The final report card was dated June 17, 1978, just 4 days after my 8th birthday. My teacher’s comment stopped me in my tracks, and honestly, kind of knocked the wind out of me. Maybe there was more to my childhood end-of-school-year despair than just end-of-school-year despair. I can remember the tears, the emptiness, and even the fear that plagued me, year after year, as those final days approached. I never considered it unusual, because after all, I did love school. But extreme sadness and anger? Even for a little girl who adored spelling tests and delighted in math problems – that reaction seemed a bit over the top.
Was my sadness during that time ONLY about school ending? Or did my soul always remember that it was the middle of June when I lost my mother? We spent the first 4 days of my life together. Without a doubt, I felt the anguish of her bewildering absence. Her familiar sound, smell, and touch were no longer there. The person to whom I had been intimately connected for 9 months had disappeared. How could that experience not affect me and leave a lasting imprint on my psyche?
I suppose I’ll never really know what was going on with me in June of 1978 that caused my teacher to take notice of my behavior – behavior that was clearly uncharacteristic. Maybe most years, it really was just sadness over a wonderful school year coming to an end. But I suspect that at least that year my little 8 year old soul was longing, missing, hurting over something much deeper. And without the conscious memories of my loss to guide my awareness, I had no idea what that something was.
It wasn’t until I found my mother 2 ½ years ago that my birthday started bothering me in a very real and obvious way. It wasn’t until then that I stopped and really thought about the day I was born. My birth day. There were no excited visitors or congratulatory phone calls. No one happily snapping sweet and silly photos. My mother’s joy over seeing and holding me was heavily dampened by the knowledge of what was inevitable. Five days after my birth, with no hope left of being able to keep me, she signed the relinquishment papers. Two days later, she made the long, silent ride home with empty arms.
So, tomorrow I will celebrate my birthday. And I’m hoping that by writing this stuff down, and sharing it with anyone who cares to read it, that this year will be different than the last two. Maybe this year I won’t replay the sad events surrounding my birth, over and over in my mind. This year I will try to let go of the hurt and anger that take hold during my birth week. But if that doesn’t work, I’ll eat lots and lots of chocolate, and wait for next week to arrive.
Photo credit: Stuart Miles