Tuesday, January 4, 2011

an open letter to my former mother

Dear Maggie,

I had only been on this earth for 8 years when I met you at Casa De Los Niño’s, a children’s shelter in Tucson, Arizona. You watched me play outside for a while. I remember I was wearing my favorite outfit, a pair of baggy pink pants, and a short shirt that showed my belly a little bit when I raised my arms. You watched me play soccer with the other kids. I was always good at running. There weren’t very many kids my size that could catch me so I almost always won. I pretended that I didn’t notice you watching me, but I did, and I liked having an audience witness my victory.



When the game was over I felt like the champion of the orphans. You came over before I finished celebrating and told me who you were. “Hi, I’m Maggie, and this is Tim. We are looking for a little girl just like you. Would you like to come home with us?” I pushed the sweat soaked hair out of my face, stared at you both for a moment, looked you in the eyes and said, “um, not really.” I smiled and then ran back to play. A few days later, I was on my way to your house in the middle of the Arizona desert. I barely spoke to you during the drive and I could tell you were wondering if you made a mistake by picking me out of the 30 other girls at the shelter. I was determined not to like you. You were just a temporary mom. You were going to be like all the rest.

Suddenly we pulled into an outlet mall. You got out of the car and I sat there confused. “Well, are you coming?” You asked me. I unbuckled my seatbelt and jumped out of the station wagon. We walked into the store and you said, “We need to get you some new clothes and something to sleep on.” You took me to the children’s department and let me pick out a couple of outfits. I had never had new clothes before. All of my clothes came from clothing banks. I would try on the clothes and swirl around in the dressing room. The fabric felt so luxurious. For a moment I felt like Little Orphan Annie with the rich new mommy. With that thought I began to cry. I took the new clothes off and put my clothes back on. I walked out of the dressing room and you rushed over. “What’s wrong? What happened?” I handed you the new clothes. “I don’t want new clothes. Only my mama can buy me new clothes and she went away.” You knelt down so that your eyes met mine and you said, “No, I’m not your mama, but right now you can come home with me. I’m going to take care of you because your mama can’t. Is that okay?” I wiped the tears from my eyes with both hands and shook my head, yes.

After I picked out a few new outfits you took me to the bedding section and let me pick out my own sheets and blanket. The sheets were amazing. There were pink sheets, and blue sheets, and orange sheets. There were kittens, and hearts, and power rangers. There were puppies, and cartoon characters, and sheets with candies on them. I fingered each package delicately as I tried to make a decision. They were all too amazing. I imagined all the dreams I would have on each pair of sheets. At the end of the row was a pair of purple sheets with Gummi Bears on them. Not the edible kind of Gummy bear, but the cartoon with little bears that lived in the forest. It was my favorite cartoon. I would sing the theme song all day long. “Gummi Bears, bouncing here and there and everywhere. High adventure that’s beyond compare. We are the Gummi Bears.” I picked up the package and hugged it to my chest as I ran over to you. I slowed my pace, walked over to you, but I couldn’t bring myself to look you in the eyes. “These are okay.” I tried my best to be nonchalant about the whole thing but inside I felt like dancing and crying at the same time. You laughed and said, “These are great.” We checked out of the store and you took me home.

When we pulled into the dirt driveway dust engulfed the car. The house was a small, one story, tan colored house with a brown roof. When the dust settled we got out of the car and were immediately greeted by a giant orange cat. The cat rubbed himself against my legs and reached up, stretching himself against my body. “That’s Sly. There are lots of other kitties too.” We walked into the house and a small fluffy dog jumped off the sofa to inspect me. He sniffed me and when he was satisfied he rolled over for a belly rub. “That’s Pugsly. He’s a big baby.”

You took me to my room and we made my bed with my new sheets. There were three beds in my room but I was the only one sleeping in that room. A few girls would come and go, but it was mostly my room. My bed was the single bed against the wall with the window, farthest from the door. We made my bed with my new Gummi Bear sheets and turquoise blanket. It was the best looking bed I had ever seen. I wanted to crawl under the covers right then and go to sleep but it was nowhere near bed time.


When the boys came home, A rushed over to me and asked, “Want to go play?”  With that we both ran outside and played in the giant Paloverde tree in the backyard.  A and I became great friends.  I would sneak into his room at night and we would play video games.  Sometimes he would let me dress him up in girl clothes and makeup and then we’d pretend he was a single mom going on a blind date.  A always introduced me as his sister.  He always played with me.  He always protected me at school.  I loved A.  A was my brother.  A was my family.

Eventually I loved you too. You never made me call you mom. You never made me eat things I didn’t like. You never starved me. You always treated me like the other children. I never felt like the foster kid. You never yelled at me for wetting the bed. Instead you showed me how to use the washing machine and showed me where the extra sheets were so I could change my sheets in the middle of the night and not feel embarrassed. When I had panic attacks you would take me into the bathroom, sit me in your lap and wipe my face with a warm wash cloth until I could breathe again. When the panic attack was over you would hug me to you and tell me that I was safe and that everything was going to be okay.

The first time you introduced me as your daughter my heart raced. I loved the way those words sounded in my ears. We were grocery shopping and you ran into an old friend. You chatted for a few minutes before you rested your hand on the top of my head and said, “This is my daughter.” I looked up at you and smiled but you didn’t notice. It wasn’t that big of a deal to you. Those words seemed to just come out without thought. That is the moment you became my mom. That is the moment I decided I was yours. That was the moment you were mine. That is the day I asked Santa for you.

