Sunday, May 12, 2013


At the foot of her bed, I sat with my curls released from a tight bun spilling onto her knees. She stroked my hair and asked if I had a good time at the party with my father's side of the family. It had been one of those rare times when I made an exception to see them (one of the six times had been Kevin's wedding two years ago). It was my cousin's one year birthday party, and I had been told that it would be mostly children.

I hoped for pizza and prayed for kindness. I told my mother about the yummy cake, about the hugs and kisses I gave to my little cousins, and about all of the people who had been there. Only one of them had been a stranger, a younger woman with light eyes and a baby bump. Not wanting to make a scene and wanting to present myself well, I told her my name and gave her a standard Cape Verdean greeting with a kiss on her cheek. I attributed her shyness to her inability to speak English. My cousin told me, "she knows your father very well." I exchanged polite conversation with her and exited the tiny kitchen and its cheap linoleum floors to sit with the other children.

I told my mother about the thin woman with straggly hair and she asked without a trace of anger in her voice, "what was her name?" I told her. My mother brushed my hair out of my face and said, "Melinda, do you know who that was?" My mother then began to wipe the tears aware from my face and all of the pieces had come together.

She knew my father very well. My cousin had said it to light a bulb in my thirteen year old brain, but the joy of being reunited with the family allowed me to dodge that bite of venom.

I cried and cursed. My mother asked me what I wanted to do. I wanted to yell at my father. She handed me the phone without counsel, nor objection.

The phone rang and rang. For twenty minutes I pressed the redial button, until the anger tuckered me out and I fell asleep on my mother's hips. My father returned my thirty eight phone calls in the morning with defensiveness and "I told them not to go to the party." I refused to speak to him (the start date of five years of muteness in the presence of my father) and so my mother took on my wrath and let him have it.

Beyond the mistress and the unborn baby in the belly, my mother was infuriated that my father took so long to call back. I remember her saying this over and over again: "When your daughter calls you, you answer the phone. NO MATTER WHAT, YOU ANSWER THE PHONE."

My mother is not a superhero, nor can she turn water into wine. She isn't a miracle worker (unless you're talking about her cooking). She is a woman with bones that ache and skin that wrinkles. Yet she has always found a way to be my voice, my tears, and the courage when they had escaped me. She has always told me the truth, even when it would hurt.

Every little girl needs just one woman who will answer and listen when the world has suffocated and squeezed the love out of our tiny hearts. And for those who have been blessed enough to have that woman be their mother, well, lucky us.