20 years on …

My mom died 20 years ago today, at the same age I am now. Seems impossible.

Here she is at 18, a favorite photo because it shows who she was when she was still free — before 3 cruel husbands and 3 kids, before she knew what hardness was coming — when she was still outspoken and ready to take on all comers.

I’ve been thinking lately about how we were each other’s secret keepers. There was the summer I was 12 and we secretly lived on fried potatoes and onions. There was the year and half we secretly used old cleaning rags during our periods because she could not afford Kotex or tampons. There were the years she had to secretly leave me home alone when I was in middle school while she worked graveyard shift because who could afford a babysitter? My mom was a fighter, and she raised a fighter. We made our own way and our own fun.

To honor my mom, today I will drive thru Burger King and order her favorite chicken sandwich, listen to the Bee Gees and Barbra, and stock the food pantry at church.

When I recently met my birth father, her husband for a handful of months, the one question I wanted to ask but could not bear to ask was, “Did you love my mom?”

He left her not long after this picture was taken. His loss. I loved her. I love her, still.