I wrote this essay last summer. It was written from a Studio Mothers creativity prompt, "my mother's house," and it’s a reminder of today.
17045 N.W. 11th Avenue, 305-620-0367. It must have been the very first address I memorized because I still remember it. We moved in that house when I was in second grade, and though I remember Tyrone Ellis, the cute little blonde-headed boy from first grade, I really don’t remember much before then. Flashbacks come from pictures. But 10745 N.W. 11th Avenue. I remember that house.
I remember watching TV one day while my dad was in the shower and my mom was still at work. I was seven. Some strange man came in the front door and said, “Hey, Kel Belle. Where’s your dad?” “Um…in the shower….who are you?” “Oh, okay, well just tell him Bill came by.” And he took the Sears catalog from my mother’s house and left. I told my dad when he got out of the shower. He will forever be known to me as “The Robber.” My dad’s best friend.
I remember that turtle. Timmy and I found him in the vacant lot at the end of the street. Big old box turtle. We carried him home, and I immediately brought him in the house. Mom said I couldn’t possibly keep him in the house. But I did. She let me. For a little while anyway. I guess she knew I’d grow tired of hearing him scratch around in his box all night long. And I did. Timmy and I took him back to the vacant lot and left him right where we found him. Outside my mother’s house. That started the bringing-home-stray-animals habit I still have today.
I remember falling off that bus. Mortifying. Roger, my fourth grade sweetheart, was still on the bus. I was wearing my Brownie uniform and was carrying a big box of Girl Scout cookies. I stumbled right down the school bus stairs and landed in my driveway in front of my mother’s house, face first. Cookies scattered everywhere. My face flushed with embarrassment. I wonder where Roger is now.
I remember leaving my mother’s house at 17045 N.W. 11th Avenue. I was in fifth grade and we moved to St. Petersburg. Funny how that address doesn’t stick with me. The memories are there, but they’re clouded. Shadowed. Playing in the clay caves and stream at the end of the street with Vicky, stopping with Dad to get Icees at the corner 7-Eleven on the way home. Though they change here. And I don’t remember my mother’s house.
But I remember the fighting. It wasn’t often but it was loud. I remember Dad moving out, then a few months later moving back in. I burned my hand on the light bulb trying to take it out and put butter on it to soothe it. More fighting. Then I remember Mom picking me up from school in the middle of the school day. I was 12. There were suitcases in the car. My baby sister Kim was strapped in the back seat. We left. I never got to say goodbye to my friends.
1909 Wells Road, Apt. 212. I remember that address. That’s where we moved after we stayed at Nana’s house for a little while. My mother’s house. Without my father. It was small and cramped but the complex had a very big playground with lots of other kids. John Riccardi lived next door. We were in the same grade and would graduate high school and even go to college together. But he wasn’t my boyfriend. Just my first kiss. Mom met another John R. and married him.
347 Dillon Drive. My mother’s house. The house that Mom and John bought together. Ninth grade. Happier times. I remember Mom standing in my bedroom doorway listening to me sing along with Michael Jackson blaring in my headphones. I was dancing. I didn’t see her until she started laughing. We both laughed. I remember her laughter. Beautiful laughter.
My house, away from my mother’s house. I’m away at college when John calls me. Mom’s left him. They need me to come home. I’m angry at her. Nana’s angry at her. John’s crying. Who’s this other man? Granddaddy dies. Mom marries that other man. Very bad timing. I miss John.
Scattered memories. Coming faster now. Reliving.
My mother’s house is no longer mine now. She’s creating a new life with this new man. I’m still in her life, but I no longer live there. We have holidays there. I come to visit but I rarely stay the night. They’re married for seven years.
My house now. Mom calls me. He’s left her for someone else. I go to my mother’s house to sit with her and try to dry her tears. And listen. And try not to say I told you so. But Nana does. Nana says what comes around goes around. And I pray it doesn’t. I pray it doesn’t.
