When I was younger, my mother always said she would die young. Since all the people in my family always walked around talking about how sick they were and how they were going to die any minute - including my grandmother who lived to just 6 months short of her 98th birthday and a cousin who has been at death's door now for over 50 years and last I saw is still going strong - I didn't pay full attention to her words.
Today would have been my mother's 69th birthday. I miss her something fierce and still cry on my long commute to my job at least three days out of five remembering something about those last 10 months of her life as the cancer ate away at her while I stood by helplessly, urging her and her doctors to take better care of her health, never being taken seriously.
I try to make myself remember the good things. Like our silly game we played, going to a flea market or a Goodwill and having a little contest to see who could come up with the tackiest thing. It was a game we loved, and we each won an equal number of times. (The ability to spot tacky is a genetically passed-down trait for us Southern women, y'all.) Like the love of books, which she also passed down to me.
Or like her statement that I was the great shame of her life. Yes, that is a good thing.
I have evolved to feel sorry for my mother who was brought up in a culture of misogynistic shame. Because of this, she hid her pregnancy with me, and drove herself to the hospital on October 30, 1969, to labor and give birth to me alone. No one in my family, save my mother, knew I existed for the first couple of days I was on this earth. She had strongly considered giving me up for adoption. And then my grandfather showed up at the hospital. He had been looking for her to tell her that her own mother was in the hospital. He convinced my mother that she was better than the shame, and so was I. She called my dad and told him he was a father. He showed up at the hospital and stepped up. I have no idea how his mother took the news, but I know she spoiled me rotten my entire life.
It took me until after my mother died to see this as a fairy tale - I got to live. I got to grow up with my family.
I wanted to talk to her about it. Other than one phone call she made to me at work, screaming and crying, calling me "the great shame of [her] life," we never really got to talk about it. Every time I brought it up, she made it clear it was not for discussion. Then she got sick and I did not want to bring up anything else unpleasant for her to deal with.
So I feel like I am missing a piece of my history. Maybe that's why I like digging in genealogy and am fascinated by the past.
Maybe that's why the person I feel most comfortable with at present is the narrator of my novel who is long dead and yet spilling his own confessions and history into my fingers as I type.
Maybe that's why I feel drawn to champion those who are not championed and empower them to champion themselves.
No one should live in shame.
No one should apologize for their existence.
No one should suffer at the hands of another and be made to feel "less than."
No one should be unwanted.
Happy birthday, Mommy. I miss you. I am still so proud of you I have no words. You are still strong.