‘My mother traded my sister for a shotgun and pickup truck. I didn’t see her again for 35 years. One day, I got the clever idea to place an ad in the local newspaper. In 1 month, I got THE call.’

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“I was born in 1970. My father was 18 and my mother was 15. I came home from the hospital on the back of a motorcycle. And so began my life.

My dad joined the Army and we moved to Kansas. He got discharged from the Army and we moved back to Southern California. They got divorced when I was 4 and my middle sister was 3. We chose to live with my dad in Central California.

Courtesy of April Gates

I never saw my mother again until I was 35.

My father remarried, but a step mother who’s 13 years your senior wasn’t a great substitute for a mom and made my life rough.

Courtesy of April Gates

I moved out of my parents home the day after I graduated high school, at 17. I moved in with my fraternal grandparents. They were the one constant in my life. The ONLY people who saw that I had love and let me know I was loved.

I grew up in a very small country town in Central California. I had lots of friends and a few relatives that lived close by. By all accounts I had a normal childhood. My friends all seemed to have normal households that consisted of a mother and a father, which in my eyes equaled ‘normal’. To be the only young girl I knew who didn’t have a ‘real’ mom present I always felt different. I don’t think I let it affect the outward me, and I can’t even say it affected the inside me, until I was much older.

I met a boy in 1990. Fell head over heels and got married in 1991. I have been married to him for 28 years, and love him more today than when I married him. We have no children but lots of fur babies.

Courtesy of April Gates

With the help of a friend who worked for the Sheriffs department, in 1996 I once tracked my birth mother down to Arizona. I sent a letter. Never got a response. And life went on.

In 2009, I reconnected with my birth mother after my youngest sister, 4 years my junior, saw a post my birth mother had made in 1999 on ancestry.com. We discovered 2 half siblings that were born after my parents divorced. Their lives were even more ravaged by her presence than mine was by her absence.

My youngest sister has no memories of my birth mother or what life was ever like for us as young children. (That’s because my birth mother traded her back to my father for a shotgun, $500 cash, and a small Toyota pick up. My sister was 6 months old.)

My middle sister had no desire to reconnect with our birth mother. I honored her wishes.

Trying to reconnect with my birth mother meant a background check and a trip to Arizona to try and find her. A lot of information can be found with a simple background check. Trip one was unsuccessful in the way that we didn’t find her. But we got the clever idea to buy a burner phone and place an ad in the classified section of their local newspaper.

Within a month, we received a phone call from my maternal grandmother. Operation find your birth mother was finally underway. And trip two was scheduled.

Trip two discovered my maternal grandmother dying of cancer, and my birth mother and aunt also living in the same small Arizona town. Not peaceably co-existing, the background check showed a myriad of brushes with the law for them. The fact that those two particular sisters were living near their mother told me a lot. You see, my grandmother had a lot of children. A LOT. None of them have the same father. And more than half of her children, wanted nothing to do with her because she had a nasty habit of leaving them wherever and whenever she could.

Seeing your birth mother for the first time in 35 years is a bizarre experience. So much hope and anticipation for what was, is, and could be! First she hugged us and cried. She just seemed so happy to reconnect. She looked atrocious.

See, here’s the thing about my birth mother. She’s a drug addict. I mean, c’mon y’all a child of the 70’s who had a kid at 15, what the hell were you expecting? Well, I mean, I always suspected it. I secretly hoped for different, but the realistic side of me always said, ‘April, why else would she have stayed away?’

Courtesy of April Gates

We sat in a run-down cafe talking for hours. I asked all those questions that had burned inside me since I was a 4-year-old little girl picking up the phone extension hoping and praying that she would hear my questions, pleading for a response in my tiny 4-year-old voice…only to be ignored. Here she couldn’t ignore me, I was sitting directly across from her asking her pointed questions that begged for answers.

Courtesy of April Gates

I had simple and few questions. She took them in stride and answered them all. She was defensive and accusatory on some, defeated and broken on others. I told her that if her sole purpose was to find someone to fund her lifestyle, I was not that person. But if she truly wanted to reconnect and build a relationship, that I was all in. I corresponded with her a few times once I returned home.

The sad reality of her existence was that she had an awful life as a kid, and continued to carry the tradition on into her adulthood. She was broken. She was no different and made no effort to improve her life or her existence, ever. She continued to use drugs and live on the fringes of society and stay off the laws radar as long as she had breath in her body. Until one day that body had had enough and that breath faded away.

She died a lonely and exiled member of my life and society.

My youngest sister and I had gone through a falling out a year before this and hadn’t spoken since then. I saw Facebook post on an aunt’s page, and that’s how I found out she’d passed.

I texted my sister my truest condolences because I knew she was struggling and had struggled with finding our mom, rebuilding a relationship with her, and coming to terms with what kind of person and, more importantly, what kind of mother she had been.

I truly felt sorry for my sister. She has struggled her entire life with my mom’s absence. It has affected every single aspect of her life. Her friends, her family, her husband and her son, my father… everyone. She is broken much like my mom was. I haven’t spoken to my sister since Christmas Day 2013.

The saddest part of all this is that my mother’s chose to continue the cycle of brokenness. No one, not her children, grandchildren, friends, or family could give her a reason to clean herself up and rejoin us. She made her choice and she steadfastly stood by it till the end.

I struggled with her death in the respect that I felt I should feel more than I was. I didn’t cry. I didn’t mourn. I questioned myself. The bottom line was how do you mourn a stranger?

Do I feel sorry for myself? No. Do I feel sorry for my nieces and nephews? No. I feel sorry for her. I feel sorry for her because she missed out on some amazing human beings. All of us.

I have consoled myself my entire life with the notion that she knew she was damaged and broken and didn’t want to inflict that on her children, so she stayed away. That’s what I tell myself, because the idea that someone who grew me, carried me inside for 9 months, gave birth to me, and didn’t want to stick around long enough to raise me or watch me become the incredible person I am today is just too much to bear.

I always hear ‘a mother’s love is like no other’ but honestly that’s not true. Not everyone gets the Mrs. Cleaver version. Some of us get the wild 70’s little girl, stoned as all get out, who got knocked up, got married, had a baby at 15, and hadn’t the first clue on how to be a mother, version.

Am I a victim? Am I sad for myself? Did I let it affect me on the daily? My answers are complicated. No, I am not a victim. Yes, I sometimes get sad that I didn’t have a motherly mom.

And that last question… I have no idea how it has affected me. I guess you’d have to ask those around me what kind of person I am today, because of how my mother was yesterday. But what I can say is that TODAY always has room for love.

Despite the difficulties of not having a birth mother present in my daily life, I’ve been blessed with some close substitute ‘moms’ in my life. They’ve been loving and supportive when I needed that mom figure. I consider myself blessed enormously by their presence in my life for whatever season they’re here for. I also have developed wonderful relationships with my girlfriends.

While it’s true you can’t choose your family, you can choose your friends. Thank God for them. They’ve kept me sane when I felt like I was drowning in life, grounded when I couldn’t find my place and supportive when my life-legs felt wobbly. Between an extremely supportive and loving husband, amazing friends and substitute mother figures, it’s not often I find myself adrift in the “I don’t have a mother” existence. But when I do, I know I have a plethora of loved ones to help me find my way back.”

Read more about addiction:

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This story was submitted to Love What Matters by April Gates of California. You can follow her journey on Facebook here. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

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