My first memory was “her”.
When I was a year old, my mother got really sick. My dad, at that time, was a traveling salesman. He couldn’t stay and take care of us because he needed to travel to earn money.
Mom and I stayed with her parents, Nana and Papi. When she died, my grandparents took legal custody of me and my father got weekend visits. It was for the best, I guess. He still had to work, and I needed stable ground to grow.
I don’t remember much about my mother, except for the stories Nana used to tell me. I couldn’t even imagine her face if not for the many photographs in our house. Papi used to say I looked a lot like her, except for my hair and eyes which I got from my dad.
I don’t know my mother, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t really miss her. You can’t miss something you never had.
I was 3 years old, when I first saw “her”.
Nana was sewing in the living room while I was playing with my dolls. There was a knock on the door, and she had to step outside. Somehow, I got hold of the big scissors, and accidentally cut myself. I saw “her” appear out of nowhere and called out my grandmother.
“She” was gone by the time Nana found me bleeding on the floor. I was taken to the emergency room and sewn up. The way Nana told it; I was the one who called for her. But I knew it wasn’t me. It was “her”, the lady with the flaming red hair, the lady in the photographs.
When I was 7 years old, my dad asked my grandparents for a whole week of vacation – just the two of us. It was a big deal as it was the first time I would spend more than 2 days with my dad.
We went camping and fishing. We went to the old camp where he and my mother met. He told me stories of how he fell in love with my mother’s golden eyes. As much as my grandparents’ stories made my mother real, my dad’s love for her made her come alive in my mind.
It was the best week of my life. I just didn’t know it would be one of the last good days.
On our drive back, the storm hit. It wasn’t a big one, just enough rain and wind to make the drive harder and longer. I was looking out the windows when I saw “her” again.
“She” was standing by the road, a few steps ahead of us. It was dark, but I could see her red hair glowing by the streetlight. I was about to point her out to my dad when I felt our car slide and tumble.
Dad lost control of the car, and we were falling down a ravine. It might have taken minutes, but for me it felt forever. When I opened my eyes, I was hanging upside down, protected by the seat belt which my dad securely fastened. I looked over to him, and his eyes were closed; dark red liquid steadily dripping from the side of his face.
I tried to scream, to call for help, but I had no voice. I was so helpless, scared and alone. Then “she” was suddenly there, just outside of my door.
Help my dad, please.
“She” took my hand and whispered softly, “everything will be okay.” The last thing I saw was her smile as distant sirens filled the air, then everything went dark.
I woke up in the hospital with several fractured bones. My father, however, was paralyzed from the waist down. Despite all that, we were lucky to have survived that fall.
I heard my grandparents whispering about the good Samaritan who helped us. It was a woman, they said. But she didn’t leave a name, and she disappeared as soon as my dad and I were in the ambulance.
I told them it was mom. She was the angel who protected us from death.
That was the first time I saw Papi’s eyes filled with pity. For me.
I was the traumatized child who was hallucinating about my dead mother – according to the therapist they stuck on me. But I know it was real; “she” was real, her hands were too warm not to be.
Things have changed after that day. My father lost his job, and he had to move in with us. Papi and Nana welcomed him with open arms, but my father’s nomadic soul was restless inside our house.
He was so used to traveling and moving so much, that he couldn’t cope with the paralysis; he couldn’t bear to be stuck in one place. He started drinking. And even though we were under the same roof, I felt him getting farther away from me.
It was then that I started to miss my mom. Or rather, I started missing “her”.
That night “she” held my hand, I felt comfort and peace. I longed for that feeling.
When my dad’s drinking got worse, Nana and Papi decided to send me to a relative’s house in the country. I guess they didn’t want me to see my own father’s deterioration.
I was sad to leave them, but I was also glad to finally have a semblance of childhood again. Even if it was just temporary. My life had been enveloped with a darkness that I was desperate to escape from.
And then, I saw “her” again.
I was walking around the lake when I stepped on a rotten part of the dock. It gave, and I fell on to the cold water.
I didn’t know how to swim. I was flapping and struggling to stay afloat, but the water was deeper than I imagined.
“She” appeared out of thin air near the dock. She ran to me as she screamed for help.
I felt the last of my strength fading, but her strong and warm hands held on to me. Soon, some people nearby found us and helped me ashore.
