Of course my mother's name is Irene which is originally a Greek name meaning peace. My mother was not born a Grecian, but a full blooded Portuguese woman, as far as we can tell from my hard to trace maternal family genetic tree. She started her life in 1928 on the island of Maui and moved to the mainland in her 20s. She had only an up to 8th grade education. This is my letter to my Mom telling her all of my secrets, wishes and desires I have never told her before.
I am sorry I have been so out of touch with you over the many years but I'm sure that you must understand. Yes, I've been busy struggling through life, learning my lessons by choosing the hard knocks approach many times. I wish that you could understand the position I was in when Dad left us to marry my stepmother. No it was not easy. There were many conflicts and I always felt guilty if at any time there were any tender let alone friendly moments between she and I. I chose not to tell you of those in fears of hurting you or making you feel betrayed or jealous. You were so devastated when Dad left us alone to be with her and to have another daughter with her. In contrary to the meaning of your name you were never at peace with it. I have a question. Were you ever at peace with yourself and others? Were you always so troubled, defensive and sorrowful? I remember so few times that you were smiling or seemingly happy in the moment. There are some photos of you looking like you're having a great time. Was that an act or the effects of alcohol? You did find some moments to be amused that I remember. Like when you tried to teach me how to do the Hula and my awkward movements put you into hysterics. Then there was that toe trick you did where you could pick up dimes off the floor with your toes. You smiled every time you did that.
I know you were very lonely and felt so abandoned. I admit that I have felt the same way. I know that was the reason you sought out attention from the men you started dating. I want to thank you for being careful of not bringing men into the house that were aroused by little girls as my paternal uncle was. I did not tell you of the time he grabbed me in the kitchen when I was seven and was rubbing himself on me, probably because I was ashamed and scared of getting in trouble for punching him and yelling at him to let me go. I got in a lucky punch and hit him right where it counted and he bent over grunting hard. I took off and ran outside and stayed away until I was sure that he left. One thing I can tell you is that he never tried anything like that with me again after that. Thank you Mom, for letting me be feisty in that way. You probably would have gotten a good laugh if I had told you now that I think of it. But I know also how angry and disgusted you would have gotten as you had with other family members when you suspected them of the same. Nothing like that ever happened with them that I remember anyway. I do want the truth about that vaginal area surgery I had when I was four though. Was that really about my bladder opening being too small and needing to be widened? That whole experience was so very traumatizing to me. I don't remember what may have caused it but you said that you came home to find me bleeding and that I was having urinary tract infections so you took me to that Dr. Hymel. I can't believe I still remember his name. That Dr was mean and looked at me hatefully. He scared me. He made you leave the room when he examined me. Then the hospital made you and Dad leave me there overnight and I went into surgery alone the next morning. I was only four! I was so scared! I wanted my mommy or daddy and cried so hard. Where were the both of you? Why did you leave me there alone?
You weren't home when that happened with Uncle Gene of course, having always worked nights as cashier for the theaters. Here is something else I must confess. I hated that you rarely seemed to be home when I was home. Especially after Dad left us and we had to move into apartment after apartment and when it became too expensive to pay babysitters I became a latch key kid from age ten to twelve. I felt like I did not really know you that well having spent so little time with you during my childhood. It seemed before our family shattered my older brother was around the most and looked after me more than my own parents who both seemed to always be at work or sleeping when I was home. I understand times were hard and you both needed to bring in income to feed and shelter our family. Then it was up to you to see to that for just the two of us after my last two older brothers moved out and then Dad took that as the time he should leave us as well. Our whole family of my three older brothers and Dad disappeared seeming overnight. I still get angry at Dad for selling our home out from under us.
I admit I heard and saw you crying several times when you were around. I did not know what to do or say to make you feel better. When you actually said you wished you were dead I felt so lost, confused, and I admit even bitter. I admit to my shame that I blamed you sometimes for not being able to keep Dad from leaving us. That was so wrong of me and I understand that well now as an adult who has now been on that side of relationships as well. I hope you can forgive me although I never actually told you how I felt. Instead I acted out, I was selfish and childish. I refused to be helpful around the house until you got Aunty Flo over to give me a beating for not doing the dishes because you could never beat me yourself. I have to admit I really resented you for that. Aunty Flo was a mean ole biddy as you well know from her abuse of you yourself. I know she grew up as the eldest daughter and sister and always felt she needed to control the three of her younger siblings but that is no excuse for how badly she treated you.
After I moved in with Dad and my stepmom when I was twelve, I spent my teen years doing fairly well in school. I got involved with community theater and it was the one place I felt truly happy and a sense of belonging. Dad didn't support my love of it though and talked me into focusing on more practical matters, such as learning skills that would get me a decent job once I turned 18. I know he was insinuating I must become independent as when I turned 18 I would need to leave home and be on my own. I did get a full time graveyard job during my senior year and it cost me failing two classes. I did not get my diploma for several years after that. Dad was disappointed in me but I always felt that disappointment so it wasn't new to me. I know from what I heard from you, my aunts, my Gramma your mom, and my own brothers that I was an accident that forced Dad to have to come back to you when he left you only to find out you were pregnant with me. I never felt truly wanted but tolerated for duty's sake. My own brother reminds me of that to this day! Why does he think I need to continue hearing that? It hurts! How would he like it if I told him that his mother went crazy and was instituionalized because he drove her there? He always said Dad drove her to madness with his cheating. I remember your taking me there to visit her at Agnews State Hospital in Santa Clara. She was a stranger to me and I to her. If she had any sanity left wouldn't it have been hurtful for her to see me looking so much like Dad and also you, the woman who replaced her in Dad's life? I have always wanted to ask you why you did that. Were you trying to find someone to commiserate with about Dad?
