“When I was a baby, I thought my mother loved me. At the time, I was pretty sure of it. In old photographs you’ll find us smiling, her arms lovingly wrapped around me.
When I came along, my father was thirty-eight and my mom was twenty. I was the youngest of his children, and my mom’s only child. My father’s previous children were close to my mother’s age. They all hated me because they convinced themselves my father loved me more than he loved them. Whether or not that was true, they all had very loving mothers. My dad knew that.
My dad’s daughters, who were aged fourteen and fifteen at the time, shoved my mother down the stairs when she was pregnant with me. I was born two months premature and very sick because of it. Those girls hated me and were seldom in my life. His sons, aged twelve and fourteen, used to babysit me every Tuesday evening so my mom and dad could go bowling. They terrorized me while they were gone.
During my younger years, my dad was never around. I was told that he was working at salvage yards, crushing cars all across the state and beyond. It was normal for me to see him only a few days out of the month, even when he and my mother were still married. I remember how happy and tolerant she’d become when she knew he was coming home.
She’d smile, she’d laugh, she’d show me love. He’d come home, and we’d all have fun. In the week or so that he was around, we would have a ‘normal’ family life. She’d cook, she’d braid my hair, he’d laugh, I’d go to school. When he left, she’d be sad again. Mad. Mad at me. She’d cry. Drink. Yell. She’d hit me. When he was gone, he was sometimes living with another woman. I found out that he had another daughter my age when I was fifteen.
Three days into my fourth-grade year, I was called into the office. My mom was there, waiting to pick me up. ‘We are leaving your dad,’ she said as we walked to the car. I loved him so much, and I was heartbroken. We went directly from the school to a hotel where I found suitcases and only a few of my belongings. There was also an old friend of my father’s, ‘Uncle X’, who my mom said we’d be moving in with.
From then on, there were frequent phone calls at pay phones. Some to drug dealers. Some to my father to ask him for money. Whatever amount she asked for, he gave her. She asked for $250 a week and he gave it to her for two months. At the end of those two months, I still needed clothes and a new pair of shoes. I got neither. I stole money out of Uncle X’s wallet and put it in hers, hoping that we could finally leave there and go back home. When he noticed the missing money, he assumed my mother had stolen it and beat her. She never ratted me out for this and I’m grateful for that.
My tenth birthday was the last birthday I spent with my mother. It was also the last day I lived with her. By then, Uncle X, my mom, and I had moved into a dumpy apartment. I saw my dad every weekend. During the week he kept busy with work and the ladies, but he adjusted his schedule to be around a bit more. We had a lot of fun and would often go to fairs and the skating rink before he’d return with me to my mom and X’s place.
The day after my tenth birthday, the doorbell rang at about 6 a.m. X was snoring like a pig, so I opened the door myself. There before me was my mom standing in between two policemen. She was muddy and handcuffed. Her hair was a mess and she had a busted lip. The cops had found her in a wrecked van with three empty bottles of Wild Turkey whiskey on the floor.
She came in and told me to call my dad and tell him I was ready to move back in with him. From there, they took her to the state hospital where lived for the next year. My dad took me to see her, but it wasn’t really her. It was a drug-addicted version of her.
My dad kept up traveling for his job, so I’d often stay with the neighbors a lot. They had about ten kids, and I don’t think they even noticed having an extra one around. I loved being there. They were normal, and they loved each other so much. I knew that the boys in that family were respectful to the girls. I felt safe there.
When I was twelve, my dad got remarried to a wonderful woman. From time to time, my mother would make an appearance, though her visits were always cut short by her partying and drugging. I was an angry teen who didn’t understand her place in the world. My dad and step mom were only married for three years until she took her kids and left my dad. I was fifteen and often home alone. No one really checked in on me. I had no curfew.
My mother always lived just out of reach. When we’d move a bit closer, she’d move a bit farther away, until eventually she moved out of state. She missed every birthday, every dance recital, every school play. No band concerts, no parent teacher conferences. During my very infrequent visits with her as a teenager, she’d drink a lot. She never had the same boyfriend. She’d tell me she missed my dad, then she’d tell me something I was wearing looked dumb. When she was drunk, she’d call me ‘Bucky,’ knowing I was self-conscious about my teeth. She’d tell me I was going to end up like her. Then she’d call my dad and return me to him early. Every. Single. Time. When I was a foreign exchange student in eleventh grade, my international flight landed in the same city she lived in. She promised she’d be there at the airport to see me get off the plane. She wasn’t. She didn’t come to my graduation either. Occasionally, I’d get a letter in the mail, or even a phone call.
I was 19 and getting married. No mom. When I was 20 and having my first baby. No mom. I was working nights, trying to survive. Trying to cook. No mom. I looked at my baby, and I felt such intense love and fierce affection and wondered if my mom ever looked at me that way, ever.
