“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch
My mom was a maverick. In fact, that’s what it says on her tombstone. Maverick. She was a pioneer in how she lived her life at a time when that life was critically judged.
She grew up the adopted daughter of a tunnel family. Her family moved from tunnel job to tunnel job, living in most of the states and even for a stint in Brazil. She got her art degree in the Peter Max er and was the driving force behind the neighborhood 4th of July floats. When we moved to Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-70s, she really blazed some trails.
After an affair with one of my friend’s mom, my mom came out as a lesbian. Predictably, that ruined her marriage and the nucleus that was our family. My dad never recovered, and couldn’t forgive her. Her parents disowned her for her choice. But the highest price she paid was with her children.
My two sisters and I lived with my mother in a rented house. Her partner lived with us, and it was an awkward situation for a boy who was a freshman in high school. Things didn’t go well as my mom was caught up in exploring her new life. Fights between us were common, and I had adopted much of my dad’s anger to mask the hurt and shame I felt.
My mom recognized the situation wasn’t working. Her solution was to leave. To leave us in the house alone. To leave us in the care of my father. To leave her children. When the time came for her to walk out, I was furious. As she left the house, I stood in her face and screamed hateful things, unconsciously beleiveing I could hurt her like she was hurtng me. When the door closed, we were alone.
That night was a source of great anger and pain for me. I hung my victimhood on that hook. One day, years later, as I was writing poems, that painful night came to me and I wrote. I adopted the persona of my mom, heeding the advice of Atticus Finch to his kids. That poem was my walk and being in her skin that day was transformational.
What I saw in that skin was a woman who was standing up for who she was. I saw a mother give up her kids so they could be better off. I felt the courage it took to do all that and be out at that time and place. As I forgave her, I understood that what she did was not the deepest darkest thing to ever happen to me, but the greatest lesson my Mom taught me: you be you.