She carried the pills around in her purse; you could hear her coming up and down the stairs, like a baby carrying a rattle. She never left her bagged pharmacy anywhere, even to go to the restroom. Dressed in pink snakeskin and holding all of her secrets, it guarded the couch, where she slept for six years after he left. When he came back, she left, and the purse left with her.
I dreamt of my mother for months after that, and the rattling sound always accompanied our conversations. The dreams stopped suddenly, the day I walked in on my father crying at the kitchen table over a pile of opened mail.
“She gambled away our savings,” he said. “And cashed in your life insurance policy.”
Perhaps I realized subconsciously that I didn’t know enough about my mother to create realistic conversations anymore, even in my sleep. I began going full days without wondering what she did, where she slept. But as the separation grew, my mother’s neglect became an infestation, like mold creeping along the edges of bread. Everyone I ran into asked about my family, how my mom was doing and where she lived. People I just met eventually wanted to know more about my personal life.
“I don’t really have a mother” was the only response that seemed appropriate.
As the questions repeated themselves, I began wanting answers. What exactly was wrong with my mother? Was it a slow, gradual illness? Did she know she was wrong?
And eventually, Will I end up like her, and not even know it as it happens?
When I was 6 years old, you never could have convinced me that my mommy, who often initiated playing dress up, would abandon my brother and me. When I was 10, I ran inside to use the restroom during a backyard baseball game with my brother and his friends and found an alarming surprise. I screamed for my mom, who responded by throwing her arms up in the air and bursting into tears: “My baby is a woman!” If you told me then that she wouldn’t answer my phone calls for eight months at a time, I wouldn’t believe you. I told my mother everything, and she was always on my side.
Until she wasn’t.
I’ve gathered that everyone has to learn their parents are not perfect at some point. I didn’t want to know it in late elementary school, when my mom began spending two and three weeks at a time lying on the couch in the living room with all of the lights off. But I began to question it when my friends said, “Your mom is sick a lot,” because I could never have them over to play. The good days still seemed to outweigh the bad, though, and I loved spending time with my mom. We used to lay opposite directions on the couch and rub one another’s feet—I felt like it was impossible to be closer to someone.
When I came to know Jesus Christ and the ugly, sweet truth of His sacrifice for me, I became angry with my parents. I was nearing high school and could not understand why they had kept something so important from me—why didn’t they raise us in church? At that point my parents had been separated a handful of times, and I began to not only notice their imperfections but to judge them for them.
Although it has been almost nine years since I began my relationship with Christ, I’ve known my parents longer. Their methods in raising me may not have always been the correct ones, but my parents were the ones who taught me to crawl and eventually walk. They established so many images for the things I eventually had to learn in my new life with the Lord: walking, eating and all of those wonderful biblical metaphors. And the beauty of the cross is that it means who I am is not determined by anything other than what Christ died for me to be—imperfect but covered by grace, fallen but redeemed.
Yes, I will be like my mother in that I will make mistakes. I will have good and bad days. I will be human, because I was conceived and born of human flesh. But I have been born again since then, and Jesus, in His perfect vision, sees me perfectly.
Being angry for the things I’ve experienced would lessen the value of what God has taught me through them. And because of Him, I have seen my father break down and give himself to the God of his teenage daughter. And because of Him, I can pray that my mom will someday do the same, whether I ever find out about it or not.