It has been 10 years since I graduated, and this summer is my high school reunion.
I keep getting e-mails and phone calls from people I haven’t talked to in ages wanting to know if I will be there to celebrate the old days. But what I remember most about senior year has little to do with graduation day or senior prom. It has everything to do with my mom.
The year she left me to sink or swim.
For as long as I could remember, my mother told me that I needed to learn to depend on myself. "One day, I’m not going to be here" is what she’d say to me. And then, 10 years ago on a sunny afternoon in March, that day came.
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I’d come home from school in a rush. I had a job interview at a telemarketing place. I could make $8 an hour, which would be plenty to help me save up for my prom dress and go toward my upcoming college expenses.
The door swung open a little too easy. I dropped my bag, looked up and the house was completely empty. The living room was bare. The kitchen shelves were clear. And my mother was nowhere to be found. Her bedroom door stood open, exposing her naked room.
Maybe we moved, I thought. It wouldn’t be the first time my mother packed us up and moved on a whim.
I opened my bedroom door. There was my bed, still unmade from earlier that morning. Sneakers were scattered on the floor, and my cordless phone was sitting on my pillow. My heart raced.
I was left to fend for myself.
My then boyfriend helped me pack. Between him and two of my friends, I had three places to stay and finish out the school year. I kept it together as if nothing had happened. No one in high school knew except my best friend Starr and my history teacher. My mentor helped me line up my college applications. Meanwhile, I hated my mother with all my heart.
It would be almost a month before I heard from her. She’d moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Virginia Beach, Va. Her manic depression had her in denial. She was certain she did nothing wrong. In her mind it was tough love, and I should get busy swimming before I sank in the sea of life. So I swam. Hard.
I worked part time. I went to the prom and survived high school, barely speaking to my mom and seeing her even less. My grades earned me a partial scholarship. I applied for student loans, and I prepared for college. Instead of going to Spelman or the University of Virginia or art school in Paris to study photography, I went to the last school on my list, Norfolk State University.
That school was the best thing that could have happened to me. Not only did I learn to keep my head above water, but I also soaked up sunshine. And when it rained, I took shelter in the lessons I learned. I was having the time of my life, and when my mother came to visit me at college, she smiled a great big, proud grin.
Part of me wanted to scream at her, but I couldn’t. My mama was proud of me, and it was overwhelming.
She has never apologized for what she did, and I’ve never forgiven her. We just sort of moved on. After everything was said and done, she was still my mama. And no matter what you do in this world, you can never change who your family is. You can love them or leave them. Something inside me wouldn’t let me leave.
For years we’ve worked on building a better relationship, and we have good times, but I’ve always held onto what she did.
It’s like a scab I can’t quit picking at and because of that, sometimes I find myself on the fence with how I feel about her. Recently I realized that maybe it’s time to let this old wound heal.
Life is short, and I don’t want to wake up one day and be all dark and twisty like Meredith Grey and her mother on "Grey’s Anatomy." Her mother had to die for her to know how she truly felt.
I can’t keep waiting for my mom to say sorry. Forgiveness isn’t always the result of an apology, but I’ve been told its effects are liberating. I want our relationship to be free to grow and truly mend.
So instead of the high school reunion, I’m thinking I might go see my mama. I’m ready to forgive her and celebrate the day I truly learned to swim.
In her mind it was tough love and I should get busy swimming before I sank in the sea of life. So I swam. Hard.