I was a boisterous child, which is a kind word for my wild behavior, known for laughing as much as screaming. I could climb tall trees without fear, jump off the swings at the highest point of the arc screaming with delight, and run faster than anyone else in my class. I wasn’t afraid back then. Then my mom left and everything changed. I became fearful of the great big world outside my door, anxious about upsetting people. “Be a good girl and nobody will leave you. Never yell at people, never get angry!” I plotted fiercely to get my mom and dad back together; we would all move back to Maryland, the magical land of my birth, where I knew everything would go back to normal. I woke up one morning and she was just gone. Why? Where? For how long? What was she doing? Well, I don’t have the answers to any of those questions today, any more than I did at six years old. What I do have is perspective. A word the dictionary defines as a noun meaning: “the interrelation in which a subject or its parts are mentally viewed, …or, the capacity to view things in their true relations or relative importance.” That means I can possibly look back and see things in their rightful relationship between event and meaning, and change the beliefs that I developed that day. Beliefs about my worth, about “dangerous” emotions, about who I was in the world and how I fit into it. I can’t ask my mother about what happened anymore. She can’t remember it. In fact, she can’t even remember the day I was born or any of the circumstances surrounding my birth, so the circumstances around the day she left are certainly lost to the ages. I wish she had sat us down before she left to tell us what was going on. If she couldn’t do that, I wish she had left us a letter. She probably thought she was being helpful by leaving without a screaming and crying fit from me to complicate things, but I don’t think she thought things through to make sure we knew that she was coming back. Maybe my brother, being older, knew, maybe he understood what was happening. Maybe my father thought I could understand, but I couldn’t. They might have told me briefly, but they never made sure I understood that she’d be back and that none of it was my fault. So the meaning I assigned to her leaving was that I wasn’t worth loving, that it was my fault for being such a bad girl, and that you must never get angry at people or they might leave, leaving you behind, never to come back. By the way, what kind of mother leaves her kids for a few months without saying goodbye!?!? One that is not well-equipped to be a mother, that is certain. And, as far as I can remember, she never called. Maybe she did, but you’d think I’d remember that. I remember her returning and being scared because I didn’t know if she’d just leave again.
Anyway, here is the letter my mom DIDN’T leave for me and my brother, that I have written in her place, 38 years later. The letter that also could have changed everything, or maybe prevented everything from changing. Either way, it’s the letter I wish we’d received.
Dearest Bobby and Sandy,
I love you both more than you can know! You are so special to me and to Daddy and to everyone who knows you. You are the brightest stars in my life, and you always will be!
I need to tell you a few things. Firstly, I need to tell you that Daddy and I have decided to get divorced. You mustn’t worry! We will always love each of you no matter what happens! There really isn’t anyone to blame or be angry at; sometimes these things just can’t be helped. I know some of your friends’ parents are divorced and it’s hard for them, but we are going to make this as easy as possible for you. Daddy and I don’t hate each other, we just don’t love each other anymore. Neither of us will ever stop loving you, and none of this is your fault whatsoever! There is nothing you could have done to make this be different!
Secondly, I am going to be gone for a little while. I’m not sure how long, maybe a few months, but I PROMISE I WILL COME BACK as soon as I can! I wish I could take you with me, but it’s just not possible right now. You need to stay with Daddy and keep going to school and keep being good students! I’m so proud of you two! When I come back we will figure out where everyone will live, but we will make sure your life is disrupted as little as possible! I promise!
Thirdly, I know your dad will take good care of you while I’m gone. Some of our friends from church might come by to help him sometimes. After all, he’s not used to taking care of you alone! He will do the best he can, and you need to do the best you can to be helpful and show him you love him. Be respectful to him and to any friends of his. Remember, it’s not his fault I’m not there!
Lastly, I will call you on the phone as often as I can. I want to hear all about what you are doing in school and on your weekends. I can’t wait to hear you giggling as you tell me your stories!
Love and kisses forever and ever, Mommy xoxo
April 18th, 2010 at 5:42 am
My heart was in my throat as I read this. I’ve been through a few similar things, and I really like this idea of thinking through what you wish it had been.