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The Mother I Imagined

| This is the 550th story of Our Life Logs® |

Growing up, I would hear people say things about my mother. She was a crackhead. A prostitute. They talked about her like a dog, but I knew differently. I always loved her. In fact, the gossip made me love her even more. They didn’t understand her—heck, I didn’t understand her fully, but I wanted to. I wanted to know her story.

Growing up, I knew that my mother had a lot of childhood trauma. I knew she was raped by her uncle, which resulted in my two oldest brothers. I knew that my mother had been doing drugs all the way through my three other brothers’ births and even up until my delivery date on December 2, 1985, in Richmond, Virginia. I knew she didn’t stop doing drugs after I came into the world. She didn’t stop after we moved to Upstate New York when I was two, and she certainly didn’t stop when my other brothers and I were removed from her custody when I was three.

I knew all of this because it was what I was told. But It’s not what I remember, of course, being so young. I remembered how much she loved me, and I knew how much I loved her. I was the baby girl she had waited so long for, she’d say. I was like her pocketbook and she took me everywhere like I was her doll baby. She took me places she had no business taking me.

The last thing I remember about my mother was the way she held me tight when I was torn from her arms. I remember wrapping my tiny legs around her waist as I tried to lock my toes together. My arms squeezed tighter and tighter around her chest as I was pried apart from the only warmth I knew.

Out of my mother’s six children, I was the only one to be taken away from her. Her only girl. I was raised by a decent foster family in the same town that my mom lived in, but she never came to see me. I think my mother was embarrassed of herself. If she stayed sober long enough, my mother would remember to call. But that was inconsistent. Before long, she’d crawl back to the streets, back to the drugs, back to the life that let her forget about her own.

For years, I felt guilty for wanting to know my mom. But something deep down inside would not let me just move on and forget. I wanted and had to know where and who I came from.

Me, age 9.

When I was around 14, I started running away from my foster family. Not that they had done anything in particular, I just felt like they did not understand the void I felt. They could never understand why I still wanted a relationship with this woman.

At 16, I became emancipated and was able to “age out” the system, as they call it. I was finally free. I had an after-school job, and I’d been saving a little money. I knew my mother lived someplace in Ithaca, New York, so, soon as I was able, I was on a mission to find my mother.

It wasn’t hard to find her. I reached out to my oldest brothers who told me what address that last had for her. It was a halfway house. When I called, they said she’d moved out on her own and was doing well, and that they’d have my mother get in contact with me.

The whole process took less than a month, so I felt as if my whole life was finally coming together—like an act of God or goodwill. And when I finally met my mother for the first time, she took me in with open arms. I guess she was surprised that I had wanted to see her. She carried a lot of guilt and my seeking her out gave her a new hope. We spent hours talking about life and everything that had happened. She seemed happy and sad at the same time. There was a strange uneasiness about her, but she still smiled every time our eyes locked.

My two oldest brothers had moved out, but my younger brothers still lived with my mother. I asked my mom if I could live with her and, days later, I was moving my entire life into her home. I was on cloud nine. Still, my foster parents warned me. They told me that she was like a perfect stranger, but I wouldn’t listen. I had waited my whole life to be back with her.

For a week, we talked and laughed and she cooked up some seriously delicious dinners for our little family. I remember going to sleep each night with a smile on my face. In such a short time, I saw how much effort she put into rebuilding our mother-daughter relationship. But it didn’t last.

I soon found out what happened when my mother went back to drugs. Random young men would come to the house, knock on the door and she would tell us to be quiet and not say a word. They would come all through the day. I asked her who they were, and she said they were friends, but she did not want to have company right now. I did not believe her but let it go. I do not realize how serious this situation was.

Then one night the man came back, and she opened the door. She introduced me to him as if I was some sort of consolation prize. “Here, come meet my daughter, isn’t she so pretty?” He made small talk with me and it was awkward. The entire time he was talking, I just kept thinking where is my mom and why did she leave me here with this man? He was about ten years older than me and seemed like he was up to no good.

My mom gave us some weed to smoke, she said it would keep me calm. My brothers smoked weed in the house and my mother never said anything, so I did too. As I choked through my first joint, I knew I was out of place. I wanted so badly to just crawl inside myself and disappear.


