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When I was little, I referred to them as Mommy Susie and Mommy Patti. Mommy Susie was the one who gave birth to me, the one who died in a car accident when I was eleven months old. Mommy Patti was the one who married my dad when I was two and a half, who adopted me as her child, and has taken care of me ever since. I have vivid memories of talking to my adoptive mother about my biological mother, a subject matter which now seems oddly inappropriate. I think that, when I was younger, I did not entirely grasp the idea of death. I had no concept of the delicate familial web that was woven when one woman was taken away and another stepped in to fill her shoes.
I have no recollection of ever talking to my dad and brother about my mother. My dad plays the role of the strong male figure in the family, void of emotion and distress. He gives me no hint as to what my mother was like, perhaps because of his inclination to leave the past in the past. As for my brother, I can only imagine the impact that her death had on him. He was only four years old when he witnessed the whole gruesome ordeal, and I often feel that it is not my place to inquire about her, stirring up feelings he has deliberately suppressed for so many years.
Although it can be argued that I have two mothers with twice the love and twice the caring, I sometimes feel that I have no mother at all. I get jealous easily when I see the bond that many people share with their mother. To no fault of anyone, my relationship with my adoptive mother seems lacking in that area. They say that the love a mother feels for her child the first time she sees it is incomparable. I often feel as if I have been cheated out of such affection, as if part of me is missing. The bond that I had with my mother was broken before I even had the chance to experience it.
Perhaps the most difficult part of my situation is discerning right from wrong. Is it wrong for me to call my biological mother my “real mother”? Does that take away credibility from the woman who has loved me and taken care of me for fifteen years?
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About a year ago, I found a cassette tape in my brother’s room. The label was white, and in black ink, my father’s handwriting said, “Sue, Tom, Anthony, and Elizabeth – messing around in the basement, summer 1983”. Listening to that tape was the first time I ever heard her voice. I was only a few months old on the tape, and listening to it, I could hear my mother talking to me. The words were insignificant, but the impact was monumental. I listened as my dad read to my brother, and all three of them sang songs and nursery rhymes. It was so bizarre to hear her talking and singing just like a normal mother. She was so happy. I felt like I was watching a movie of an entirely different family I had never met.
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However, I have come to some conclusions about how to deal with my uncertainties. A poem by William Wordsworth helps me to understand my feelings about my mother’s death. The poem is called “We Are Seven” and in it, a little girl speaks about how, though two of her family members are dead, her family is still seven.
“How many are you then,” said I,
“If they two are in heaven?”
Quick was the little maid’s reply,
“O Master! We are seven.”
The strength of the child in this poem astounds me. This girl is only eight years old, yet she entirely understands the concept of death. Not only that, but she accepts it and makes light of it. The poem gives me a new perspective on my struggle, and encourages me to exhibit a fraction of the strength of this child.
While, unlike the girl in the poem, it is difficult for me to consider my biological mother a real part of my family, it is easier to consider her a real part of me. I see her every time I look in the mirror. I sense her every time I study my own mannerisms. I miss her every time I feel lonely and isolated from the world. Though I never knew her, I almost feel as if we are the same person, as if she is the only one who understands me. That is what frustrates me so much, but it is also what strengthens me. I have learned to grow and accept my family situation. I have learned to deal with the probing questions I am asked, some of which I do not know the answers to. And more than anything else, I have tried to live my life for her, to make her proud. Her life is over, but that does not mean mine has to be.