Laying side by side in the wee hours of the morning, her in her hospital bed, me on my roll-away, Mother and I talked quietly about our life together.
“Were you ever sorry you adopted me, Mom?”
“Yes. If I thought I could pull it off, I’d have given you to the first gypsy troop I could find heading out of town.”
“It was when you found out about Bob*, wasn’t it.”
She laughed in that sweet, half-giggle way of hers and said, “Well, yes, that was one of the worst of them.”
“Them?” I replied in mock shock, knowing full well that during my teenage years I’d given her plenty of reasons to toss me in the nearest Dempsey Dumpster (or gypsy wagon) and run for her life. She was right about one thing, though: my first fully involved sexual relationship had nearly killed not only her soul, but also her spirit, and very nearly her body as well....
I met Bob a month or so after the beginning of our sophomore year. He was a new kid. I knew what it was like to be the new kid and never allowed another new kid to feel left out. We had science together and, since none of the “cool” guys would lower themselves to be lab partners with a new kid, I took the job on myself. It wasn’t long before we were a couple. When Spring break came, we couldn’t bear the thought of being apart for a whoooole weeeeeeeek, so we devised a plan for him to spend lots of time with my friend Sally’s boyfriend who just happened to live only a few blocks from me. Coincidentally, Sally* would be spending most of Spring break with me. Both of our mothers worked full time, so they loved the idea of us keeping each other company. They had no idea just how much company we were going to be keeping with the guys.
On Thursday of that week, after Mother left for work at 7:00 a.m., Sally and I went to work primping and preening. We shaved our underarms and legs, checked each other for unsightly blemishes, did each other’s hair and makeup. Around 10:00 a.m. two totally clueless boys arrived and were presented with what we were sure would be the best surprise of their lives.
The following week at school, the boys broke up with us. Devastated, Sally and I wrote notes back and forth trying to figure out what had gone wrong. We didn’t understand how they could be so cruel after we’d been soooo kind. Being at that “it’s none of your business, Mom!” stage of teenage pseudo-independence, I sulked and grouched around the house so much that mother was finally compelled to go on a scavenger hunt in my room to try and figure out what was wrong with me. She didn’t have to look long to find one of our notes wadded up in the trash.
As a 15-year-old, I was outraged at her invasion of my privacy. Now, as the mother of a teenage girl, my heart physically aches at the thought of her sitting there in shock and horror as she read the words that no little girl’s mommy ever wants to read. I can hardly bear to think of how she looked as she read, but I will never forget the look on her face when she drove up to where a friend and I were walking in the neighborhood and ordered me into the car. I saw the crumpled paper laying on the car seat and immediately knew that she knew.
She’d actually taken off work early to come home and take me shopping in a surprise effort to cheer me up a little, but I’d already left the house when she got there. By the time she had me in the car it was about 4:00 p.m., however, she’d already called our family doctor, obtained the name of a gynecologist friend of his, and had an appointment scheduled for me at 4:30. It had been over 4 weeks since Spring break and she didn’t want to waste one more minute before making sure that I wasn’t pregnant or diseased. Or both. When I protested she growled, “You want to be a woman, this is part of it. And don’t you DARE put up a fight. You will do whatever the doctor needs you to do. Is that clear?” It was. I knew that if she had to get my dad involved it mean another beating and I would do anything to avoid that. Thankfully, so would she.
Fortunately, I survived the humiliation of that first gynecological exam even though I was wishing for death the whole time. It would take a few days for any test results to come in, though, so we were sent home to wait. And wait. And wait. And the waiting was done in tense silence with the barest minimum of contact between us. A few days later she got word that everything was alright. That may have been true medically, but relationally things couldn’t have been more wrong. She no longer knew how to relate to me. I wasn’t a baby anymore, but I was still her baby. I also wasn’t a woman who could be counted as her equal with whom she could easily converse about womanly things. I was a testy, withdrawn, and thoroughly nasty-to-be-around teenager. Years later she’d told me that because there was no one she could talk to about it all, she had fallen into such a deep depression that she came very close to ending her own life.
I realized that I had tears on my cheeks when the soft beep-beep of the morphine machine shook me out of my reverie as it released the much needed pain medication it hoarded like liquid gold. I reached across the dark void between us, squeezed her hand and said, “I love you, Mom, and I’m so sorry I put you through so much hell.”
As she once again drifted off into peaceful oblivion, she whispered softly, “You were worth it. I’m glad there were no gypsies.”
Now, nearly 25 years later, I am comforted by the fact that eventually this very difficult, painful, gut-wrenching, maddening, yet somehow wonderful job of parenting an emotionally damaged and behaviorally challenging teenage girl will be worth it. And I, too, am very glad there are no gypsies in town. Today.