Here’s the lowdown. I’ll tell it like it is, so that everything is clear and there are no questions.
My mother has some serious brain trauma problems that stem from several sources. She had an accident as a child which initially delayed her development and within the past several decades has endured some documented spousal abuse from her second husband, which has resulted in at least two hematomas. I’ve thought alot about blogging about this kind of stuff, and whether I should or not and have finally come to the conclusion of – fuck it, pretending it doesn’t exist doesn’t help and besides, it’s kind of interesting, and sometimes heartbreaking, but sometimes really funny. My mother has certainly colored my outlook on life and I like what I’m doing so here it is . . .
My mother has three biological children – myself, my sister and my brother. Of the three of us, Tammy was given up for adoption. I met Tammy for the first time when I was 21 years old. She has never met our mother, only spoken to her one time on the phone.
Since I was very young, I’ve only seen my mother very sporadically. Her new husband often prevented contact, and my new step-mother was great, so it was easy to slip out of her life. As an adult, I’ve made effort to visit her once every few years. More than a few times I’ve been asked to leave by her husband. Once I knocked on her door and she answered, squinting at me and said in her shrill voice, “Yes!? Can I help you?” She didn’t know who I was. She couldn’t see into my eyes which look just like her own and recognize any familiarity.
Tammy and Jimmy and I pull into the town of Champaign-Urbana around midnight on a cold sleepy Thursday night. Tammy says, “You know, now that I am here, I just want to knock on her door. See what she looks like. It will be sort of like looking into the future genetically, since I know I look like her. I don’t want her to know who I am, though.”
I’m actually stunned and pleasantly surprised and nervous all at the same time. I decided last year after a couple of years of moderately heavy involvement with trying to get some help for my mother, that I just couldn’t handle the pressure and the drama. I had no more morbid desire to see her, spend awkward never-ending moments of silence in her house. About five minutes is more than anyone can bear. I’ve actually taken friends with me to visit in the past, just so I have a witness that I’m not crazy. They would whole-heartedly agree, five minutes and you are like an animal ready to gnaw your own hand off to get out of the trap that is their house. For the record, I love her and will do whatever I can to help her, but as long as she chooses to live with someone who won’t allow communication between her and her family, there’s not a lot any of us can do. And I am done beating my head (pun intended) against that wall.
I’d made it clear to both Jimmy and Tammy before we began this journey that there would be absolutely no pressure from me to go a-knockin’ on our mother’s door when we arrived in town. Now, here Tammy is suggesting it and that makes me really happy. Her suggestion of not identifying herself made me even happier. Jimmy chimes in, “Hey, I can go with you while you knock on the door, ’cause hell, she don’t know who I am either!”
We devise a plan. We are all stealth and 007 about it. First, we recon the neighborhood, driving around several times. It’s cold outside, about 18 degrees and bright. We are surprised to see that their Grand Marquis sits in the end of the driveway, near the front door. The Grand Marquis is her husband’s baby and is always in the garage.
Jimmy is “Steven” and Tammy “Jennifer” and their last name is something also made up and they are going to wear sunglasses and knock on the door and (hopefully) when our mother answers, Tammy/Jennifer will say, “Oh, I’m sorry, I thought this was the Johnson residence.” And hopefully there’ll be that zinging moment of “holy shit!” when Tammy’s hidden eyes look deeply into the eyes of a stranger who she will recognize as someone who looks like and moves just like her. Tammy never knew anyone growing up who had her particular smile. Our mother does.
Tammy practices introducing herself with her new name but is having problems saying it properly, so she changes fake names again. I agree to stay in the rental car and take pictures from my hiding place in the backseat, since our mother would most likely recognize me. Tammy covers her piercing blue eyes with reflective sunglasses. “I have to go now or I never will,” she says, and opens her door. Jimmy flips his shades down and wordlessly slips out of the driver’s seat. He’s handsome these days, but a bit intimidating with his shaved head and goatee. Thirty-one years old or not, he’ll always be my little brother.
“Godspeed,” I say, and they walk down the sidewalk. I know we are all taking long slow deep breaths. I start snapping pictures.
They walk up to the door of the screened in porch enclosure. Tammy knocks on the door with alot of force. They stand there for what seems like an eternity. She knocks again. She opens the porch enclosure to knock on the inner front door for several minutes. No answer.
They said the TV was blaring. I confirmed that this is a normal phenomenon. Last time I was there, his 6′ 5″ frame filled up the La-Z-boy and she was crunched into her little living room chair that makes her 4′ 10″ body appear like a doll. They were watching Bonanza, the TV volume cranked as loud as it would go. In an effort to maintain their ruse at the front door, my brother pointed to the name on mailbox while they were standing there shivering, hearts pounding in their throats. He said to my sister in a loud voice for the benefit of anyone who may be secretly listening, “Hey honey, the mailbox doesn’t say ‘Johnson’ . . .”
Eventually they came back to the car. I think we were all better off that for whatever reason, no one answered the door that day.