“I was conceived in an alley in Missouri. My mother fought him, but he broke her arm and muffled her cries with a garbage bag. If only it had happened a few years later, his blood under her fingernails would have mattered to the police. Instead they said little, the hospital charged her a ridiculous amount that she spent years paying off, and she went home to keep it quiet, until she wasn’t welcome at home anymore. I was born in Iowa.
“It was my birthday when, and you’ve got to imagine what feelings my birthday meant to her as opposed to any other sort of mother, the things… Excuse me.
“The only time I ever asked about it was after my sixth birthday. She put a candle in a Little Debbie’s Fudge Round, either because we were that broke, or because I loved them. I remember both answers on different days. As I climbed a stepladder to help her wash the dishes, I asked why she’d kept me. I remember her kneeling on my stepladder to be at level with me, and her resting a fist on the top rung. I could still smell the smoke from my birthday candle as she said she couldn’t get rid of me because she’d known I’d turn out like this. That’s what a mother told her son, so believe however much you want. I don’t think she slept for a week after my birthday. I never had the guts to ask her again.
“Rape was on my mind, not because I knew what it was, but because every child I ran into had an opinion. Did I know my Mom should have pulled me out with a coat hanger? Or thrown herself down some stairs? Did I know that any time he wanted, my father could come and take me from her? I remember having nightmares of him coming for me with a garbage bag, so I didn’t sleep a lot either, which is how I knew when Mom was sleeping or not. These children informed me that I wouldn’t have even happened if she didn’t dress like a whore, which made no sense to me, since she dressed the same as other mothers, just that she always walked on the other side of the curb from them.
“One of my earliest memories is watching two girls run away from me, I don’t even remember what they’d done, but I was lying on my back on the pavement in front of our school, and wondering why the two of them couldn’t have been aborted. I was just trying to live while everyone I knew was evil to me. What sanctity did they deserve? Even outside of their mothers’ wombs, why were they special?
“Mom didn’t allow that kind of talk. It’s very important you know that - she controlled conversations and forced you to be polite. She didn’t just do it to me; I overheard her doing it to the strangers.
“I always thought it was strange that Mom would volunteer. She worked no fewer than two jobs in a week, and sometimes four, and yet there were afternoons and late nights that she brought me to the local hospital or homeless shelter, where I’d wait in rooms the size of closets while she talked to strangers. She had… she had the bravery that changes the times. She spent our spare time counseling girls at the hospital. It didn’t matter how they were hurt. It couldn’t matter because when that program began, they didn’t think they could say they’d been raped. I think the only time I ever heard her speak that word, that actual word of what actually happened to her, was when she didn’t know I was outside the door while she was convincing strangers they had rights.
“It wasn’t fair that she died so young. Thirty-seven isn’t even an even number. She had a weak heart, the same as what killed her Dad. That’s why he didn’t come to her funeral, and I’ve never bothered to pursue why no one else from her family did. They were holes my whole life I never filled. Did you know…?
“You know, I don’t know how old I was before I met anyone who actually liked my mother. The shelters, the grocery stores and post offices where she worked were uniformly tense whenever I visited with her. I don’t remember a single landlord who looked her in the eye. Whatever you think of her decision, she didn’t deserve her son to think ‘Whore’ was her middle name, and it was adults that convinced me of that. I like to think she changed the world since then.
“So maybe her funeral was the first time I ever heard people be decent to her. A couple pews of people came, mostly young women, mostly unaccompanied, none with children. I didn’t have children either, but I couldn’t help looking for them for weeks afterward. These young women, and this one incredibly old man who needed two canes just to stand up, called her “bold” and “original” and entire sentences which would have made more appropriate middle names for her. No one cried, but there was this one Jewish lady who knelt and kissed her casket. I didn’t have the guts to ask what Mom had done for her, just as none of these people had the guts to say what they’d thought of Mom before she couldn’t hear it anymore. Nowadays, when I don’t sleep, what I think most about is how to get by, and second-most is whether I said enough to her when she could hear.”