The Elephant in the Room
It's wild how often we hear someone talking about the "elephant in the room" in a conversation. Generic statements danced around the subject, asking rhetorical questions to feel out your opponent or create a scenario to search for a specific response.
It hurt when you finally realized they were talking about you! Instead of asking what was wrong, they gossip, speculate, or whisper about everything I do, say, or don't do.
Things began changing for all of us in early 1982 when I got pregnant. My pregnancy made a devastating realization resurface for my parents. It broke their hearts that their perfect daughter's body reminded them of the loss of their first child, their only biological child. My pregnancy awoke that green-eyed monster inside an ordinarily sweet, caring wife and mother.
I had dismissed the reasons she had changed. It was after the other girl they adopted had died, and I was headed to kindergarten. Her unwillingness to let go forced her to follow the school bus through the route from our driveway to Emporia Elementary School. This happened every morning for more than a week. Finally, the following Monday, she was given an ultimatum by the man who would be her boss in less than a month: trust the assigned bus driver or get her CDL and become the driver for route 18. She began driving route 18 in January of 1972.
From January 2, 1972, until I left home in April 1982, my assigned seat on 718 was directly behind the driver's seat, where she could see me and be sure no one was picking on me. Maybe her concerns weren't unfounded; I couldn't be trusted to do what I should do…
Every day, my mother would ask, "What do you want for breakfast, and what do you want for lunch?" If I would say a hamburger and a milkshake, I got that, but I would hide the food behind the stove, the refrigerator, or any place I knew my mother would not look. I was anemic and underweight for a five-year-old. I stayed thirty-two pounds from when the Walkers adopted me in 1968 until the end of kindergarten on June 5, 1972. I was allergic to everything most children loved. The extensive list included:
1. Strawberries grew right outside, almost beneath my bedroom window.
2. Blackberries which grew wild along the fence in the backyard.
3. Tomatoes that grew as big as apples in the small garden next to the strawberry patch.
4. Purple (dark blue) grapes that grew in beautiful hanging bunches next to the Koi pond.
5. Peach fuzz…not the peach flesh, but try to steal a bite from a gem that falls at your feet.
6. Grass that made me itch just by picking up a frisbee that fell.
7. The wind: I don't remember how or why.
What cemented my fate was when I got caught throwing my lunch out of the school bus window on my last day riding Mrs. Brown's bus home on the evening of the beginning of Thanksgiving weekend. I was dropped off at school every morning and picked up at 2.
How does the older generation know things by looking at you? My grandmother looked at my face a week earlier and said, "Your nose is spreading. Are you pregnant? I kissed her cheek and said I hope not, Grandma." Then she looked at my boyfriend, standing behind me, and said, "Thank you for bringing her to see me.".
The following Saturday morning, I floated into the kitchen with my nose wide open. The smell of biscuits, cheesy- eggs, and pork sausage wafted throughout the house. As I entered the kitchen, my mouth said good morning, my mind said yum, but my stomach said Oh hell no!... I grabbed my mouth with one hand and my stomach with the other and ran into the bathroom. I fell to my knees, hugged the porcelain throne, and hurled. Add insult to injury; Mom was behind me screaming, "You're pregnant, aren't you?"
After breakfast, Mom took me to the doctor's office, and they confirmed her suspicion that I was pregnant. The ride from his office to the nearby mall was quiet and tense. I waited for the blow-up, the fussing, the cursing, the eye rolls, but she didn't do or say anything then.
In Kmart, we ran into my boyfriend's sisters, and I told them the news but swore them to secrecy; I had to be the one to say to him. We always had date nights on Fridays and Saturdays.
Later that evening, after dinner, I stood at the sink with my back to her and asked if there were more dishes. Thinking she didn't hear me, I turned just in time to protect my stomach from a cast iron frying pan attack. She was swinging with enough force that had I not turned when I did; I would have been hit across my waistline in my back. I knew this was not an accident; the rage had been building all day. Three choices followed this:
1. Go to my Uncle's house in Maryland, have an abortion, and never speak of this unfortunate incident again.
2. Go to my Uncle's until I had the baby and put it up for adoption
3. Get out
Of those choices, my only option was #3. I didn't believe in abortions, and I was adopted.
My mother worked for the most influential lawyer in town, so there was no escaping her reach
The way I left home slowly killed the bond of our family; my father became the undeserving victim of a lie I fabricated to ensure that I was free of my mother's monstrous clutches, never having his name cleared. Although he understood why I did it the way I did, it tugged on his heartstrings and made him feel he needed to decide whose reputation deserved his loyalty, so he took the truth to the grave. He at least saw his grandson born in December 1982, but he was gone in less than six months. After lingering in a coma for almost two weeks, he succumbed to the effects of a massive coronary event in March 1983.
After his death, Mom and I tried to mend our relationship, but I didn't move back home. Stubbornness and determination kept us from apologizing and working toward a mutual understanding. She softened into Grandma mode when my oldest son was born, and the other two boys were potty-trained and capable of intelligent conversations. Being too private and strong-willed, my mother didn't reveal her health issues and retirement until I figured it out. Her first heart attack occurred behind the wheel of 718. She said, "Driving the school bus was the best job she ever had after being a mother."
Several times, I got calls at work saying she had checked herself out of the hospital (AMA) against medical advice. Nonetheless, that call to notify you that your only living parent has died still hurts tremendously. Especially when I was visiting her the Saturday afternoon before; I had to be back to work in Charlottesville that Monday. Our last conversation was the one that most children don't want to have. My mother was a type 1 diabetic for forty-eight years, diagnosed a week after marriage and awoken by the onset of measles. That was the cause of her losing the baby in 1963, and they decided to go the adoption route.
April 26, 1995, my mother departed this worldly struggle after slowly dealing with the loss of her whole world over the last six decades. I missed the real message in our last conversation. Mom kept saying she was tired and telling me where the necessary papers were located and in her around-the-way version of an apology. It reminded me of another conversation after an argument when I chose to apologize for saying I would never be like her. I ate those words after realizing I had done just that. I took on three jobs to provide for my children in a certain way.
Yes, I gained weight and lost sleep over the events of 95. One thing after another happened without a break, a shoulder to cry on, or any sense of direction. I knew I couldn't ball up in a corner and cry like I wanted to. Mom went from monster to my rock.
So, I learned there's often only a fine line or an elephant between a good and a monstrous MOTHER!