What Mom Taught Me

I’m going to be honest: I don’t have a good relationship with my mother right now.

It’s because of old stuff. It’s because of new stuff. It’s because we can’t talk to each other without trying to win.

I’m working through learning to accept her for who she is. And it ain’t always easy though.

Our life together was struggle. Mom never taught me how to tie my shoes, I learned on my own. She never taught me how to ride a bike neither. In fact, Mom didn’t really like to talk much to my brother and I at all. Most of what I learned from her was through watching her, and sometimes repeating her mistakes.

But there was that one time in high school…

The phone rang a few seconds after Hector hung up in my ear. For a brief moment, I had hopes that he was calling to tell me he changed his mind. That he was done with new friend and he was ready to settle down with me. During that time, it was all I could ever think about; us being together. There was no future without Hector. Lord knows, what else I was supposed to do?

Some of my friends talked about college, but for many of us – myself included – college just seemed like a pipe-dream. I was certain that the closest I was getting to actually getting on a college campus was watching Whitney, Dwayne and ’em on A Different World on television. What was achievable, however, was Hector. At that time, he was my everything. I skipped school for him. I got kicked out of two houses – my mom’s and then my grandma’s house – for him. Hector was my everything and it was my hope that he was calling back to make everything right.

But my hopes were dashed when the voice on the other end of the line turned out to belong to Mom.

“Hey, I’m just calling to check up on everything,” she said from the other end of the line.

She was calling home while on break at her third job, which was pushing the activities cart at the Jewish old people’s home down Olney. I sat in the living room, struggling to run my toes through the once plush shaggy red carpet. It hurt to talk, even if it was to give Mom the standard “everything’s fine.” Everything was not fine at all. In fact, everything was terrible.

“What’s wrong,” Mom asked. There was many different ways to answer that question. And yet the only thing I could do is sob into the mouthpiece.

“It’s Hector?” This was the first time I ever heard Mom say his name. Usually she called him “that triflin’ ass nigga.” She sighed, “He broke up with you didn’t he?”

I sobbed harder into the phone still unable to voice a single syllable. However Mom didn’t need or wait for confirmation. “After all that sneaking around, the fighting with me and grandma over him and everything else he put you through, he still doesn’t care, right?”

Mom was reading me like I was an overdue bill. “How do you know all this,” I said through my blubbering.

I thought I had done a good job of hiding all the icky stuff in our relationship. There was a lot of it. The other girls. The lying. The pregnancies and the miscarriages. I had to, so not to prove right Mom, Grandma and Dad and everyone else who told me to stay away from Hector. But apparently I hadn’t done a good job of masking it at all, or listening for that matter. They told me that I was too young for such a serious relationship. I was only 16 and he was well into his twenties. And that he was taking advantage of my naivete. They all warned me that he was trouble. But I refused to hear them.

“Listen, you think all of this is new? Ha! Men have been running this same racket for a very long time, Charing. Since I was your age. This is nothing new. I’m just sorry that you have to go through this.”

Mom said.

She sounded so sincere. But I was still not ready to spill my emotional guts out to her. Hector had been horrible to me, but Mom wasn’t exactly a doting mother. At least Hector kissed and hugged me. At least Hector told me he loved me – at least once or twice. At least he gave me some semblance of feeling wanted. Mom rarely did those things. So why should I believe she was being earnest now?

It was almost as if she read my thoughts through the phone.

“Honestly Charing, I wasn’t telling you to stay away from him because I didn’t want you to have a boyfriend. Of course, I want you to have a boyfriend. I want you to have a lot of boyfriends. I just didn’t think he was a nice guy. And he didn’t deserve you at all. You were too good for him. You were a prize that he did not appreciate.”

The whole idea of me as a prize felt awkward. It made me giggle.

Mom giggled too. “Seriously, fuck that guy. I disliked him so much because I saw what he was putting you through and everything you were going through for him. And it was nothing I could do to stop it. He just had some force over you.” Mom paused for a second, as if she was giving weight to her next thoughts, “Like you saw everything I went through with Marvin?”

“Yeah,” I said softly, thinking back on her tremulous relationship she had with her ex-husband. He was the reason why our life had gotten so hard.

I didn’t want you to have to go through that neither. That’s why I left him. That’s why we are here. It’s not easy or as comfortable as Warnock Street, but at least you didn’t have to stay in a house with a abusive crackhead. At least you wouldn’t grow up thinking that what we were was a healthy relationship.”