In October of ‘93, when I was pregnant with baby number two, I received a phone call from her. It was late at night and she was several states away with a male friend I’d never heard of before. She was drunk. She promised she’d be there to see the baby be born. She said that she was glad to be a grandma. Then moments later she called me an ungrateful bitch that no one could love. She never came and I never heard from her again. I can still remember looking at the phone in disbelief, not knowing if I should hang it up, throw it, cry, or laugh. I shook my head and eventually hung it up. I had the same phone number for several years, but she never dialed it again.
When I was pregnant with baby number three in 98’, I was determined to find my mother. I needed her. I had questions. I had kids. She had grandkids. I hired a private detective to help me out and he was able to find some information. She had been working in bars along the east coast and had even frequented my home a few times. She had gotten married to a man in Kentucky six months before my search. It was her. The investigator said, ‘For a few hundred more bucks, I can bring you face to face with your mother.’ Did I want this? I thought long and hard, but I declined his offer. It was clear that she didn’t care to see me, didn’t want to know about me or her grandkids. Every time I’d go to the mail box though, I’d still wonder. Every time the phone rang, I hoped it’d be her missing me. But no.
In August of 2003, the internet and ancestry searches were becoming quite popular. I asked a friend of mine who was into that stuff if she could help me out. I gave her the information on my mom that the private investigator had given me years prior and hoped for the best. The following week, she handed me a manila envelope and apologized. She told me that my mom had died less than a year before. She had been living in a dinky trailer by herself with an enlarged heart and cirrhotic liver. The liquor store attendant hadn’t seen her in days, so he sent the cops to look for her. They found her dead.
When I got the autopsy report, it read, ‘No evidence that she had a child.’ That was hard for me. When people tell me that she surely loved me, she just didn’t know how to show it, I think back. ’There was no evidence at the scene that suggested she had children.’ No amount of therapy, voodoo, Ouija boards, or delusion-inducing drugs could ever convince me that she loved me. I felt this pain throughout the rest of my life. It doesn’t control me, but it doesn’t leave me either. It’s always there. My therapist even said I’ve dealt with it all that I can.
My children are twenty-seven, twenty-five, twenty, and six. My grandson is almost one year old. I’ve never missed a play, a game, a conference, a concert. We’ve colored Easter eggs together and gone school shopping together. I taught them how to drive, and how to make mashed potatoes. Every birthday party and Christmas morning I was there. Every single time they call me, I’m there. I kiss them and I hug them, and I tell them I love them. I cherish them, and I brag about them. I root for them, and I am their biggest fan. When my grandson was born, I was there. I am the proudest grandma in the world. People who only know me a tiny bit, know that I have children.
From time to time, I can’t help but feel jealous of my kids. They have a mom who would die for them, who would do anything for them, who never missed anything while they were growing up, who taught them life lessons through love and tears. I wish I knew what that felt like. On Mother’s Day, so many in the world have a mom, but not me.
But when I look at my children and my grandson, I now understand that in order to be right here, I had to be that little girl who was love-starved and abandoned. Through the pain, I learned how to be the best mother that I can be.
I often wish she could have known my kids. Maybe, just maybe, if she’d have seen how wonderful they are, how far they’ve come, how smart they are… maybe she’d have stayed. Maybe she’d be proud of them, or even proud of me. I’ll never know the answer.
If I could go back in time, it would be to the day after my tenth birthday. I’d lean in close, and inhale deeply her scent of musk perfume… I’d take her small hands into mine, and I’d find a language that she’d understand. I’d grab her shoulders and look her right in those beautiful green eyes. I’D MAKE HER SEE ME, and I’d tell her that I need her right here. STAY. Be my mom. That I will spend every day of my life wishing that she’d love me. That I would think of her on my birthday, holding her baby. That I will forever see a sunset and think of her light fading from this world. That my dad does love her, and he sees her true beauty. That she is worthy. And that I will grow up to think that I am the reason she left, and I will hate myself for it. That she must try her hardest, and focus on love, and focus on ME. That she needs me too, and that together, we’ll be okay. I’d never let go.
My dad is still around. He’s healthy and will turn 85 this year. I try to see him a few times a month. He still tells me that my mom loved me in her own way. He doesn’t have to say such kind things about her, but I’m grateful that he does.
Despite everything, I am what you’d call a success story. I graduated college and I am a registered nurse now. I now have the means to help my kids when they need it. I buy lunch, or new tires, or baby clothes. I even help with a bill if they ask. I offer to wash clothes when they visit. We spend holidays together and laugh. We reminisce. But more than that, I am there. They helped me overcome.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Buffy Gallegos of Pueblo, Colorado. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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