My mother left the day I turned three. I can remember holding on to her legs as she stuffed her things into the suitcase.
“Where are we going, mom?” I asked, upsetting her with my numerous kindergarten questions.
“Away, but I’m going alone. You’ll stay here with your father for now.”
“Why can’t I come along?”
“Shh.” She stooped to pat me on the head, “you wouldn’t understand, pumpkin.”
I clutch squirming David in one arm and a bag in the other. David is my illegitimate three-month-old son and the bag holds all that I own. David is hungry and is restless but I have not had anything to eat for two days and my breasts are flaccid. He starts to bawl and I am feeling faint.
Whoosh, the world is spinning and I’m right in the middle of the tumble. David’s cries come to me as if from a faraway planet and he begins to slip.
“Hey, are you okay?” Strong hands grab David from me and I am forced to open my eyes. The world is still spinning, but much more slowly. A woman is standing in front of me, holding David who’s stopped crying and is now pulling at her scarf.
“My baby…” I start to say.
“…is hungry. Why don’t you both come with me and we’ll feed him. You could also use some food.”
I devour an impossibly huge plate of rice, as the woman feeds David a bottle of milk.
“You’re welcome. Anything else I can do?” She asks as she sits beside me. I shake my head. There’s nothing anyone can do.
“This your baby?”
“And how old are you?”
I glare at her, “old enough to be his mother!”
She repeats her question. Something in her voice frightens me and I answer somewhat meekly, “sixteen.”
“Like to tell me about it?”
My insides begin to quake. Of course I’d like to tell her about it, so I do.
My father was never home, and I was living with stepmother number three when Willie started noticing me. Dad came home drunk one night, cursing and yelling at me. I ran down the street to Willie’s house.. His parents were out of town, he said, and if I really loved him, I’d let him have his way. A month later, I was pregnant.
Dad was rarely home and didn’t know I was pregnant until David was born.
“He told me to leave.” I finish quietly, the tears I haven’t shed for three months now released, “this is the third town I’ve lived in since then.”
The woman swears softly and asks, “what about your real momma?”
“She left.” Just one page in a book of grief.
“I don’t know,” I shrug noncommittally.
The woman allows us stay the night. It’s been long I last slept in a real bed and it feels so soft.
“Lisa, there’s someone here to see you.”
Someone to see me? My heart starts to gallop away as I step out.
She is standing by the window, her back to me, but I just know.
She turns slowly. But for the lines on her forehead, time hasn’t changed her a bit.
“Lisa! Oh, Lisa…” She is crying and moving towards me but I can only stare. “Lisa, I’ve come to take you home.” I hear her say as I sink into the waiting darkness.
Now I know why she left. Dad had been married before and she hadn’t known until the other woman came home with two children. She’d packed but dad had threatened to kill her and she’d had to go without me. She later came back for me but was shown a mound of earth. Lisa is dead, dad said.
“Somehow I knew you weren’t and kept returning. One day, your father had left. Never came back…”
“And she’s been grieving for you.” The woman who’d rescued me from the street added. “We all thought she was addled. How could she be praying for a dead daughter?”
“But how did you recognize me?”
“You are her carbon copy and then you told me your name and story. It fit.”
She’s remarried and I have a brother.
“It’s going to be quite an adjustment for us all, but your home is with me. I can’t lose you again.”
I nod vigorously, David in one arm, my other hand holding my mom’s hand.
I’m going home.
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