I missed that. In the midst of my anger about moving away, I missed the part about why we had to move. Instead I was angry. I was angry about the way we left; like thieves in the night, leaving most of our belongings behind. I was angry that I would never get to see my friends again.

She continued on, “I hated him the moment I saw him. But what could I say? I wasn’t the best example. Honestly, I blame myself…”

Her words were pitiful and yet strangely comforting. For the first time, I felt like we were relating.

So I let my guard down.

“It’s so hard letting go of him. There would be a voice telling me to leave him alone, but then there was this much angrier voice telling me not to because I had put so much time and energy into loving him. And I gave him so much.” I paused to gather my thoughts and then added, “Sometimes I feel so stupid –”

“– and sometimes niggas ain’t shit,” Mom said as she finished my sentence for me.

I snorted at her no-nonsense amendment.

“No for real, some niggas ain’t shit. And you should know that. Sometimes – no most times – it ain’t you. It’s them. And the quicker you understand that, the easier it is to refuse to put up with their – or anyone else’s – bullshit. And move on. That is the most important thing. No matter what may happen in life, you can always start over again. You don’t have to try to fix it. You don’t have to try to prove anything. That’s not your job. Your job is to get your education, become that writer you always wanted to be and not worry about these men or anyone else’s bullshit,” she concluded.

We both sat quietly for a few moments before Mom announced that she had to get back to work at her night gig.

But before she hung up, she added: “Take care of yourself. You are so smart Charing. And you have a chance to do things in life that I couldn’t do because well, I had you. And I think you should take full advantage of that chance instead of wasting it on some bum, who ain’t shit. You’re going on the Black college tour soon, the free one your Dad won in that raffle or whatever?”

“Yeah, the one he wanted to send his son on first, but because he was too young, he decided to pass off to me,” I smarted. My tears had dry, but were replaced with a tinge of bitterness.

“Yeah, well don’t worry about that. Your dad is a bit of an asshole too. But go on that trip, see what’s outside of Philly and outside what that stupid man has to offer you. Listen I have to get back to work. But are you okay?,” she said.

I told her that I was. She promised that we would talk more when she got off from work. Then we hung up. This was the first time ever having a real heart-to-heart with Mom. For once she wasn’t being an enforcer. She wasn’t punching and yelling at me for not washing the dishes properly or being a “fast-in-the-tail.” Instead, she actually seemed to care about my feelings.

I didn’t know what was happening between us at that moment, but I liked it. And it made me feel so much better. Empowered even. I also felt really close to her. I hung up the phone hoping that we could be like that every single day.

A short while after my heart-to-heart with Mom, I was in the bathroom mirror getting ready for work at my little after-school and weekend waitressing gig at Friendly’s in Plymouth Meeting. I was standing in the mirror, palming at my bangs and trying in vain to get the fly-aways to lay down straight, when the phone rang. It was Hector. It had been weeks since I heard from him – not that I cared. I was thinking about other things. Like prom. And making money for prom.And the Black college tour. And filling out these last minute college applications. I was also thinking of other boys too. Like Jermaine, who I had met while waitressing. He asked me for my number and then skipped out on leaving me a tip. And Tommy who I had met at the bus stop. He was a nice guy, but he was kind of boring though. Oh, there was also Elgin, Victor and some guy who told me that his name was Fame, but I really didn’t know. And there were many others…

As a lot, I wasn’t really interested in any of them. As a lot, most of them were as emotionally immature and damaged as Hector. However the attention I was getting from all of them definitely flattered the ego, even if they were all wrong. Their attention wasn’t a confirmation, but rather a reminder. Just like Mom said, there was plenty of life after Hector. And I owed it to myself to move on.

And that’s what I told Hector over the telephone that day– well sorta.

“Listen, Hector, I’m just going to cut to the chase right now and say it is over. And don’t call me no mo’,” I said before slamming the phone down in his ear. Even though I had envisioned myself making a grand exit from the relationship, getting right and straight to the point proved to be just as satisfying.

The phone rang again, but I didn’t answer it. Instead I let it go straight to voicemail. A minute later, the phone rang again and I again let it go to voicemail. This pattern repeated every other minute throughout the rest of the day and into the early evening.

Hector would cease his telephone stalking only after Mom picked up the receiver, threatened his life and the lives of all future hims if he ever called our home again.


Mom and Me after I graduated from college