I learned the language of abandonment early. Before I knew words, I studied its grammar in my mother’s eyes.
I came unannounced and snuck into her womb. Although I did my best to stay small, she found me out. She tried to hide her despair at yet another child, so soon after the one before.
The child that came before me was my father’s first, my mother’s sixth. He felt delight to have another child of his own. So mother hid her sorrow and did her best. But children know.
I lived in my father’s delight for eight years and rested in that love. Mother lived on the edges of my life, but when he died, she was all I had.
His death felt like a leaving, not an ending. I saw his body in the coffin at the funeral, but no matter how much the adults tried to explain the empty place he left, I thought he had made a choice.
Years later, when I was in college, I went to see a counselor because my mind was unraveling. The woman welcomed me into her office and began to ask some background questions. First, she asked about my mother. I explained that she was a waitress, living in a different city. When she asked about my father, I said, “He’s dead.”
And then I wept.
My heart at last brought me the news that he had died; my tears flowed because my grief was fresh. I had always felt abandoned by him, left with my mother who seemed unable to accept me, even though I know she tried. That day I understand he had no choice.
Growing up I felt unwanted and believed that pleasing other people would make them love me. It never worked, but still I tried, making one bad choice after another, including trying certain drugs and smoking marijuana. It seemed harmless, and for some perhaps it was, but not for me. My mind unraveled and I came undone.
I never went back to the counselor. After I shared my grief with her that day, she opened up and told me of her impending divorce and the surgery she faced to deal with an inner ear problem. I must have seemed a sympathetic stranger, like someone on a bus you tell your every heartache. I listened well, but never told her of my unspooled thoughts or my tangled dreams and fears.
It took me years to understand my father’s death, and even more to understand my mother’s pain. I have lived on the outside so long, I have grown used to living on the fringes, unnoticed and unnamed. Now it’s the place of my own choosing.
When you step outside today, you’ll see the world is full of strangers.
I am one of them.