Just before my second birthday, my mother left me with my father’s parents. I never heard from her again. For twenty-four years I waited and wondered when I would hear from or see my mother.
I would ask my grandparents about my mother and they would tell me that she brought me to their doorstep and told them that she didn’t love me, but that she knew my grandparents did, so they could have me. All my father would say about my mother, was that she looked a lot like Princess Diana and that she had become a stripper. Apart from that, no one ever said anything about her.
I always felt I didn’t hear from my mom because something must be wrong, either with me or with her. And I continued to wait.
When I was learning to drive, my father would ride with me. One evening he had me drive up to the house that my mother had grown up in and where her dad, my grandfather, still lived. The house was less than a mile from the home that I was growing up in! And I never even knew it.
So yes, I could have gone to my grandfather’s house anytime after that, but I just didn’t. Not a day went by that some sort of thought about my mother didn’t pop into my mind. Despite everything, I kind of always felt that she was my mother and she should find me.
Years later, my grandma even took me to visit my mother’s father. We talked for an hour about the past twenty-two years and about my mom’s mother who died in the nineties of cancer. At the end of the visit my grandfather told me that my mother would love to hear from me or see me. So he gave me her address and her phone number to call her.
I didn’t want to make my grandparents, who raised me and loved me, feel like I was ungrateful or unappreciative of what they’d done for me, so I didn’t call. I didn’t call my mother because I didn’t know how I would incorporate my father, grandparents, and her into my life. I did want to have a relationship with her and I know that I was an adult by then, and that she was my mother, and that it shouldn’t have mattered what anyone else thought. But I still didn’t call.
It wasn’t until I had a daughter of my own that I finally called my mother. Just before her second birthday, I took a deep breathe, picked up the phone, scrolled down to where I’d stored my mother’s number, and called her.
“Hi, is Clarissa there?” I asked in a quiet but nervous tone. “This is her,” she said, in a voice that I hadn’t expected to be my mother’s—I had always envisioned her sounding more like a 1980’s peppy teenager, for some reason. The voice I heard was not bad; it was just a little older than my ears had prepared for. But she was, after all, now almost 50 years old.
My mother told me her side of things. She never gave me away. She had dropped me off because she was having a breakdown. She may have said things, terrible things, she told me, but she didn’t mean any of it, she was out of her mind. Once she got better and came back for me, my father and grandparents had gotten a lawyer, and they took her to court and got custody of me. And life happened.
My mother had been married and divorced twice more. She had my nearly 30 year-old, special-needs brother to care for. She had thyroid disease, and other health problems. She told me she had been an entertainer, not a stripper. She always loved me.
Once, in the nineties, she had tried to see me, but my grandmother had told her that we would need to check with my school counselor to see if I would be damaged by her reintroduction into my life. That never happened as far as I am aware.
I have another daughter on the way, and it’s been only a year now that I’ve known my mother. We still talk weekly. I’m not angry with my mother; I never have been. But I do feel a deep sadness about her not being there when I was growing up. It’s still difficult for me to understand. I can put myself in her shoes, and I understand her and all the things about our past. But I know I could never be without my little girl.
My relationship with my mother—the parts when she was gone and the short amount of time that she has been in my life—has taught me to be the mom I am today. I’m a mother who will always be there for both of my girls; they will never have to come find me. I want to be the mother I wished I could’ve had growing up.