As your mother, all I ever wanted was for you to be happy.
It’s what every mother wants for their child - especially you - who saved my life just by being born. I vividly remember your innocent little face staring up at me, pulling my spiralling life into focus.
You have no idea the pain it causes me to see you unhappy.
You deserve the sun and the stars and the moon.
A purity radiates from you I have not seen anywhere else.
I wonder where you get it from because it certainly isn’t from me.
But it’s there. You can’t always see it but others can. Others like him. He saw it. He used it.
And I failed to protect you.
I remember that, as a child, you’d share your treats with the other children who looked like they needed it, no questions asked. Whenever your childhood dog Marty was sick, you would arrange pillows on the floor around his bed and keep patting him until you both fell asleep. When Marty finally left us to cross the rainbow bridge, you took up a volunteer job at a shelter after school.
“In Marty’s memory,” you said, so wise at just 14. “So he knows that I’ve never forgotten what he taught me.”
“What did he teach you?” I asked.
“Love,” was all you said.
You always liked to make people laugh, always believed laughter was a cure-all. We used to watch movies on the weekend with popcorn and ice cream, laughing, crying, yelling at the plethora of characters that shaped your childhood. When you were older, you always bought me flowers every week and kept hugging me when other kids your age considered it “uncool.”
You didn’t care.
You didn’t even speak badly about your father, the man who had abandoned both of us.
“I have you, mum. That’s all I need,” you’d say to me, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
I could never forgive your father for leaving us. But you, for some reason, seemed to understand. Even when he had never called.
I remember when you first met him. Just before you met him though, you were struggling.
You’d graduated with honours and had started studying to be a Vet. You have no idea how proud I was! Or maybe you did as I wouldn’t stop crying all day and night.
I could tell that there was something off about you though. This sadness seemed to be growing in you and I ached to try to solve whatever was bothering you. But whenever I tried to broach the topic, you’d simply smile at me and say you were fine. You were an adult now, after all.
I only found out later that your so-called “friends” were spreading rumours about you.
You never found out exactly what was going on, but you could sense they were keeping you at arm’s length, slowly easing you out of their lives.
Into this growing loneliness, he walked.
He gave you attention, showered you with it, in fact, which was what you were craving so much. I don’t think you realised just how much.
In the beginning, he was wonderful. He brought you gifts and flowers and took you out on dates that had you coming home grinning.
You were happy.
Me, however, I felt something was off.
Call it a mother’s instinct.
For a year, you were blissfully in love – you with him and he with you. I saw a lot of him, as he often came to our house instead of you going to his. He spoke well, he had a decent job in a retail store but he was studying to move into a proper office job. He was also a good-looking man, strong, well-built with blonde hair and brown eyes.
I would’ve found him attractive if I’d been 30 years younger.
Then, suddenly, you decided to move out together.
I remember voicing to you that one year was too soon to be living with someone else.
“You moved in with my dad after about a year,” you gently reminded me.
“Yes, and look how that turned out!” I exclaimed.
“Mum, he’s the one. I know it,” you said. The sparkling sincerity, the sparkling love in your eyes made me bite back my objections.
I knew that feeling. It hadn’t ended well for me but for you…Perhaps you wouldn’t repeat my mistakes.
“You’ll always have a home with me,” was all I said instead.
You smiled at me and it was like a star had alighted in the room.
All seemed blissful, for several months.
Then slowly, slowly, it started to go dark.
It would be little things.
Dan stopped coming to our Sunday dinners, too busy doing something with his mates to want to come here, even though he knew it was important to you. I could see you try to cover up how much that small thing hurt you when you told me. You made excuses for him, such good ones I wondered if you were trying to convince me or yourself.
You complained to me that he kept getting to work late.
He would get drunk most weekends and drag you to parties when you were too tired from work and studies, which were getting more intense as your semester closed.
You spent time alone at home more often than not, and even when he was there a wall began growing between you.
The nights out having fun stopped. He didn’t want to go out, or at least not with you. When you tried to go out with someone else, as you had actually made a few decent friends at Uni. (they loved my cooking with the kind of zest only Uni. students have), he didn’t seem happy about it. According to you he never openly said so. It was just a feeling. Or sometimes he would drag himself along with you begrudgingly, hating it all the while.
On and on. Little things, things you assured me weren’t big, yet the fact that you talked to me about it showed me just how much they cut you.
It was there, plain for me to see.
Your weakness was your kindness, your purity. You refused to see the bad in anyone. You always believed in the best.
And of course, love is always blind.
