I don’t wear earrings very often. I own many pairs, but they usually collect dust on the bottom shelf of my medicine cabinet. Even the diamond ones that I got for my 18th wedding anniversary . Every now and then I pick them up, hold them in front of my ear lobes and after considering what they would look like, more often than not, I just place them back in their bed of dust. I’ve had my ears pierced since I was 15. It was a present of sorts from my birth mom. She was coming through town on her way, with her husband and kids, to California and had decided to stop at her dad’s house, where I was living, and stay for a few days. She decided that for a bonding experience she would take her daughter to go get her ears pierced.
My mom is someone I always looked at and thought was beautiful. Even though we did not have hardly anything, she would make dingy clothes look beautiful when she wore them. Boy could she sing. Each time she sang a solo in church I would sit up a little taller in my seat, silently telling everyone “that’s MY mom”. She had blonde hair with waves curls. Her tiny frame was one that other women in the church would look at with green eyes of envy and then talk about with wagging tongues of hurtful words. I was proud to have her as my mom. I remember watching her washing her face in the bathroom sink. She used a peach smelling face scrub that I dared not touch, but would every now and then take the lid off and smell it. I would take my finger and ever so lightly touch the top of the cream and sometimes the tiniest bit would be on my finger and I would wipe it on the back of my ear. I hoped that somehow a bit of it would transfer and I would be beautiful like her.
One day, as I stood in the doorway watching my mom wash her face, she stopped and noticed I was there. She sighed and then went back to her scrubbing. “Mom?” I asked.. “Am I pretty?” I stood there with a smile on my 7-year-old face. She looked over at me, face void of a smile, rolled her eyes, and said “why would you ask me such a dumb question?” I winced a little, but asked before my mind could stop me “Can I use some of your soap?” The question hung in the air like lead. “Don’t you ever touch my soap!” she said as she put the lid on the jar. “I just wanted to be pretty like you” I said with my head down now. She laughed and as she pushed me out of the bathroom said “you don’t need to ever worry about that.” The sting was like a million wasps. I could feel the tears brimming and before I could stop them they fell. “Oh, stop your crying and go outside to play.” So I did. I walked outside and as I did caught my reflection in the window and thought to myself.. “what an ugly girl you are Heather.”
It was interactions (if you can call them that) like this that began to harden my heart towards my mom. So, as I sat in a chair at the mall, waiting to have someone stick a needle through it I was many things, one of them being angry. My mom talked, smiled, and even flirted with the teenage boy behind the counter and I thought “what a fake.” She kept telling everyone what a big day it was for me, going out with my mom to get my ears pierced. I swallowed the bitter words I wanted to say and just sat there stewing in it. This woman, this woman who gave me up when I was 11 because (and I quote her) I did not take the garbage out quick enough. This woman, who chose an abusive man, who treated her two oldest children from a previous marriage as if they were dirt. This woman, who sat while her abusive husband beat and verbally accosted her daughter to the point of her daughter attempting suicide at age 9. The same daughter who now sat (almost 5 years after she GAVE HER UP) in a chair listening to her “brag” about what a great mom she was, how she was treating her daughter to this special day. By the time the girl was done piercing my ears I was ready to explode, but I didn’t. I sat silently and thought “my mom is such an ugly person.”
The drive back to my grandpa’s house was quiet. So many thoughts were going round and round inside of me. The scene that kept playing out in my head was the picture of her laughing at the thought of me asking if I was pretty. The thought of me wanting to be like her. The idea that I ever would have even WANTED to be like her. It turned my stomach. After a few days she left, with her abusive husband. I did not see her again until my wedding almost 5 years later and then after that, and then not again until my son’s funeral almost 7 years after that. so much time, so much hurt. The ride to the airport after the funeral was the time I decided to speak what needed to be said to my mom. For almost 40 minutes I asked questions, allowed her to answer, then let her know I forgave her. I let her know that she would always be the woman who brought me into this world. I let her know that was something that nothing could break, but that if left untended would not grow. I let her know that I loved her. I told her without a hint of a lie in my soul, that I loved her, and I did, and I do. It did not reverse time and make all the hurt not happen, but it redeemed it and now allows it to be used to heal, not hurt. I did not have a conversation with my mom until almost 13 years later, at a wedding. It was awkward, but honest. No real relationship bloomed out of it, but truth did, and in some small way it is its own time machine, allowing me to go back and not be so bitter anymore.
Time is a jerk. Words are some of the biggest jerks of all. So many to describe anything we want and yet, when we go to write them down they seem to fail to accurately depict what is dancing in our minds. This is how it is with my childhood. I have so many snapshots that bring up so much emotion. I try to articulate the moments and there never seems to be enough time, or words, to say how I feel. I wish I had time back. I wish I could go back into that bathroom as a girl of 7 and instead of walking away broken-hearted, go back and throw my arms around my mom and say, “I love you.. please love me.” simple as that. We allow hurt, anger, and bitterness rob us of “in the moment” declarations of love. Truth is, the reason I ached so much over her words, was because I loved her so deeply, and life is too freaking short to allow years, even decades go by, harboring and nursing an old hurt instead of saying, “I forgive you, I love you, I just want you to love me too.” Love is risky. Love is hard. Love is not guaranteed, but I can guarantee you this… if you don’t risk anything, you don’t gain anything. In the end, I think it is worth it to take my hurts, wounds, unsaid words, and do something about it. You always will hear me telling people to “tell your story”. We get one chance to check out the book our story is written in from the library we call life. Don’t allow empty chapters to fill up your book. “write” it down. LIVE it out. Share everything, don’t be ashamed to share the failures alongside the moments of success. Be willing to look at the deepest hurts and find words of love left unsaid and say them. Be brave in the telling of you story. But most of all.. tell it…live it.