I believe in forgiveness. I believe in forgiveness because I’ve learned to see the whole person.
“Sometimes I wish you were never born,” she told me when she was angry. Those words were spoken by the woman who carried me in her womb.
More than three decades later and I know Mom still carries those words around like a thousand pound pack. While visiting her a few years ago, she said, “I never go a day without thinking about what I said to you.” We both knew the exact words she meant. She was sitting in her green recliner and couldn’t look at me. Tears began to fill her eyes and reflect the light from the TV. I looked away, shook my head, and mumbled something inaudible as if to say, “Don’t worry about it, no big deal.” But I released no real words. What could I say? It was a big deal.
The passing of time, along with the responsibility of becoming a father has made it possible for me to see Mom with clarity. And through other family members I’ve learned many details of her childhood. I know those words were not her own.
Back when she spoke those words Mom was a divorced woman struggling to provide for three boys on the pay she earned working in a factory. The pressure of taking care of us, in the absence of any support, must have been overwhelming. Mom sacrificed everything for us, including, and most importantly, any chance for a romantic life.
I also have a memory I carry around. It’s much lighter than the one Mom carries and comes to mind most when I’m with my five-year-old daughter, Hannah: Our family was living on a farm in Menifee County, Kentucky. Being a typical eight-year-old, I had won many battles against poison ivy, but this time I thought the ivy was going to win. The palm side of my fingers had become liquid-filled blisters. No remedy had stopped the itching. One night during my bout with the ivy, Mom came home from work around midnight. I was awake and crying. She got me out of bed without saying a word. We went into our small bathroom and I sat on the lip of the tub. I didn’t know what she was going to do, but I knew it would take away the pain, and it did. Mom poured a small amount of bleach into the sink and added warm water. She soaked a white washcloth in the liquid and wrung out the excess. As I looked away anticipating a sting that never came, she took my small hands in hers and caressed my fingers with a touch so delicate that my daughter felt it.
I plan to visit Mom soon. I’ll take her a copy of this piece and tell her it’s time to take off the pack.