My mother died when I was five. That means I haven’t seen her, or heard her voice, for 42 years. Truth be told, I don’t even remember what her voice sounded like. I try to imagine it as similar to my aunt’s, but that can only take you so far. The patterns of her voice–her inflections, her unique pronunciations and cadences–are gone forever.
My aunt was too young to take me, and was convinced to allow friends of the family to adopt me. While my adopted dad did his best, and wasn’t terrible (more on him later), my adopted mother was a monster. She continually ridiculed me. I don’t sing in public, despite having a decent voice, because she told me, over and over again, that it was ugly. Many of my problems with self-image are due to a childhood in her clutches.
Mother’s Day has always been difficult. How do I celebrate a mom who continually treated me like the unwanted child? How do I celebrate any mom, no matter how worthy she is, when I’m so busy missing my own?
Eventually, I found a way. And the reason is my aunt. My mother’s sister took me in when I was 15 and had been basically disowned by my adopted family. I arrived at her doorstep, deeply broken and completely filled with anger.
But she took care of me. She was patient, and loving, and she made allowances for my damage even as she refused to accept excuses for my behavior. She later told me she was terrified every day that she’d come home and find me dead–my uncle kept a pistol, and I could have easily gotten to it–but I would never have done that. I wasn’t always kind, to her or my uncle, but there’s no way I would ever have repaid their kindness with that kind of trauma. I knew, even from the depths of my anger, that it wasn’t their fault. And with their help, I began to heal.
It took time, and work, but eventually I became a functional human. I owe much of it to my aunt, and the patience she’s shown. And because of her, I’m able to look around me and realize I’m doing pretty well.
I love you, KJ.