It’s the day after Mother’s Day and thoughts of her are still in my head. Thoughts of the mother she was and the one she wasn’t. I struggle to separate the two. One is a reality and the other is a fantasy. Both are painful, and they get jumbled up in my mind.
If my life were a film it would be one of those old ones from back in grade school. If I close my eyes, I can see it. I’m in a dark room hearing the hiss of the projector, watching the film as it skips and restarts. A broken film that’s been spliced together.
There are short, vivid scenes that burst forth like flowers blooming:
I’m five years old and in the doctor’s office with my mother. She’s holding my hand and trying to distract me as I get a shot.
We are in the kitchen baking my favorite cake, chocolate with chocolate frosting. I try to taste the batter and she gently shoos me away, warning me about the raw eggs. But she lets me lick icing off one of the beaters. I also get to help her frost the cake.
I’m hanging upside down on the jungle gym when my legs loosen and I fall. There is blood everywhere. I get on my bike and pedal furiously, crying the whole way home. My mother meets me at the door, her face full of fear and horror. “Oh no! What happened? My poor baby!” she cries as she wraps her arm around me and leads me inside.
“Let me look at you,” she says as I stand there whimpering. She inspects my scraped head, the cuts on my forearms, cleans and bandages every wound. She kisses each area and tells me I will be all right. She calls the doctor.
It’s parent-teacher day. My mother comes. She looks pretty and smells wonderful. The teacher is charmed by her. On the way home my mother tells me how proud she is of me. We stop for ice cream. I get rocky road and she gets pralines and cream. We sit at a little table and laugh like girlfriends.
The girls at school are talking about the prom. I’m not going because no one has asked me. The boy I like asked a popular, prettier girl. My mom and I are at the mall when we see the prom dresses. There are excited girls hovering around them. I see someone from my school looking at a beautiful blue dress. My heart lurches, and then my mother takes my hand. She says, “Come on honey. Let’s go look at the shoes. Then we’ll go to lunch.”
Those are the scenes that live only in my mind, because they never happened. But these did:
I’m standing in the kitchen and my mother is angry. I’m not sure what I’ve done but something has made her mad. It’s something about me. She says—yells–something is wrong with me. “I don’t know what happened to you,” she says. “You’re not like your sisters. You didn’t turn out right.” I’m about 10 years old.
When I’m 15 my mother asks me why I don’t have a boyfriend, why I’ve never been asked on a date. I know I’m not allowed to date until I’m 16, so I wonder why it matters to her. I guess boys don’t like me. I don’t know how to tell her that.
“When your sisters were your age, they were dating,” she says.
I’m in the hospital having my tonsils taken out. I don’t remember how old I am but probably younger than five. My dad is there but my mother isn’t.
I’m around nine and in the hospital for eye surgery. I have a “lazy” eye and they have to take it out to operate on the muscles underneath it. I’m scared. My dad is there but my mother isn’t.
It’s about a year later. The first surgery didn’t work, so I’m having another one. My dad is standing by my hospital bed. My mother isn’t there. A few days later my father takes me home. I can’t see anything because my eyes are bandaged.
It’s my wedding day. I’m at the church getting ready. I’m in my wedding gown trying to affix my veil and looking for my mother. She isn’t there, so my sisters help me. Finally, I’m ready and my mother arrives, her eyes glazed from the “nerve” pill she took. My sisters run over to her and exclaim over her dress and how beautiful she looks.
If I could go back in time and change one thing about my life, I would start early. The first scene in the film. My mother has just learned she is pregnant with me. Her cheeks are flushed, her voice breathy as she tells my father. It’s a joyful scene of a couple embracing, tears in their eyes as the music swells.
This is the new opening for the screenplay of my life—one in which my mother wanted me. I’d be greatly anticipated, dreamed about, cherished and loved. I’m not a hindrance. I’m a gift. I’m not an accident. I’m her little girl.
I wouldn’t have to earn my mother’s love. It would be there from the start. If I did something wrong, she’d still love me. She’d still hug and kiss me, help me with my homework, talk to me about boys. She wouldn’t be absent from most of scenes. She’d be at the center of them.
She wouldn’t tell me how she’d almost died having me, how I was supposed to be a boy or that I was a mistake. She’d tell me how excited she was waiting for me to arrive.
She wouldn’t be angry and drunk, her voice thick and her eyes dull. She wouldn’t tell me to be quiet or to go away. She wouldn’t berate me, accuse me, ignore me and punish me. I wouldn’t be her her rival or her target. I’d be her beloved daughter.
The only way to change everything is to write a new beginning, and it can’t be done. But some days—Christmas, her birthday, Mother’s Day—I write it in my mind.