I held my tongue, knowing if I said something it might ruin our relationship.
I remembered too, vaguely, how stubborn I’d been about my first love. I’d snap at anyone who said anything bad of him and when my parents disapproved, I ran away from home for a while.
I didn’t want that to happen with you and me.
However, one day you told me that you needed some money to help pay your rent. You didn’t look at me as you asked, like you were ashamed, and I have to admit I simply snapped.
He’d lost his job and wasn’t intent on finding a new one. No, you made plenty of money so why should he work?
You had an excuse ready for that as well.
We fought. We had fought in the past, but never like this.
Each moment of that screaming match is etched into my brain.
I told you to look at your life, that you were miserable. It was so, so clear to anyone who watched. He was bad for you. He didn’t deserve you. Didn’t you understand that you deserved the world at your feet? You were a good person!
But you defended him like a wildcat defending her cubs, like I defended you.
You said that he was a good man too, he was smart, he would get better, you KNEW he would get better. You believed it. You believed in HIM. You LOVED him.
You were so very, very angry.
The problem with loving someone so deeply, is that you know exactly which knives to dig in. I guess that’s the balance in the world isn’t it. Those we love the most have the power to destroy us.
We both destroyed each other that day.
I cried bitterly for a long time afterwards. I cried when you refused to visit me, when you stopped taking my calls and answering my texts, when days turned to weeks, turned to months without seeing you, hearing from you.
I don’t know how it had felt for you, but it felt like my world had stopped spinning and there was nothing to stop me spiralling down into the darkness.
A year had passed since our fight and I’d heard nothing from you. I had caught glimpses of you around, but the city is big and you’d changed addresses.
I only saw you properly once, and I almost wished I hadn’t seen you at all.
Our paths crossed in the supermarket one day, although I don’t think you noticed me there.
I could never miss seeing you. You were etched into my heart.
But the you I saw at the supermarket that day was not the beautiful, good, pure person I’d always seen.
An aura of sadness hung around you, your eyes not as bright, your smile not as warm and easy.
I ached to wrap you in my arms and shield you from the evils of the world. But a wall had built up between us, a wall made of distance and silence and bitter feelings, a wall I couldn’t breach, though I yearned to reach out and try.
I watched you fumble for change for the groceries and I wondered if you were still the only one with the money.
I moved a bit closer, still remaining unseen, to try to drink in everything about you like a drug addict taking a hit.
You handed the money over to the cashier, the sleeve of your long jumper moving up just high enough to show your wrist.
Your wrist with the long, dark purple bruise.
More time passed, almost two years since that night.
I called you on your birthday. I hoped, maybe, you’d answer. We’d always loved celebrating your birthday together.
Several eternal rings later, you answered.
My knees nearly collapsed.
“Lily,” I gasped.
Silence for a moment.
“Hello, mother,” you said, your voice cold, neutral.
“I-I just called to wish you a happy birthday,” I managed to stutter out.
“Thank you,” you said stiffly.
“Do-do you have any plans tonight?” I asked.
“A night in with Dan,” you said shortly.
There it was, our elephant in the room. Dan.
“Ah, well that’s good then.”
The words trembled on my tongue – I’m sorry, please come back, I love you so, so much, I didn’t mean what I said.
A shuffling noise and a harsh voice could be heard through your phone.
“I have to go now, mother. Goodbye,” you said, then ended the call.
I felt the tears pooling again.
You came back.
Almost three years had passed.
One dark, rainy night, you knocked on my door, suitcase in hand, looking for all the world like a small child again, lost and confused in the big wide world.
“Hi, mum,” you rasped, nearly choking on the tears.
I could see the suffering of the last three years on your face. It was written into your very skin, burning in your very eyes. I could see the tumult of words and emotions bubbling in your head, waiting to burst forth in a torrent. You opened your mouth, as though all the words would all come tumbling out now while you stood outside in the dark and the rain.
Instead, you swallowed hard and said in a small, uncertain voice, “Can I come in?”
My heart broke at the uncertainty, at the brokenness that was obvious inside you.
I stepped aside and ushered you in.
You stood, dripping on the carpet.
We looked at each other for a long, long time, the words you and I used to say to each other every day hanging between us, those words that had not crossed our lips in years, only felt deep in our hearts, the words that needed to be said, right here, right now.
I was the first to break the silent impasse.
“I love you,” I whispered as I swept you into a hug, gripping you like I was a drowning man and you were the air I breathed.
You gave a great sob and buried your head in my hair.
“I love you too, mum.”