When I was in high school my Mother cracked the back of our couch with my shoulder. She threw me over it after I hit her, after she hit me. This, I got over. When I was in college she left me outside at a restaurant in the dark and told my Father to come pick me up. This, I got over. And two years ago I spent the day after Christmas with my Aunt, after my Mother kicked me out for asking a question she didn’t like. And this too, I got over.
My Mother moved us from Alabama to New Jersey to California all in the name of my acting career. She was my first fan, the first person who believed I could make it as an actress–and I did!–, and she told me how smart and pretty I was everyday of my life until I reached high school. We never flew by plane when we moved, but neatly packed all of our things into a car and drove there so that we could one day say we had driven cross-country. On the way to California during our final move our car broke down– bad juju on my Mom’s part for having recently divorced my stepfather I suppose– and my Mother spent every dime she had on getting it fixed. We were almost out of Arizona and into California when the hood of our car came flying up and slammed into the windshield. It’s a miracle we weren’t killed, but it didn’t feel that way at the time. It meant that we were stranded in a strange place waiting for someone to help us again. It meant that my Mom, a brilliant lady with a mind for numbers and saving money, was broke. So instead of moving into our own apartment when we finally got to California, we stayed with distant cousins. They were…ok. I grew up feeling rich, but probably being middle-class in reality. I received a fur coat every February for my birthday, and I had a Dad who owned land and over twenty horses. But in a matter of a week, I was living with my cousins and my Mom was counting pennies.
Now that my cousin has died, I suppose I can tell it like it is. They wound up kicking us out in the middle of the night. There was an un-Godly amount of yelling and cursing, my Mother furious and in a rage over having to wake us up and load us into the car. I can’t remember where she drove us to, but I know we slept in the car under a very bright street light. My sister, only three or four years old at the time, thought it was great. It felt like an adventure to me too, at least at first it did. But by the next morning I was ready to go home– wherever that was– and I hated seeing my Mom walk around in circles on her cell phone calling everyone we knew to help us. It was hot in the car, and my neck hurt from sleeping in the passenger side seat. Late in the afternoon on the second day she jumped into the car, drove to a gas station to pick up a wire transfer of money, and drove us to a hotel. And there we stayed for a week or so.
This must have happened on a weekend, because I clearly remember waking up very early the next day and she was getting dressed for work. She looked so pretty, so professional, not at all like she had slept in her car and brushed her teeth in a truck stop. She looked like a normal Mom, like all the other Claire Huxtables out there. She left money on the dresser, and quickly gave me instructions. Let your sister swim, don’t leave her alone. Feed your sister, make sure she puts lotion on her dry skin. I know that my organization can be annoying at times, but I learned from the best how to keep everything together even when your world is falling apart.
When Lea woke up, she was the same happy-fatty that I slept next to. I’ve never known a toddler whose sole mission was to eat. I ignored my Mother’s instruction about not leaving her alone, and let her watch cartoons while I went to the lobby with twenty dollars to get us breakfast. Like children do, I ordered us a great breakfast without ever looking at the prices. It came out to fourteen dollars, and I didn’t realize that I wouldn’t have enough money for lunch because I was too panicked when I realized that I had locked myself out of the hotel room. It took Lea so long to open the door. She was short and fat, and had to waddle her way onto a chair to reach the door knob. Hard to believe she is now standing over six feet tall, thin, and the prettier sister.
Lea gave me the death-stare around 3pm, hungry again. I got her a sandwich, which left me with under a dollar. I went to a vending machine and found M+M’s for fifty cents. And I went back to the hotel lobby and asked if I could have a glass of milk. I poured the candy into the glass of milk, and ate it with a spoon. Lea with her sandwich and me with my ‘cereal’. And that’s how it went. I always spent the money to feed her first, and I never told my Mother that I was hungry most of the time. It wouldn’t have been fair to stress her out even more.
By the end of summer we were settled in an apartment in the San Fernando Valley, and I was starting high school. I made friends with cool, funny kids that lived in expensive houses in the hills. I slept over at their houses and let them think that I was like them. I never told any of them that when I went home I slept on an air mattress with my sister. That we had no furniture because my Mom simply couldn’t afford to pay thousands of dollars to have our furniture shipped out to us. Never told them that for Christmas that year I got a make-up brush set from the dollar store and a bar stool. Yes, a bar stool. So that I could sit upright and do my homework at the counter as opposed to spreading it out on the kitchen floor. I don’t mean to tell a sad story. I always had good, clean clothes, my hair was always neat, and I had an amazing Mother that sacrificed anything to give us what we needed. And that paid off because I know what it’s like to be on both sides of the spectrum. Yes, I like nice things and my nails are usually manicured and I wear Chanel perfume– but like the apostle Paul said, I learned a long time ago how to be content in any situation through Christ.
Growing up in America with a television leads to so many falsehoods. Like the idea that it’s ok to just forsake your family when they’re not treating you the way you want to be treated. I got to this point years ago, and I decided to just hate my Mother; a deserved punishment for all of the times she flipped out on me, both when I did and when I didn’t deserve it. But I came to my senses, and I decided to love her regardless of how she treats me. And to be fair, our relationship has gotten so much better in the past year. When I look back on my life, I know I owe this woman the majority of the credit for the reason why I turned out so well. Who else will show her unconditional love if I don’t? Who else will pray for her if I don’t? And so, I’ve gotten over it.
And for the first time in my life, I truly understand how important it is to get over things like this. To realize that hurting people hurt other people. That hurting people– people who move away from everything they know with two children that they are responsible for caring for and feeding and schooling, and who are hurt that no one is around to help them— hurt other people. And I forgive because I am called to, and I forgive because I can look back with older, wiser eyes. I love her, so let’s just start over for the rest of my life. Please.
I need to go home for Christmas, and start over in person. To a house that was hard-earned after a period of years when my Mom struggled. To a place where I can see and smell memories, and only re-live the good ones. To my Mom. I have some things I want to say.
Written to: Adele “Someone Like You”