When you promised you would adopt me I finally felt like I had a family. I finally felt like someone wanted me. When you promised you would adopt me I felt like I finally belonged to someone. My need to belong to someone was so great that it triumphed anything else in my life. Being your daughter was more important to me than my safety. It was more important than anything in my world.

Being your daughter made everything worth it. Being your daughter made the night worth it. I lived in two worlds in your house. I had a life in the daytime and a very different one at night. Nighttime was scary and violent. A monster came out at night. The night was full of monsters, bruises, and pain. Night ruined my safety. Night ruined my body. It ruined my sense of self and my self- esteem. Nighttime was hell, but daytime was heaven. In the day I was someone’s daughter. In the day I had a family that loved me. I didn’t want to lose that. I wanted a family so much that I didn’t care about the consequences.

age 12
When I was 12, I came home from school to see my journal, open, sitting on my desk in my room. You were sitting on my bed waiting for me. “What is this?” You asked through clinched teeth. “What?” was the only word I was able to muster. My heart was pounding. I knew I was in trouble. “How could you write something so horrible? How could you do something so disgusting?” You were screaming now. I didn’t know if you were angry at what I wrote or what I did. “I…” You slapped me. “I’m calling your caseworker.” With that you left my room and slammed my door. As soon the door met the frame I broke down. I fell to the floor and sobbed. I knew this was it. I knew I had messed up my chance at a family. I knew you were going to get rid of me. I knew I was going to be locked up just like he said I would. I knew I was going to be punished. I climbed out my window and I ran away, taking nothing but the clothes I was already wearing. I ran as fast as I could for as long as I could. I had no idea where I was going but I eventually found myself at my elementary school. I climbed the fence and lay down on the grass where I cried some more. I screamed. I banged my head on the cement like Arizona ground and cried until I fell asleep. I stayed there until the sprinklers woke me up in the morning. I began walking. I walked all day. I walked until it was dark outside. I tried to hitchhike my way out of the middle of nowhere when you found me. Tim jumped out of the truck and grabbed me. He pulled my arm behind my back so tight that I thought my arm might be broken. He threw me in the truck and we rode back to your house in silence.

That night when I was sure everyone was sleeping, I snuck out of my room, took a bottle of water and searched the cabinets for any pill I could find. I took aspirin. I took Tylenol. I took prescriptions. I took sleeping pills. I took anything I could find. I meant to go back to my bed but instead I fainted in the hallway where you later found me. I woke up in the hospital, restrained to a bed. I had failed at life. I had failed at death. I had failed at love and now I was alone -- again.

I know I wasn’t the perfect child. I know I had problems. I know I hurt myself. I know I tried to kill myself when you told me I was leaving. I had nothing left to live for if I didn’t have a family. When you left me at the hospital I died. A part of me died and it has never come back. That funny, happy, hopeful little girl disappeared and has never returned. You left me when I needed you the most. I needed a mom the most. I need a mom to save me. I needed a mom to protect me. I needed a mom to hold me. I needed a mom to keep me. I needed YOU more than I needed anyone.

I prayed that you would come save me every single night for three years. Sometimes I would imagine that we would run away to Mexico and never tell anyone where we went. I dreamed that you would rescue me from the monster at night. I dreamed you would rescue me from the hospital but you never did. I wanted my mom and I thought that was who you were. I thought that is who you wanted to be. I don't know why I didn't tell you. I could have stopped it after the first time, you’re right, but I was so scared, and so ashamed, and so confused. I thought each time was the last time and I didn't want you to hate me. I didn't want you to get rid of me. I guess I wanted to be your daughter more than I wanted him to stop. What he did was painful, physically and mentally, but not as painful as losing my family, not as painful as losing my home. Not as painful as having my mom abandon me again. I wanted a mom more than I wanted to be safe. It hurts so much that you chose him and not me. It hurts so much that you gave up on me. It hurts so much that you didn’t want me. It hurts so much more than I am capable of articulating that you didn't love me enough to be my mom when I needed you the most.

You left me at the hospital and I never saw you again. I couldn’t speak for a year. I had no reason to live. You abandoned me. You threw me away. You told me you wanted me and then you got rid of me. I never got over you. I will never get over what you did. You made me believe that you wanted me. You made me believe that I belonged to you. You chipped away the wall around my heart only to destroy it. You left me when things got hard. You left me at a children’s hospital and never looked back. I never heard from you again, until now. You got rid of me like all the rest. You didn’t want me after all. You made me believe I had found my forever home only to show me that a home was not something I would ever have. You showed me that it was impossible to love me. You showed me that my biological mother was right. You showed me that I was nothing. You showed me that I was better off dead. You showed me that I would never matter to anyone. You showed me that I was garbage.

This is why I can’t pretend like the past doesn’t matter. This is why I can’t just get over it and try to continue my relationship with you where it left off. You can’t be my mom today because you weren’t my mom yesterday. You can’t be my mom today because you never were my mom—not really. You liked the idea of being my mom until things got hard and then you threw me away. I can’t get over that. I still remember that. It still hurts. It still hurts so much that sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed in the morning. I still want you to be my mom. I still want you to love me. I wanted you more than I wanted anything in the world. My heart still wants you but my head can’t handle it. Having you come back into my life and then tell me not to contact you anymore has opened my wounds all over again. It feels like you’re leaving me at the hospital all over again. I feel like I’m 12 years old again crying out for my mom and only hearing my own echo in response. I needed you then and you left me at the hospital. I need you now and you told me to go away. Why would you do this to me again?

Campbell