We were Catholic, and confirmation classes had begun the October before Aunt Loretta broke my heart. Oblivious to my ongoing depression, Mom wouldn’t let me quit. It bothered me. Mom said I should be grateful to have the privilege of Confirmation at age twelve. It implied that I was mature. Funny, I had no idea what the word mature meant.
Nonetheless, the thought of donning a fancy, white dress delighted me. Mom said it spoke of purity, another word I didn’t understand, but she made it sound special. Not one to question authority, especially Mom’s, I never asked for explanations. I only needed to feel special.
Besides wearing a party dress, Mom bought me my first pair of half-inch heels. Confirmation appealed to me even more.
I chose Therese as my confirmation name. St. Therese was “The Little Flower of Jesus.” I wanted to be his little flower too. As the day approached, I decided I should become a nun.
That dream died.
An older boy named John invaded my life that same month. John spotted Mom with her mechanic, Danny. John, a lanky, black, high school student with thick glasses, towered over my skinny four-foot-eleven frame.
I was in seventh grade. John trapped me in the junior high school section of the building after school in front of my locker. He put one hand on my chest, thrust my chin up with his other hand, and forced my head back against the hard metal slats.
“Do what I tell you, and I won’t tell your daddy your mama’s a whore,” he threatened and walked away. Plastered to my locker, I sucked in a deep breath, trying to settle the swoosh in my stomach.
Daddy often traveled to Taiwan on business, and I heard my mother tell him he “should not be with that woman.” My father’s affairs and cold treatment of Mom made her cry. She was lonely and desperate to be loved.
I knew that Mom liked Danny, a muscular olive-skinned Italian man with dark eyes and wavy black hair. She told me, and I saw her hug him. Danny managed the Sears auto service center on Highway 35, where she often took me to have our station wagon fixed.
They laughed and chatted together in his office for hours. It bored me, so Mom gave me her Sears credit card and sent me into the store (where they knew us) to shop. Sometimes Danny treated Mom and me to Carvel ice cream. Mom must’ve gone with Danny to Carvel without me.
And John saw them!
I feared how my possessive father would react if he knew Mom had a friend too. I saw no way out; I did whatever John said. I had to hide what I perceived to be Mom’s secret. Immaturity and naiveté kept me silent and submissive.
The loneliness of an unloved mother, pushed by an unfaithful husband, became the next falling domino.
The following is an excerpt from a tattered notebook I inherited after her death that she entitled: Legacy to My Children
What seemed to be an uncaring, negligent, abusive parent was simply a little orphan girl trying to figure out how to mother four children.
I often listen to This Is My Song by Petula Clark, as my mother often did. It made her cry. I understand her tears now. It was her song for her beloved Danny, the mechanic, a man she could never have, but who had made her happy for the short times that they spent together.
My mother left my father when I was seventeen, and I suppose she left Danny also. It must have broken her heart.
While I was in Bayview at Johns Hopkins nursing home in Baltimore fighting for my life, Mom laid on her death-bed in a Broward County hospice in Florida, a thousand miles away from me. My family and a nurse were in the room when my atheistic mother woke up from a coma singing hymns. I didn’t know about this until my daughter told me a few days after she passed away.
Mom has been gone since May 21, 2004. I long to hold her head against my shoulder and tell her I understand. I now realize how this lost orphan tried her best to mother me. We experienced twenty years of estrangement. All those lost years. My last chance to speak with her was by phone a week before she died. A nurse held the phone to my mother’s ear.
Her last words to me were “Nancy, I’m trying.” I began to cry. It was the first time my mother said she really loved me.
I am thankful that the last words I said to her were, “Mom, I love you.”
I wish I could tell her again.