I hope you don’t mind me calling you that. I’m not sure what to call you.
It feels like a betrayal to the Mum who actually raised me, but I don’t think she’d mind now. Mum always said you must have had a good reason to give me up. She made sure I never blamed myself or you.
Please know that I never resented you, but I never had room in my life for two mums at the same time so one of you had to miss out. I’m sorry it was you but I’m not sorry it was her that held my hand and guided my steps as we walked the road together from childhood to adulthood.
Mum and Dad never lied to me. I knew I wasn’t really theirs. I knew they’d adopted me like we adopted Smiley, my tiny shaggy brown wiener dog, from the pound. He was so wiggly and warm and soft. I used to wonder if I was wiggly and warm and soft when you put me in the arms of the nurse who took me away.
The first time I saw you watching me, I was playing hopscotch in the schoolyard with Jenny and Sally. We played most lunchtimes. Jenny wasn’t very good at hopscotch. She often toppled over when she tried to pick up her token while standing on one leg. It was so funny to watch. The leg she was holding up would jerk out straight, then move around in circles while she tried to use it to balance herself as she bent over.
I felt important because I owned the chunky stick of blue chalk, so I was in charge of drawing the grid. Blue squares and numbers magically appeared on the dirty white concrete under my chalk wand.
I was just finishing the number ten at the top when I looked up. A big moving truck rumbled into the driveway of the cottage across the road, followed by a small blue car. You got out of that small blue car, pulled your yellow ponytail tight, shaded your eyes with your hand, and stared across at us.
At first, I assumed you were watching someone else or just watching all the children play. I wondered if you were already regretting moving into that house. It got very loud when we kids were released from our classroom confinement. We squealed and yelled and talked over each other, trying to be heard amongst the cacophony. We thumped our feet as we ran and kicked balls, bouncing them off the walls and fences.
When it was my turn on the hopscotch grid, I threw my lucky round stone (the smooth black one that fit perfectly into my hand; the one I found at the river the previous summer) onto number one. I hopped over one, onto two, three, both feet on four and five. I glanced back over my shoulder and you were still looking. Hop six, two feet seven and eight, hop nine, land ten, turn around. Still watching.
Hop nine, two feet eight and seven, hop six, two feet five and four, hop three, hop two, balance. I looked up. You were still watching. Even at eight, I knew you weren’t supposed to stare at people for that long without looking away. I wondered about you then as I wonder about you now.
I wobbled on my one leg and almost fell as I bent down and scooped up my lucky stone. Jump. Yes! Perfect.
I was slightly disappointed when I looked up and you weren’t watching anymore. You were talking and gesturing to the burly man and his tubby assistant that got out of the truck. They opened the back of the truck and it looked like a treasure cave to me. There was a white mattress, a television snugly wrapped up in blankets, a couch, and boxes upon boxes of mystery stuff.
By the time school got out, the truck was gone but there was an over-stuffed worn leather armchair on your front porch with a small wooden table beside it.
After that, I saw you sitting in that armchair every school day, drinking your tea or coffee, watching and listening to the racket of the kids across the road. I thought I saw you sigh when the bell rang to summon us all back inside. You’d slowly stand up and shuffle back through your front door into your own solitary confinement.
I’m not sure how long it was before I realised you were looking at me. Not Jenny, not Sally, not Jack, not Fred, not Melissa, not Mrs Marchant. Me.
You watched me but you didn’t know that I watched you back. I thought if you’d known, you would have stopped watching. I didn’t know why but I didn’t want you to stop so I made sure you couldn’t tell I was watching too.
I’m not sure what you did when I couldn’t see you. It was a bit like the light in the fridge and how you’re never quite sure if it’s on or even there when you can’t see it. I never saw anyone visit you except for the occasional delivery driver and I never saw you leave. Your small blue car always seemed to be in the same place.
I wasn’t sure who you were for a long time. I thought you were just a lonely lady. I made up stories about you in my head. I was a princess and you’d come looking for me to take me back to my castle. You were a spy and one of the teachers at our school was a traitor or a villain. Probably Mr Sprentz, the PE teacher. Your kid had gone to this school, but he’d died, and you watched his ghost play with us because you couldn’t let him go.
I was happy when you got the black cat. I thought he might make you feel less lonely.
Then, one Saturday night I was brushing my teeth in the bathroom. I looked into the mirror and I saw you looking back. I saw you in me. I was looking at your straight yellow hair pulled back tight in your ponytail, with the wispy escaped bits hanging over your forehead, your dark eyes, your high cheekbones. I turned side on and there was your nose, your chin, your long tapering neck.
When I figured it out, I saw how sad you were. But I wasn’t sad with you. I was sad for you.
So, I thought I’d try to cheer you up. I started leaving things on your doorstep, in your mailbox, on your driveway, on your car bonnet. I was a bowerbird collecting shiny things and leaving them for you. A piece of candy, a pen, a coin, my prized hopscotch stone. Once I left an orangey-coloured butterfly in a jar. I made sure to poke holes in the metal lid so it wouldn’t suffocate before you found it. But I mostly left flowers.
