Day 194: In Remeberance to an Earstwhile Mother
When I was in high school I became friends with a girl whose family later wanted to adopt me. I just learned today that their mom died last month. I lost touch with them when I moved away from Portland 14 years ago. I felt bad about that over the years, but did not have the resources to reestablish a strong connection.
I will refer to my friend's mom as Helen.
Helen grew up a Hasidic Jew. She converted to Christianity when she met her husband to be. My friend was their youngest daughter. My friend is an exceptionally gifted musician. Back in high school, and for a couple years after, we wrote music together. She is the friend who found me hanging onto a fence after having run away from a performance the first time I experienced a memory trigger.
Helen wanted me to move out of my parents' home. She didn't know precisely what was happening to me, but she knew my home wasn't safe. I didn't tell her daughter what happened to me either. I was vague about it. Right now, looking back, I wish I had. Helen wanted to take care of me, but I was unable to let her. She loved me, but I was unable to allow the feeling to touch me. I feel profoundly sad about that as I right these words.
In an attempt to honor her memory, I want to write the mother letter again, but to Helen, to a woman who was indeed an erstwhile mom to me, who could have been even more of a mom if I had let her.
I wish so desperately I could have written this to you when you were alive and then I could have read it to you in person. How very differently I feel toward you than toward my own mother, who was after all really just an egg donor and incubator.
This is What You Did to Me
You reached out to me and offered me safety and affection. Your arms and your home were open to me. I can't count how many times you told me you loved me and referred to me as your adopted daughter. You were proud of me. You said it so many times I couldn't help but believe it. You used to hug me a kiss me on the cheek; and I would stand there stiffly, my arms to my side. You would laugh gently at me and say, "Get used to it. I love you." I would smile at you knowing you wouldn't hurt me and you didn't mean to make me uncomfortable. You reached out to me over and over again. But I couldn't reciprocate. I couldn't let you in. The suit of armor was firmly in place protecting me. Plus, I was protecting my younger siblings still.
I remember one time I showed up at your front door bloody from head to toe. You screamed when you saw me and everyone came running. I insisted I was OK and just wanted to clean up. You wanted to take me to the hospital but I talked you out of it. I was vehement about it, in fact. I convinced you it was just scrapes and bruises and you reluctantly gave in. Or, I guess you let me have my way because I said I would just leave and walk home otherwise. You brought me into the bathroom. When you got out the supplies I started to reach for them but you pushed my hand away and insisted that I let you take care of me. You cleaned the wounds very gently and accepted my explanation about how it had happened.
After I knew you for about six months you invited me to move in with your family. You said you wanted to adopt me legally. I realize now you were trying to protect me. Unfortunately, I couldn't understand. I ended up running away across the country and got into all kinds of trouble. I came back and you accepted me like the prodigal. That's what you said to me. I was your prodigal daughter. Your door was always open to me.
This is How I Felt About it at the Time
I felt safe with you, but I didn't know what to do with your love and affection. It scared me. I wasn't used to being treated with kindness. You were so incredibly kind to me. I did nothing to deserve it. I was just a schoolmate to your daughter. I wish I could have felt the affection for you then that I feel right now. When I learned tonight that you passed away I had to find a place to hide. Deep keening sobs tore from me inside a pit toilet. Of all places, Helen, I grieved the loss of you in a pit toilet.
Oh, but you would be very happy to know how much I have changed. I am sorry I moved away and lost touch. You deserved better from me. In the most recent months of my life I have opened my heart and learned to accept love. I have people in my life now who love me as you did. I have only just learned what it meant when you said you loved me. And I am so very sorry I couldn't understand it back then. I know now how I hurt you by losing contact. And, I hurt myself too. Today when I read the news of your passing I realized what I lost.
Although I couldn't feel it then, I feel it now, remembering you. You had such incredible affection for me. Remembering you kissing me on the cheek and making me sit next to you so you could hug me, I feel treasured. You would hold my cheeks and tell me you loved me. You were so insistent about it. I couldn't quite hear you and I'm sure you could see the words sliding down the walls blocking my heart.
This is How it Affected My Life
You gave me my first example of what a loving parent looked like. You showed me a different perspective of what a family could be. You opened my eyes to the possibility of there being love and safety in a family. This realization made me develop a whole new expectation for myself when I had children. When I found out I was pregnant with my first child, I spoke with my counselor about you. She and I had talked about my lack of having any role models. She asked if I could think of anyone who was the kind of parent I might want to be. And you came right to mind. I said you were unreserved in your affection for your children. I wanted that for my child.
Helen, because of you I took classes and did the work in counseling I had to do in order to overcome my inability to show affection. I was determined to be as loving to my child as you were to yours; and as you tried to be to me. I wish I had told you this. How even though I couldn't let your love touch me back then, it did touch me and it radically changed my life. I learned to love because of you. And I have been good with my children. I love them fiercely.
This is What I Want From You Now
How I wish I had the chance to give you one more hug and tell you what you did for me, how much I love you, and how very much I will miss you. What I want from you now is for you to watch over me as you did back then. I am in such pain now as I grapple with the truth I kept from you back then. I know you would have protected me if I had told you what was happening. Although the worst had already happened when I met you, it would likely have saved me at least some harm if I had told you. Perhaps there would also have been a way to protect my younger siblings. I'll never know.
Helen, please look into my heart from heaven and know how much you meant to me. Know you are in my heart now in ways I could not allow back then. Thank you for your love. I feel it now, Helen. I feel it now.