My house. A nurse calls me. Mom’s in the hospital. She’s tried to kill herself. I go. She’s in the psych ward. She’s lethargic, but I think she realizes she did a very stupid thing. My husband comes. Like he always does, he tries to make her laugh, asking her why she did such a stupid thing. She knows she did a stupid thing. She’ll get better now, right?
My mother’s house. 11 months later in a rental. It’s Christmas. She’s decorated to the nines. She’s getting better. She’s moving on with her life. She’s making plans to build a new life. She tells us about the house she’s thinking about building as we talk over Christmas dinner. She’s going to have a special room just for the babies I’m carrying in my womb.
A month later. I’m in my mother’s house. Mom’s not there. It’s very quiet. My husband’s with me but he’s fallen asleep. I’m thumbing through paperwork, my old elementary school report cards, with boxes piled around me. “Kelly’s very bright, but she’s a very social girl. She needs to learn to pay attention better.” Old baby teeth in my mother’s jewelry box. Cards and letters I sent her from college. Kim’s high school Raiderette pictures. All scattered on the floor. The babies are no longer in my womb. I lost them four days after Christmas.
Back now. Two days after Christmas. My house. I’m in the bathroom when I hear a knock on the door and hushed voices. I come out to see my husband standing stone faced with a police officer and a chaplain. My mother has done it. She’s taken her own life. It’s December 27, 1999.
My mother’s daughter’s house, my house, December 27, 2002. The nurse calls me. I’m nervous. I’m scared. Kelly. Things look good. You’re pregnant again. Looks like twins again. On your day, Mom. Thank you. Thank you for giving me a good memory in your daughter’s house, in my house, on that day. A gift. I hope you finally have peace now in God’s house, watching my daughters, your granddaughters, grow up in their mother’s house.
Ten years ago today, my mother committed suicide. It’s very hard to explain what that does to a child, especially a daughter losing a mother, no matter the age. I was 34; my sister was 24. I was angry with my mother for a while; I felt very abandoned and suffered a major loss of self worth. The fact that Mom thought she had nothing to live for when, in fact, she had two daughters, one with grandchildren on the way, hit hard, and I went through a couple years of serious soul searching. But after a while, I realized there was nothing I didn’t do, nothing I could have done, that could have helped her. My sister reached that point as well, and we are much closer now than we’ve ever been, coming out of that darkness together.
Over these past ten years, I’ve learned so many valuable lessons that have stemmed from that loss. I now know that I will never make everyone happy, so I don’t try. I know that I am the one and only person responsible for my own happiness. I know that in order for me to be a happy, healthy person who can take care of her family, I must take care of me first, and then take care of my family. And I know that involves being a tad selfish at times. I know that there are angels. And I know that like my grandmother had a vision of my girls just days before she died, I know my girls have seen their own grandmother. I’ve seen it in their little faces, especially when they were babies and they’d smile and giggle at something over my shoulder, yet every time I’d turned to look, there’d be nothing there. I see it in them now as they find their faith and ask me questions about her. I’ve felt her presence around me when I’ve needed it most. I’ve felt her encouragement when I’ve been afraid to take a step. I’ve heard her laughter when I’ve needed joy. And I’ve learned that she remains, in me, in my children, in the angel on top of my Christmas tree, in this life that I have created with this family. She’s here.
My friend Debbie gave me a Christmas gift that touched me deeply. It was just a picture frame really, nothing special, except for the message it contained. Before I opened it, Deb said, “I saw this and immediately thought of you.” Engraved on the frame was the phrase “Blessed are the Happiness Makers.” Deb and I met just weeks after Mom died; Benny and I were at Ted’s one night when Debbie and her husband walked in, saw that there were no open tables, looked at me, pulled up a chair and said, “You’re cute, and I want to meet you. Can we sit with you?” A much needed new friend sent by an angel above. Blessed are the Happiness Makers. Through all this, from this loss, I have made happiness…better than a banana eating a bowl of cereal on top of a school bus happiness. Thank you, Mom, for that most important of lessons.
Update, January 30, 2013: I wrote a follow-up to this post, telling my girls the full truth about my mother's death, here.