Yes, that was me.
The first time I did it, I hid behind that big old oak in your neighbour’s yard to watch you. I’d snuck out of the house early, picked a handful of white daisies with egg-yolk centres from Mum’s garden, and run all the way to your house. I left them just outside your door, so you’d see them when you opened it.
I watched you open the door, look down, then quickly up again. You looked up and down the street, but it was still early and there was no one around. You bent and picked up the daisies and stared at them for a long time. I saw tears start to roll down your face. One dripped onto a daisy petal and I got scared. I wanted to run but I didn’t want you to see me, so I stood frozen in place, barely breathing in case you heard me. I wondered if I’d done the right thing. I was trying to make you happy, not sadder.
Then I saw the small smile as you wiped the tears away with the back of your hand, so I knew they were happy tears, not sad ones. Although, maybe they were both? I didn’t know. I was only a child and at that moment I chose to believe they were happy tears. So, I kept leaving you things.
I didn’t want you to know it was me leaving those things, which is why I never left anything that could identify me. I never wrote you notes or left you photographs. I just wanted you to feel what it’s like to have a secret admirer. To know that someone out there cared about you and thought about you sometimes.
There was one day I particularly remember. Mum and I were at the mall. We were sitting in the food court eating pizza. Mum loved pizza. When it arrived hot and steamy, she’d close her eyes, lean over and just smell the aroma of the cheese and tomato and meat as it wafted gently upwards. When she was satisfied, she’d delicately lift a slice and nibble at the pointy end, working her way down the triangle to the base. Dad used to joke that she’d wear pizza perfume if she could. She never denied it.
Anyway, this one time I spotted you out of the corner of my eye. It felt a bit weird because until then I’d only seen you at your house. I didn’t make eye contact with you. I’d realised by then that, except for that first day when you watched me play hopscotch, you only looked directly at me when you thought I wouldn’t notice.
On this day, Mum and I were laughing as she picked the olives off her pizza. She couldn’t stand olives and she’d forgotten to say ‘no olives’ when she’d ordered it. You walked behind me and stretched your arm out ever so slightly and lightly brushed my hair with your fingertips. I pretended not to notice, but the next day I left marigolds on the bonnet of your car. Marigolds reminded me of your hair (and mine) and I thought they might cheer you up. I hope they did.
I stopped leaving you things when I started high school. I think I just grew out of it and my life got busier and busier from then on. There always seemed to be so much to learn and so little time to learn it. I had exams and sports and excursions and extracurricular activities. There was so much to do that, I’m sorry, but you became one of the things I left behind.
Please know that I never forgot you.
As I got older, I remember occasionally seeing you around town. I even tried to smile at you once, but you looked away, pretending you hadn’t seen me, but I knew you had. I wanted to respect your privacy—and I was scared—so I never approached you or let you know that I knew who you were.
I confess that I found out for sure who you were a few years ago. I’d recently turned thirty and I was evaluating my life, as you do when you reach milestone birthdays. I applied to find out my birth mother’s name and when the letter came, I just sat there, staring at my mother’s name.
I was right. It is you. I know that because once I left my silvery wiener dog charm in your mailbox (the one I pulled oh so carefully off my charm bracelet) and I read your name on the letter that was in there.
I’m sorry that I never contacted you sooner, but I just couldn’t bring myself to. I know that you know I buried Mum a few months ago and Dad went last year. I saw you at their funerals in your elegant black dress and wide-brimmed black hat that hid your face. You didn’t speak to me or offer condolences. You stood up the back, hidden behind other people, looking genuinely sad but you didn’t come to their wakes.
I’m now on my own, parent-wise I mean. I’m getting their house ready to sell and I’ve been finding things from my childhood as I clean. I’m working through memories, and I think now might be the time.
I know you still live across from the school. I’ve been watching you over the last few weeks, trying to build up the courage to talk to you. But I’m scared that I’ve built you up in my mind into someone you’re not, someone you can’t be. Never meet your heroes, they say. You’ll be disappointed because they’re never who you think they are.
Now, I’ve mustered up the courage to write you this letter. I’m going to fall back on my childhood ways and leave this letter on your doorstep along with a bunch of white daisies with egg-yolk centres. The daisies are from Mum’s backyard. I think she’ll be chuffed if I give them to you. I assume once you’re in Heaven, there are no more secrets, and she now knows that I used to leave you things. She knows who you are.
On Sunday, I’ll be at the Memory Café in the main street at about 11 am. If you want to, please come and have coffee with me, talk with me, and meet your granddaughter. She’s the spitting image of you…and me.
If you don’t want to, then that’s OK too. I don’t want you to feel any obligation to me. If you’d rather keep your distance, then I’ll respect that and never contact you again.
Just know that I’m grateful to you for bringing me into this world and that I love you no matter what your decision is.
Happy Mother’s Day and I’m sorry this letter has been so long and rambling but I had to get it all out of my head so I can move on, one way or the other.
Lots of love, Ivy