I had you too young. I wasn't meant to be a mother so soon, but I chose it for myself. Don't ask your father about this, he wouldn't understand. He says he does now, but he didn't then. It's the "then" that I want to talk to you about.
Yes, I'm a coward because I can't do this face-to-face. It means driving out to see you, and to see California again, and I just can't do that. They're right when they say some wounds haven't healed. This is one of them. Don't get me wrong -- it's a great state, and I'm glad you went out there. I'm glad you and Carlos are happy and possibly settling down. (Possibly. I promised I wouldn't rush you and I won't.)
California's where I went after your dad left. It's where I went after I found out I was going to have you because Aunt Jo wouldn't let me stay in the house, and I didn't know where else I could turn. Uncle Sid took me in, even though he didn't have to. He was mad at your father for a lot of things back then, but mostly for leaving when he knew you were coming.
Granted, Sid was mad at me, too. I was pushing your father at a time when he wasn't pushing himself, and when you push someone who doesn't want to change, whether they know if it's good for them or not, they strike back. So he walked away. I didn't follow, and I didn't beg him to stay. Maybe I should've. I know you're angry at him, too, right now.
Instead, I left with you and found a new home...in California, as you know. Marin City. We made new friends -- you remember Kendall and Leo, from the pictures -- but they couldn't do much for us. They weren't even able to help themselves, with almost six jobs between them and barely making more than I was. I guess that's what happens when you run into people in situations as sticky as ours was. They had a baby right before I had you. Did you know that? I’m sure I told you. A baby girl: Merry. Probably named her that to help change their luck around, or lift their attitudes, or something.
I'm not even sure how I took care of us during those years. You're going to roll your eyes at me because this sounds like an excuse, but it's not. I blanked out most of that time. No, it wasn't long ago, but a year feels like seven when you're in dire straits.
We had a very hard time getting by. We were -- are -- lucky to have Sid and Ty in our lives, though. They never asked many questions, but you know that. How much stuff have you hidden from me in their pockets? You're the writer, you'll get that metaphor, or whatever you call it. They take things on without knowing what they're getting into. It used to get them into trouble, but I think you coming into our lives stopped them doing that for everything, and started limiting it to some things.
I remember the day your father came back to us like it was yesterday. He was finally admitting to being wrong. He'd been crying, and his cheeks were pink. He saw you first, and then me, outside Sid's house -- that dinky place you always see in the early photos in your baby books. He went to you first, and you weren't that old at all, only six months, maybe. He didn't stop saying sorry the rest of the day.
No, it didn't fix anything. Aunt Jo was still mad and his family was still mad. Everyone was mad at me, just like you are now. They all loved you, though. There wasn't a time that they didn't love you.
I'm sorry I wasn't old enough to have you when you came into my life. I'm sorry I used that as an excuse not to do better when it would've counted most. I'm sorry you needed to rely on Sid and Cousin Ty and all those people who weren't me and your dad. I'm sorry I took us so far away from home and then couldn't do much for you once I did. I'm sorry this made things harder.
I know it doesn't change anything. You're still hurting, and anyone would be, finding out like you did. No kid wants to find out that there might’ve been a time when their parents didn’t want them, and they really don’t want to find out by total accident. Those abortion forms got lost among the rest of my paperwork very early on and by the time I decided to keep you, I forgot about them. I promise I wasn't trying to hide them, or the letters to your father, or anything. They were stored away because I couldn't keep looking at them after the first two years I'd had them. I put them away to put it all behind me.
For a long time, you didn't seem to need any closure about where your father was in all those pregnancy pictures, or why he came back. You didn’t seem interested in why your first year of life went undocumented when it wasn’t a holiday. You didn't ask questions, didn't root around, nothing. You were a good kid, quiet, thoughtful, maybe too attentive around me. You did your work and had your friends and grew up really, really well.
You seemed to understand why your dad and I weren't around all that much, even after we got back together. I never expected you'd be so hurt when you finally found out. I was barely a month into the pregnancy when I went to the clinic...but I guess that’s not the point. Maybe I should’ve known you’d shut me out, but I didn't want to make that hundredth call and have you not pick up again. And hell if I was going to put all this in voice messages.
I know it's not enough. This doesn't tell the whole story by a long shot. I hope it answers some questions, though, and enough of them that you can finally pick up the phone when I call.
I'm going to call. You're my daughter and I love you, and I'm going to call to check in on you, just like I always have -- even when I wasn't a good mother. You can ask Sid about that, if you want. He'll tell you.
Written by: Caitlin Mannarino
Photograph by: Garrett Carroll