The older I get, the less I like looking in the mirror. My hair is thinner, my skin is less firm, and, quite frankly, I look weary and defeated many days. But the worst part if looking at my reflection is that I see my mother’s face.
I don’t think we look alike as much as people often said we did. I think it’s our eyes. She usually looked utterly exhausted by life.
I have pictures of my mother when she was young, when she was Judy and not yet Mom. She truly was attractive. She stood tall at 5’8″ and had the most amazing long legs.
I know she’d had a hard life. When she was nine, she had a step-father who apparently spoiled her, and she adored him. Her mother was pregnant and my mother couldn’t wait to meet her new brother or sister – the first sibling she would have.
In one school-day afternoon, everything changed. Her mother and sibling had both died in childbirth. And in 1951, it wasn’t common for a man to raise a girl alone; certainly not a step-daughter. So she went to live with her mother’s mother.
I’ll never know what happened to her in the years between her ninth year of life and the year I turned nine. Ironically, as it were a family tradition, it was when I was nine that my mother married my step-father and I was eagerly waiting to meet the brother or sister my mother was pregnant with. Her delivery went well, although that was the year her grandmother passed away.
Over the years, her mental health deteriorated. She became unpredictable, mean-spirited, and increasingly scary to live with. And I found it harder and harder lo have any affection for a woman I was afraid of. It has been my greatest fear that I would turn out just like her.
The other day, I came across a rare photo of her that was taken during a short visit when we took Maggie and Sophie so she could see her granddaughters. Sophie was nine and Maggie was only a few months old. The photo was of the girls with their grandmother. She died a few years later. But in the years between the photo and her death, she’d begun to have hallucinations that terrified her enough to stay awake all night sometimes. To be honest, death was probably a great relief for her.
So the night I found that photo, I showed it to my now 17 year-old daughter.
“Do you know who this is?” I asked.
I knew Maggie had never been old enough to remember her grandmother or to recognize her face, but I never would have imagined my reaction to her answer, as genuinely innocent as it was. I know Maggie hadn’t seen her face before. I know she had no idea who else it could have been.
Still, the thought that there could be any resemblance between me and the woman who was sick, cruel and had terrified me for years was more than I could take. I had done everything I could to make sure I was not her. This bothered me for over a week.
Then, as I was falling asleep, my thoughts skipping from one thing after another, I sensed my name being called inside my head (Not outside my head! I’m fine. I checked.) Actually, it’s fairly common for me. Out of nowhere, I sense my name being called. I like to believe it’s the Holy Spirit trying to get my attention so I can be focused enough to hear something really important, but I never hear anything. I didn’t hear anything this time either.
But a few minutes later, I sensed the name “Judy” being called. It got my attention because this was different for me. I couldn’t understand why I’d heard my mother’s name in my head. As I gave up trying to make sense of it, I sensed that same voice:
“Why did you stop to listen when I called your name?”
Because I thought you might have something to say to me.
“Why didn’t you do the same when I called ‘Judy’?”
Because that’s not my name.
“No, it isn’t. You are LaRonda. You are not Judy. You are not your mother.”