanted to do with my life.”
“Life? Do you wanna know what life is?” She asked. Anger and something heavy like a decrepit house shook in her voice. “Life is you’re born poor, you struggle and struggle, and next thing you know you’re old scrubbing some person’s floor as you’re just waiting around to die.”
“I’m not talking to you.” I hung up. I knew she was talking about herself. I knew she was scrubbing people’s floors. I knew she wanted to die. I knew it was about her, but I couldn’t separate us. She said, we’ve never been good at math. She couldn’t separate us.
I never had a mother, I thought this after hanging up the phone. I had an adult child. It was like Mork and Mindy when Jonathan Winters joined the cast only it wasn’t funny. It wasn’t funny when Jonathan Winters joined either.
She called the next day.
“Honey, I’m so sorry. It’s my hormones, they’re off. I’m going through menopause. I believe in you. you’d be a great scientist.”
I’d be a terrible scientist. I didn’t want to be a scientist, but it didn’t matter. I would have believed her if she hadn’t been talking this way all my life. Her philosophy has always been life is hard, we are born poor we will die poor; life is not fair and some of us are just born losers. Menopause was only going to make it worse.
My mom’s sister died when I was five. It was an “accidental” suicide. She had hurt her knee and to kill the pain she swallowed a bottle of codeine and washed the pills down with a bottle of vodka. Ta! Dah!
I can still remember the night she died. Mother woke me from sleep, and half carried me to her grey-blue Volkswagen bug. She had loved that bug. I don’t remember the drive. I remember the sound of gravel beneath the tires. I remember my mother’s face terse and strained. I remember the flashing lights sparkling like an amusement park. I remember it was warm out and I was wearing my pjs the one with the built in footies. I was holding my blanket like a doll. My mother pushed me down onto the black vinyl seat. It was the 70’s and children were allowed to ride in the front. She leaned over me and her long blonde hair draped over her face like a veil and cascaded into mine. She was so young then, only 26 or 27. Her hair was golden and the lights from the ambulance and police flooded around her head and reflected against her hair. She was like an angel.
“You keep your head down. Don’t you dare look out the window you understand. You understand?”
I nodded yes. She slammed the door leaving the car rocking gently. I stared up at the tiny dots in the white ceiling cover of the bug and watched as the lights dance as my aunt died.
I don’t remember what she looked like, my aunt. She had red hair. I know my mother loved her more than anyone else in the world aside from me. My memories of her are nebulous. I’m not positive they are memories of truth or if they are memories of stories. I think I have a memory of sitting on her lap. The both of us shrouded in white. She said I was like an angel. The freckles on my face were angel kisses. The mark in my eye was a starburst. I was so special God had picked me out and gave me to my mother. I was a beautiful child. We were all angels.
“For some of us honey, life is so hard, and you just get so tired of living, and you just want to go to sleep, just for a little while, and I think that’s what your aunt did. I think she just wanted to take a nap.”
Angels are never alive in the first place.
I hadn’t seen my mother in two years. The last time I saw her she was impoverished with worn holes in her clothing. She lived in a room and took care of an elderly man. The elderly man whom she lived with was like her new child and she loved him dearly. She had always been such a kind woman. After he died my mother was never compensated for her time, and since she had no education, and no back-up she became jobless at 56. She was living with her boyfriend an ex-junkie and an ex-con who for some reason could not work. Something to do with his previous career. Then the stroke happened. The boyfriend forgot to tell me about the stroke. The phone call came weeks later from her.
“I had a stroke. They are going to evict me from my house. Why didn’t you visit me? You don’t love me.” She cried.
“I didn’t know.” I whispered. I didn’t know.
She cried more and more.
I feel helpless when she cries because I can’t take care of her. I’m still poor. I failed her. I followed in her footsteps. Born poor stay poor.
I had a dream I was at my mother’s house and a semi-truck ran purposefully through her house. I managed to jump out of the way, but it ran over her sleeping body.
She identifies herself through me and I try to separate us. She reaches for me and I can feel her tugging my essence like she’s trying to shove me back inside her. She steps through me and eats me till I feel like there is hardly any of me left and I am her or her sister or her cruel mother. Who am I? Am I my mother? A born loser? Is it only a matter of days till I scrub the floors of other people and wait and pray for death? When I die will I have to apologize to God for being a failure?
Conversation with GOD:
“It’s not my fault. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.”
“When are you going to make some money honey? So you can take care of me?” My mother has interrupted my conversation with God.
“You’re not old mom! You’re only in your fifties!”
“But, I made you special,” God says shaking his white glowing orb of a head.
“I know Lord, my mom told me that, but I didn’t feel special. It didn’t protect me and I grew up with majority rules. Special wasn’t enough.”
“Please don’t let me die in a home. Please take care of me when I’m old. Don’t leave me.” Mom is crying again. I hate it when she cries. She doesn’t notice I’m talking to God. She just wants me not God. “I hate it here. I want out of here.”
“I know momma. I’m trying.”
“It’s not fair Lord.” I say.
“Well, honey,” The Lord places his ethereal hands on his omnipotent hips, “who ever told you life was fair?”
He actually looks like a god with the brilliant light shining through his akimbo stance.
The semi-trucks growl in the distance as the houses shake.