It is a warm Georgia Fall the year my mother leaves us.
She is one of those people that is either high or low in life. And she is low a lot. Especially after my two brothers are born. She cries a lot. Screams a lot. Cries wolf (suicide) a lot. Tries a time or two.
Then one morning when I am eleven, before the school bus, she sits on the couch. Face a wet swollen mess, I see her there, littered with tissues. She tells me to sit down and then, more incoherent than not, she tells me she is leaving. Her sky-blue eyes are glossed over in crimson as she asks me to take care of my step-dad, my 3 year old and 7 month old brothers.
This is what I remember. The couch. The red, waterlogged face. And being told that my mother is intending to abandon me.
I go to school emotionally shell-shocked. My mother has just confessed to the 6th grader that she is running away. I am both anxious and numb. I do not cry.
When school ends my heart is in my stomach. By the time the yellow school bus pulls in front of my home I am a nervous wreck. I do not know what I am going to find; I walk to the door slowly, cautiously. Inside, I find my worst fear – my step-dad, swirling with tension and panic.
My mother is gone.
I tell him the little I know and we spend the afternoon in a blur of heartache and disbelief. But my mother, she seeks one of her friends, or sisters. By the end of the day she is secure in a mental health facility. On suicide watch.
In the months that my mother is gone my step-father and his mother are frazzled, stretched thin, broken. And me, I am the step-child. Only in hindsight, do I feel badly for my step-grandmother. Her husband passes away a month before my mother’s breakdown. She is in no emotional state to deal with what is happening to her son’s family. It causes her to be severe towards my adolescent weaknesses.
My mother eventually comes home but things remain fragile and she forever loses my trust. The cycle of her emotional roller coaster continues to affect me for years until I move out of my parents home at seventeen.
My daughter is eleven now and I think of these memories when on occasion my face is a wet, swollen mess and my green eyes are glossed over in crimson. The times when life is hard and the simple act of leaving seems so appealing. When I lean too heavily on the eleven year old to help in raising her little brothers.
I remember that I was eleven the day I consciously pulled away from my mother, the day the hurt finally went deep enough to emotionally detach. I remember that 18 years later that bond is still severed for that and similar reasons.
I remember that the window of opportunity we get with our daughters is slim and it closes so easily. And this more than anything else helps me to pull it together, to heal, to engage, and to stay.
*This post was originally written two years ago and has been edited and republished.