Mother: An Essay
By: Christine McFarlane
I travelled three days on a Greyhound bus to meet my biological mother. She was standing in the Winnipeg bus station standing beside a repatriation worker. I don’t recall his name but his demeanor was all uppity and cocky, as though he would rather be anywhere else but here, watching a woman meet her grown daughter for the very first time.
I remember, getting off the bus, my body was aching from all those hours of sitting or flopping over two cramped seats trying to get some sleep. My heart leapt into my throat when I walked into the station, and looked across the stained plastic seats and saw my mother. She looked like me! She was short, even shorter than the 5 feet that I am. Her hair was black like mine, but hers was salt and pepper with the gray that went throughout it. She wore glasses; they were pretty thick. I had to laugh; I must have gotten my bad eyesight from her. I’d worn glasses since I was ten years old. She was bundled up for the Winnipeg cold. They don’t call it Winterpeg for nothing.
It was crazy, I know to go in the middle of winter to Winnipeg but this meeting was planned and I would not have missed it for the world. I had been waiting almost 32 years to see what my mother actually looked like. There were no words to explain the feelings that coursed through me when I saw her for the first time. I was speechless. I finally had a living, breathing person in front of me. Now I knew what Anna Smith looked like, she wasn’t just an image made up in my head anymore.
The tears rolled down her cheeks and she clumsily reached out to put her arms around me. I wasn’t used to hugs. I gave her a hug back but it was awkward. I didn’t know what to say to calm her down. Nor did I know that before I got there she had been pacing back and forth and asking herself the very same questions that I had. “Will she look like me,” Will she like me?,” and “I hope this reunion is worth it because what if she hates me and doesn’t want anything to do with me?”
I recall the three of us leaving the station. My mom and I had our arms around each other. Everything was surreal. We were really in each other’s presence. The little girl in me was crying, the grown woman on the outside was stoic. I told myself “you have to be strong.”
On that visit I didn’t ask her how she dealt with that pain of so many years ago, when the Children’s Aid swooped in and took all four of her kids. I didn’t think that all that pain would resurface on its own and become so overwhelming it would land her in the hospital, not only while we were visiting, but afterwards when she took the bus back to Saskatchewan and was alone once more. She stayed six weeks in the psychiatric ward.
It’s been 5 years since that visit, and some questions still remain. Do you still have that nervous laugh when you’re about to tell someone something? Do you still break out humming when there is a loss of words? That made me laugh, made me smile, made me want to break out into song also.
I remember our visit mother and the subsequent visit afterwards when I travelled to Saskatchewan to see you the last time. Things happened on that visit, things I couldn’t tell you then. Things I didn’t think you would be strong enough to handle.
Your boyfriend came onto me after too many drinks. Yelled at me, and told me I was a fucking control freak and I could just head back home. He said, “Your dad died like a dog in the street.” Those words stung, because my dad was murdered and no one deserves to have their life taken. His friend, though married, clumsily hugged me and told me I was really hot. That scared me and I kept that inside too.
I saw you drink bottles of cough syrup when your feelings got to be too much, and when you weren’t gulping down the cough syrup; you were sleeping on that couch of yours. You rarely left it. I wanted to bake cookies with you-you told me “do it yourself” and turned around and slept some more.
I felt alone but couldn’t say anything- I didn’t want to get you all worked up. I was afraid that if I did, you’d go over the edge like you almost did on our first visit.
Mother, I love you, I know its strange, but I do and I always will. Maybe later on we will both be strong enough to be like a mother and daughter should be, but right now I can’t, it’s too difficult. I hope that someday we can meet up again and the pain will have dissipated some.
Until then, I wish you well and hope that if we do meet again, it won’t be too late.
Published in Yellow Medicine Review: www.yellowmedicinereview.com Spring 2011 issue….