I sat not knowing whether to move, breathe, cough, scratch my nose, look away, get up and leave or talk. My sister and I sat on straight back chairs that had been brought in from the kitchen table. I felt perched and laden on the chair. I clung with my hangs to the bottom of the seat. I felt too big for the chair, the room, my sister and the people I sat across from. The walls and gold colored brocade drapes seemed to be breathing in and out. Grandmother flitted about in the kitchen making sweet iced tea for the guests. I could tell she was nervous but holding her dignity was what she was known.
The guests sat across from me and my sister in our straight back chairs on the newly upholstered avocado green couch. This was a color very popular for the 1970s. The carpet was a sculpted yellow gold color. I stared down at the floor at the woman’s tiny feet in impractical red high heels. The man sat next to her had a forced smile and kept patting her left hand that lay on her leg. He was wearing a checkered suit and mismatching striped tie. His big fancy car was parked out front and he kept turning his head like an owl like looking at it too often as if something was going to happen to it.
I realized that I had been holding my breath when the lady smoking a cigarette now blew out smoke up into the air and smiled and laughed a little and said “Honey, don’t you know who I am.” Nobody ever called me honey or any other forms of endearment. We were raised to be strong like grandmother. She spoke again. “Sweetheart, I’m your mother.” She rubbed her cigarette out in the ashtray. I was 14 years old. I had not seen my birth mother in nine years. My sister seemed happy and excited. I was more introverted and just smiled a little. Grant it, I was impressed by this petite woman with her hair up on top of her head, sun bronzed skin with makeup applied just right, coral lipstick with matching finger nail polish. She wore a white silk dress, with capped sleeves and a narrow red belt
I knew her as Betty as she was called in our household as long as I could remember among other names I cannot mention that made me feel bad for being born. There was a pit in my stomach and my heart hurt. I didn’t know why my body was feeling this way. She introduced the man as her fiancé and said that they were getting married. He, the man, was going to be our new daddy. My father had passed four years ago. He was not in my life long before he passed yet my feelings for him ran deep because of the time he spent with us every day when he came back. I was raised by my grandmother because the court had awarded her custody and suspended my parent’s parental rights for abandonment, abuse and neglect. No matter how pretty Betty was I remembered the cold dark house we were left in for days without food or water before social services intervened.
I did not resent Betty. I just did not know her and had numbness toward her. I neither felt happy or sad about her visit. I felt indifferent. The fact was I did not want to be there at all. I wanted to go to my thinking spot down by the creek where the minnows and crawdads swam. There was a flat shelf of rock that laid over the water and I liked to lay on it and feel the sun beating down on me and listen to the creek gurgling past.
Grandmother had the iced tea prepared and she brought glasses in for Betty and the man. They were impressed with just the right amount of sugar they said that was in the tea. I felt Grandmother’s tension. She sat on the edge of an easy chair and spoke of my sister’s academic accomplishments and my artistic abilities. Artistic abilities just like her dad. Silence formed when that slipped out. Grandmother quickly covered it up with stating. “Oh, yes. Betty you were a talented dancer!” By this time I had a symbiosis with Grandmother. She feared Betty was going to try and take us away. I could sense that. My allegiance was with Grandmother. I would not go if this were to happen.
Betty chatted on about how the man owned a furniture store and that they had a large apartment over the store. My sister who had been at odds with Grandmother seemed very interested in what Betty and the man had to say. Later in adult life I never realized that my sister did not feel she fit in with Grandmother and her side of the family. My sister began visiting Betty and staying with her on the weekends. I don’t remember ever being invited but my sister said I always turned the invites down and it hurt Betty. I was very much an introvert and preferred to be left to my artwork.
In my early twenties I made an effort to see Betty a couple of times and she had nothing much to say to me and I always left early. The last time I saw her was in 1986.I was 29 and my daughter was three months old. I took my daughter to Betty so she could meet her granddaughter and Betty did not acknowledge my baby at all. She didn’t acknowledge me. This is when I learned that indifference can hurt more than cruel words. Betty passed away about four years after I went to introduce her to her granddaughter, from Lymphoma. I didn’t attend her funeral. Not out of resentment but because of indifference. I was numb. My sister said that I hurt Betty by not coming over when I was a teenager. I said to my sister, “I was the child…wasn’t it her role to initiate the contact?” As I grow older my sister tells me how much I remind her of our mother but I never knew her very much. She was a guest one time in our house.