A thing or two about me is that, I love anything with tomatoes and…I grew up without a mother. Even though I know you’re really intrigued about my love for tomatoes. (All tomatoes? Like in everything? Tomatoes as a topping on a pizza? But it already has marina which is tomato based. What about ketchup? Do you count that? It’s mainly just sugar). But this piece isn’t about tomatoes. (And yes, I group ketchup in as my love for tomatoes obviously). < Sigh > It’s about the latter.
My mother was murdered when I was fourteen months old. To this day, we still don’t exactly know what happened. Everyone from my home town has their own theories, and I have mine. Perhaps it’s even a future Netflix series. Growing up, not only did I not know that she was murdered, I did not even know a lick about her. There weren't any pictures of her in the house, and my dad never mentioned her name. With that kind of silence came deep feelings of shame. I was too embarrassed to ask any questions about her to anyone. No way.
Of course I secretly wondered about her. She was like a fairy tale. A very, very dark fairy tale. Later on as I got older and moved away from home, I would privately seek information from my aunt who was close friends with her. Even though I was more curious about my mother’s death than who she was, my aunt insisted on telling me other stories about her. Still, she felt like a myth.
Then I turned 32 years old, the age my mother was when she was killed. I was profoundly aware of just how young my mother was when she died. She had her whole future ahead of her. I mean, 30s is just the beginning when things start to click. You’re finally out of the chaos, confusion, and sh*t hole that is known as your 20s and into an age where you can just take a deep breath and be. There’s still so much life to experience and mistakes to make. 32 is too young. No one should die at 32. For the first time, I regarded my mother less of this mythical legend and more flesh and blood. Something started to shift inside me.
I started to reflect on my own life with this new awareness. I realized I needed to stop testing the limits to my own mortality. I was being too careless and reckless and jumping into stranger’s cars that were not Ubers. I had always fantasized about dying young like her, but just because she was my mother does not mean that I am destined to have the same fate as her. Plus, I’m not done making mistakes. Okay, healthier mistakes.
I got sober and dove back into therapy. I took that deep breath and opened up to mourn for her for the first time. It felt a little taboo since her death happened so long ago and I was worried what people would think. But f*ck that. There is no set timetable for processing grief. I cultivated a safety net with my therapist, certain family members and close friends. I knew if I crumbled, they would catch me.
And let me tell you, mourning is a b*tch! First came this deep rooted hostility. Even though she was definitely dead, I was so angry with my mother. Some of it had to do with her drug addiction, another part had to do with her being married to my father (ummm…why?), but mostly I was upset because she left me. She was never there to say “good job” or “it’s okay, sweetie.” She was never there when I got teased at school for being “ugly,” “fat” and “weird” to tell me otherwise. So instead, I believed them.
While I was mourning, I knew I needed to change my personal narrative. I had too many mean voices in my head and fears that went with them. So… I did. I broke the silence that was created growing up and started to talk about my mother more, one Facebook post after another. Perhaps too much so, but hey, we all take turns being that annoying person on the internet. I was finally establishing and exploring a relationship with her.
This past Mother’s Day was less about the loss of her and more about discovering who she was. I went back home to where she was from in Louisiana. I talked to her cousins, visited her high school, even contacted her childhood friends. I felt like a detective, but without the beige trench coat. It was too hot for coats anyway. I wanted to get to know my mother before she was even my mother. What was she like? What were her interests? Was she weird and funny, like me? But at the end, all I got was borrowed stories and worn photographs. Although, I did receive something else.
Let me explain.
I’ve always thought of myself as less than, weak, ashamed, always sitting on the outskirts since everyone had a mother but me…
But now I see myself differently.
I see myself as resilient, unstoppable, courageous, part of the beauty and struggle of being a human. I was able to lose my mother as a baby and still stand.
I’m not less than. I’m more….because of it.
I always knew I wanted to be someone, but wasn't sure if I wanted to be me.
Well, that’s not true anymore.