Remember me? Ironic isn’t it that I should start a string of good byes with a hello, and yet I have changed so much I was afraid you wouldn’t know me. Yes, its little Barbara, though with the passage of time I’ve come to look more like a sister. The wrinkles we share—some would call them character—were etched there by hard work and care, but the type of work and the nature of that care is where the resemblance ends. Our parting was a bit like one of those intersections where you can only turn left or right. You went your way and I went mine. We both aged, but I got there from living, you from existing.
I didn’t say good bye before I headed west to make my way in Southern California. I didn’t think you would listen or want to hear my reasons for the need to completely sever our ties. Somehow having to settle for saying it AT you rather than TO you was just too much and so I skipped it.
We had sixteen uncomfortable years together. I might get a charitable impulse to say that there was blame on both sides, but how can I? I was the child…you were the adult…you can’t expect me to supply the guidance, the example, love enough for both of us? You muffed it, and the time we could have been not only family but good friends was lost forever. Damn, that hurts, but farm folk like you value honesty, and that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
What did you tell your friends at church? That I wanted to head to Hollywood and be a movie star? Or that I was an ungrateful brat who dashed off without so much as a good bye? I’ll grant you this, I was ungrateful. Most people have very little gratitude for sixteen years of emotional neglect.
I spent sixteen years very much alone, trying to figure everything out for myself. That was hard and painful, and being that I was a girl, it felt as though I was not worthy of family support or an investment in my future. You were not there to help me through my hard days. I am not sure you or dad even knew how. I just wanted to feel that I was important. I clung to the hope that it was not somehow all my fault. My faithful little mutt named “Boots” believed in me. So did my rag doll “Little Orphan Annie” whose kindly whispers were probably echoes from my own indomitable spirit.
After a while I gave up on you, deciding that the Stork had made an error and delivered me to the wrong family. And I would leave soon as humanly possible and spare us both a lot of heartache.
Good bye, Mother. There, I said it, but I have another one. What most people rate as a mother I never had, so I could never lose it. I did miss like holy hell all the things you could have been if you would have—or could have—put your mind to it. Now you are laid to rest with your folks. I was not there to throw in a handful of earth—that happened when I was sixteen and shook the dust of that crummy town from my boots. Still, in honor of the woman you could have been, good bye. I hope you found freedom on the other side, or at least some inkling of what opportunities you missed.
To this day, after all the success that has befallen me, I’ve still have those early feelings of abandonment and on some days feel utterly worthless and helpless. It’s time to say good bye to that too. There is a bright tomorrow just over the horizon, and I want to see the sun rise without the baggage of yesterday weighing me down for one more minute. With only one life to live I needed to fill it with discovery, adventure, loving relationships and experiential learning. Life is too valuable to waste on mediocrity and loneliness. It may have been enough for you. Maybe it wasn’t and you just didn’t know why it hurt. Yet I am living proof that you don’t have to be a victim of your own upbringing. I hope wherever you are that you have discovered this.