There are things I never said to you that I hope you know. When we hugged and said goodbye, I looked into your eyes for the last time. They are the same as they were when you were born. Darting and naïve, but confident. With a look, I told you everything I ever wanted to say to you. You nodded. Did you understand me? I'll never know.
When you were born, the nurses gave you to me and looked at each other with a smug, knowing smile. One of them winked at me before she left the room. I think her name tag said 'Amanda'.
Later, before I went home with you, Amanda touched my arm and asked me how it felt. "How did it feel to hold your child for the first time? Did you feel it? The rush? Did you want to cry? To laugh? I remember with my first-born, I couldn't stop crying. He was perfect. I loved him with all my heart from the first moment I set eyes on him. Motherhood. Amazing, isn't it?"
I smiled and agreed, but when I came home and closed the bathroom door behind me, I started to weep. You were perfect, but I hadn't felt the rush. I was doomed to be a bad mother. Of that, I was very sure.
My mother-in-law, your grandmother, was so happy you were a boy. I've never seen her smile so wide. I hadn't known her eyes were capable of twinkling like that.
Your grandmother took such good care of me after you were born. She had never liked me - she thought I was disrespectful and raised wrong - but after you were born, she smiled when she saw me, asked if I was hungry or tired, and if she could take you off my hands for the afternoon. She took care of you a lot in the first year because I was exhausted all the time. I know I should be grateful for that, and I know that I was the one who called her for help, but I have a terrible nagging resentment that she stole you away from me.
She hosted a big party for all the family and friends 100 days after you were born. She paraded you around the house and dressed you in bright blue. You basked in the limelight. I heard you laugh. I didn't get a chance to hold you once that night. I'd never felt so alone.
That night, I realised what my fate was, what it had been all along. I was capital. I was pawn. They needed me to make you, but without you, I was worthless. That's what marriage was back then. You marry a young woman, and she bears you a son. The son looks after you when you get older and carries on your name. Women are secondary. Women are erased from the family tree. Indeed, after I married your father, I gave up my name to be called Gene’s wife, and after you were born, I became Lee’s mother. Lee was your grandfather’s name. Not even my father, but your father’s father. I had been erased.
It dawned on me then that you were not my child. No, that's not what I mean. Biologically, you are my child. But you never belonged to me.
Yes, you never belonged to me. That's why it's easier to let you go.
Make no mistake. I love you very much. I always will. Every hug, every tousle of your hair, and every admonishing slap on the arm was my way of saying 'I love you'. I hope you know that.
And yet, I need to leave.
In my life, I have been my father's daughter, my husband's wife, and my son's mother. Who am I without you? I need to know. I could be someone. I am sure of it! There is an angry potential inside my chest that screams to be free. There is an independence and a resentment within me.
I am proud to be your mother. You've accomplished so much, and you've grown into a respectable and loving person. That's all I ever wanted from you. My job is done.
Yes, I am proud, but whenever someone calls me 'Lee's mother', I feel an ache that they do not know my real name.
Do you understand? Can you understand? I’ve tried so hard to make sure you were your own person.
Do you remember when you were trying to decide which sports team to join at school? Your grandmother wanted you to play baseball like your grandfather, the original Lee, but I could tell you wanted to join the track team. How many times had I seen you splayed on the grass after running, chest heaving and forehead glistening, with a grin on your face? I went to school with you that morning and told you in a whisper you could choose whatever you wanted. It was your choice and your life, not theirs.
When your grandmother found out what I had told you, she gave me a disapproving look, cold and steely, but I couldn’t help the smile on my face. It was a small victory, but it was a victory all the same.
That Christmas, you wrote me a letter on a tacky, glittery holiday card that made me cry. ‘Thanks for supporting me no matter what. I know Dad wants me to take over his business one day, but I think I’d like to be a police officer when I grow up. I think I would be good at running after criminals. My choice, my life! Thanks Mum, love you always… P.S. Don’t tell Dad!’
Of course, your dream job changed a dozen times after that, but that card and that secret made me love you so much more. For the first time, I felt like I had someone else with me in my corner. I wasn’t alone anymore.
When people think of me, they will only remember that I left. I hope you remember me for more than that.
These are the things I wanted you to know when I looked into your eyes and said goodbye. This is everything I wanted to say to you.
I love you.