I caught a glimpse of “her” just before I lost consciousness. She was standing on the dock, far away from the people helping me. Her red hair was shining in the summer sun.
I wholeheartedly believed she was my mother. Yet, she wasn’t a spirit or a ghost. I’ve touched her, I’ve heard her voice, and she felt too real to be a hallucination.
Over the years, I’ve seen “her” a few more times as I grew up. I felt like “she” comes whenever I was in danger – from others and from myself.
“She” was there the night I learned my alcohol limit at a friend’s house party. I was almost passed out in one of the rooms when the door opened slightly. I could see a guy who almost came in, but “she” just appeared out of the shadows and closed the door.
I’ve seen “her” when my boyfriend cheated on me in high school. When he chose my best friend over me, and she chose to break my heart. When all I felt was rage at the betrayal. “Her” presence brought me calmness, and I could still hear her words from so long ago, “everything will be ok.”
I tried to hold on to that feeling for as long as I could.
I was in university the day Nana lost her battle to cancer; and I was untethered. She was the only mother I ever had, and without her I felt so lost. Papi tried so hard to hold on to me, but his pain was greater than mine.
A few months after Nana passed, Papi soon followed and I lost the two most important persons in my life in one sweep. Alcohol became my companion, and drugs were my comfort.
Each time I would pop a pill, I could see “her” just within my peripheral vision. “She” didn’t stop me, it was like she was just observing me. I dropped out of school and stayed in my childhood room.
My father, after a long absence, reappeared in my life just as I was hitting my lowest point. I didn’t trust the man. But he claimed that he has turned a new leaf, that he was sober. He said he was a better man and wanted a chance to become a better father.
He had a new family, too. He got married to a woman he met in rehab. She was a nurse and she helped him accept his paralysis and supported him as he got clean. He believed she could do the same for me. They told me that they only wanted me to give life another chance.
They all thought I was trying to kill myself, with all the booze and the pills I took. But I couldn’t tell them that I just wanted to see “her”. I wanted to feel that comfort and peace she brings. “She” was the only light I see in the darkness, and slowly poisoning myself seemed to be the only way I could see her.
I moved into my father’s new house. His new wife was kind and sweet, but she was not “her”. I wasn’t happy with them. I hadn’t been happy for the longest time.
I was 21 years old, still living in my father’s house, and without sense of direction in life. One night, I overheard my stepmother tell my dad that I was beyond their help, and that I would be better off in rehab. I knew then it was over. If I went to the hospital, I would stop seeing “her” and I couldn’t live with that.
So, I waited until both were asleep. I took my hidden stash of sleeping pills and vodka into the bathroom. I was hoping I could see “her” for one last time before I finally let go.
“She” appeared just before I swallowed a bottle-full of pills.
Her face looked the same as when I was 3 years old. And her voice was strangely familiar.
“This is not the end.”
But it hurts. Everything hurts. I just want things to be over.
“It hurts now, but you will get through it. You have survived a lot, and you will survive this, too.”
How do you know?
“Because I’m here, I’m alive. I am living proof that you are stronger than you think.”
Who are you? I feel like I know you, but I don’t understand.
“You know who I am. In your heart, you know me. And you know what I say is true.”
I looked at her; at her hazel-green eyes that were so similar to mine yet also different. “She” wasn’t my mother; she was no angel, but she was real. And I knew her.
She was right, I was stronger, I had to be.
She watched as I flushed the pills and vodka down the toilet. She stayed by my side until I fell asleep. She held me as a mother would hold her child, and I felt peace.
In the morning, she was gone.
The pain was still there but I knew I could fight it and I would beat that darkness in my heart.
It has been 8 years since that night. I voluntarily went to rehab and got clean and sober ever since. I reconciled with my father, and I made peace with my grandparents’ death. I believe that they have found happiness with my mother wherever they are now.
I haven’t seen “her” in all the years I was getting better, but I’ve kept her words in me. I am stronger, and I am wiser than I was.
I went back to college and met the professor with whom I share my heart and life. And I am so thankful that I’ve found him. He is my rock and my comfort. Without him, I wouldn’t have this beautiful girl twirling in my living room right now. This perfect little angel with her father’s flaming red hair and my hazel-green eyes.