I guess I did not give him the right signals because he whispered something to my mom and left. She was terribly upset and went into her room for hours. When I went into the room to check on her she was geeked. She was so high, rocking her head up and down, muttering tiny phrases that drifted into the cracks in the walls. I looked at her, crumpled on the bathroom floor; I had never seen my mother so gone with the wind.

She repeated, “He’s going to kill me.”

She started screaming and crying, telling us that she owed the men so much money. She’d offered me to the man to settle the score, but he refused to take me. She said he told her he was going to come back in the morning to collect his debt.

Now, even after hearing how this woman was going to sell me, I still felt so bad for her. I knew she had been clean since I moved in with her up until this day. It had been a week of her sober and I loved it. She was the mother I imagined until she got high.

My brothers called the young man to whom she owed money and they confirmed that this was not a joke. This was not a drill. If my mother didn’t pay them by the morning it would be hell to pay. We had to think quick because my mother was literally out of her mind. We called our family in Virginia for help. My mother had been the black sheep of the family for years and had lost all contact. I think if she had been talking, they would have hung up. But when they heard my voice on the other line, they showed pity on us. My grandmother told me to find our way back down to Virginia as soon as we could.

We knew we couldn’t leave until daybreak, but we packed our things and barricaded inside our home. Right as the sun was rising, the man banged on our door for what seemed like an hour. He was outside waiting this entire time. We were literally trapped inside our home. I was smart enough to see what car the man had and was able to see where he was parked. For the next eight hours, he did not move. Panic started to overcome me.

My mother’s high had come down and out her into a sleep coma, but she woke up in time to create a diversion. She called the police and made a report about something that had nothing to do with our situation, but the sight of cop cars spooked the man and he drove away. We finally had a moment to run away.

We grabbed everything we could carry and went to the bus station. We had no money and we were all so hungry. My two older brothers that had moved out paid for us to get on the bus. A nice woman stopped and bought us a two-piece meal from Popeye’s Chicken to share between the four of us. We were so grateful for this meal; it was better than Thanksgiving. I will never forget this act of kindness to this day.

At this moment, I realized the life I left to come to stay with my mother. A life of security and stableness. I had a home with a woman who cared for me in her right frame-of-mind. This would have never been my life had I stayed, but I could not will myself to leave her. I felt like she was my truth.

From the time I can remember, I felt like my life as a foster-daughter was a life. It came with stipulations and a stereotype. I wanted to be the biological daughter, even if it meant leaving everything I once took for granted, like a meal and a safe place to live. I wanted to be able to cling to my mother once more, and not be torn away.

We made it to Richmond, safe and sound. I was 16 and thought I had all the answers. I thought I could love my mother back to sobriety, but I did not realize how deep her cuts were. Life cut her so deep, only professional help could break her habits. She would have to leave me again. I was happy and sad at the same time. I loved her so much. Even though she was an addict, she was always so sweet. Her eyes were as big and as lovely as Diana Ross. She could cook with the best of them. I could see the human under the addict, and I wanted her to be that person so much.

My mother.

At first, we stayed with family while my mother went to rehab, but that did not last long. My two younger brothers and I decided to get jobs and put our money together and get an apartment of our own until my mother got out of rehab. When my mother got out 90 days later, she was clean and came to live with us. It was back to talking and laughter and some of the best food I’ve had in a long time.

Fast forward to today. Her journey with sobriety is still ongoing and, while she has relapsed several times, she is here to live another day. That is all that matters to me. I won’t let her go again.

This is the story of Sally Smith

Sally was taken from her mother at age three and raised in foster care. She decided to get emancipated and go live with her mother at age 16 but this was not the mother she had imagined. Her mother was still going through a drug crisis. They had to flee her mother’s home because she was in severe debt to her dealers and her life was in danger. After escaping in the night, they fled to Virginia where they began a new life. Her mother still struggles with sobriety to this day, but Sally has learned how to set boundaries. She is almost done with Nursing School where she plans on working in Adolescent Detox.

Sally, 2020.

This story first touched our hearts on December 11, 2020

Writer: Melodie Harris | Editor: Colleen Walker


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