Anyway, I became pregnant with your grandson Joey at age 19. I married his dad but we divorced when Joey was three. So therein lies my experience with it's a bad idea to get married "shotgun" style as you would have worded it. We both grew up in dysfunctional families. We were not yet equipped with maturity and understanding to make a lasting loving commitment. We had no idea how to create a whole or even wholesome family as I always dreamed of having. Remember how I used to hang out at my friend Julie Bass's family home much of the time? I witnessed how they all loved and supported one another and I was starving for that. I muddled through parenthood somehow and met my second husband before Joey turned four although he did not become my husband until five years later. That was another mistake. We lived in sin for those years. I fought for custody of my son but his father, a Mexican man with family throughout Mexico threatened me when he heard through mediation that Joe would most likely end up with me. He grabbed my arm hard on the way out and said "You may win custody, but I promise you that on my first visit with him I will take him to Mexico and you will never see him again." I am ashamed I let him intimidate me yet again. I gave in and let him have custody and I was the one who got weekend visitations. His dad finally got over his resentment of me and gave in and let me have Joey back when he turned eight. I did my best to give him a stable life and made sure he completed his diploma. He's doing well as a network technician today and makes good money. He was always interested in computers and I nurtured that interest from his childhood buying computer parts from the Outlet store and letting him learn how to build them. He hung around that store often and learned from the techs there. You would be proud of him in that way. However, I know you would hate how much weight he and I have both gained and would call us fat. Food had become my friend and solace after all during my latch key years but it wasn't until my 30s that I really began to put on the weight. I guess I passed my bad eating habits onto my son unfortunately and I feel badly about that. I do remember you got pretty chunky for a bit there and then bragged about getting so skinny. Mom, I have to confess you looked so much healthier and younger with the extra weight on you.
Luckily my second husband was sterile so I did not bring anymore children into this harsh world. Yes, Mom, I have to admit to becoming jaded. Life has taught me that we must struggle and fight to survive day by day. There will always be obstacles thrown in our paths that we must learn how to get around or fight our way through. I'm doing okay. Not bad, not great. That's more than most folks living in these times can say. Have you seen how our old neighborhoods and even your last island home has filled up with tent cities full of homeless people? Many of them are hooked on horrible drugs or alcohol. Those ways they choose to cope have only led them deeper into pits of despair. It's so sad Mom. In this way we are lucky and blessed to have overcome succumbing to that weakness and avoid plunging into that lifestyle.
I left and divorced my second husband after being with him for 25 years. I was just so unhappy, Mom. You probably would have given me hell for that as well as Dad. Til death do us part and all that right? Well, you and Dad did not leave me with good examples both of you having been through two divorces yourselves. So I guess I followed in your footsteps. But I do have good news. I met my current husband who is a good fit for me. We both have similar quirks and childhood traumas that have shaped us into who we are and we understand one another. We both try to make one another happy and that's what matters, right? He is affectionate and listens to me relate and vent all past and current painful memories and I do the same for him. It is finally the first relationship I have felt a real connection and can communicate effectively in. I just wish I didn't have to wait until I was 55 to have met him. If only I could go back in time to when I was 18 knowing what I know now and what choices to avoid making and what actions I should have pushed myself into completing, well you know, hindsight and all that. I do wish I knew what I wanted back then instead of stumbling around blindly from one relationship to another being disappointed and hurt every time. You know that well though, don't you Mom? Guess what? He and I became over the road truck drivers and have been together 24/7 for over ten years now cooped up in a semi 18 wheeler. If we can survive that as husband and wife, we can survive just about anything. I bet that makes you shake your head in disbelief and laughingly say "My daughter, the trucker." We just discovered that we get along better with one another than anyone else in the world. Sure we have our disagreements from time to time but we know how to work through them and always put the priority of us first.
I wish you had could have found that someone who would have been that devoted and loving to you Mom. I'm so sorry that you were so unhappy. I hope that you have finally found the peace that Gramma named you for. But life gave you that huge obstacle of a Rheumatic Fever ravaged heart muscle. I'm sure that struggling with that sickness the last few years we spent together was also a major cause of your depression and I want you to know I understand and love you for trying so hard to overcome all of the struggles to be a good Mom to me. I remember how you sewed my fourth grade flag girl and fifth grade cheerleading outfit as well as most of my clothes. I remember how you chuckled when I came home crying because the boys were making fun of my boobs. You took me to get my first training bra that afternoon. Too bad the boys thought that was even more fun as they snapped my bra straps the next day. I do remember all you did for me and I know that you loved me despite my not being the perfect daughter.
If death means peace as some say, then you finally found your peace way back when I was just twelve. Oh, Mom, that day Dad told me you had died hurt me so deep to my core. I've seemed to have spent my life to living up to the meaning of the name you gave me. I have made drastic changes in my lifetime over and over again, in a sense being reborn. One more thanks to you Mom for insisting on naming me Renee and not GiGi like Dad wanted to name me. I love and miss you still, Mom.
Your loving daughter,