My mother’s death occurred almost fifteen years before I learned about it. Her death was a news story. Murdered by a stalker while she lived in Miami. It occurred, of all days, on my ninth birthday, with me thankfully unaware. My mother was a stranger to me—both because of her absence and because of her illness. She was not allowed to see me or contact me when I was a child.
We had once lived together as a family, leaving me with only one real memory. We were living in Bermuda—my birthplace—where I shared a room with my older sister. The small room held only my crib and her bed. In my memory, I stood in the crib eager to be free.
“Do you want to get out?” my sister asked. I nodded with enthusiasm and raised my arms. She reached over and helped lift me over the crib’s siding
Our bare feet padded along as she led me by hand into the living room. It was late afternoon as the light slanted into the half-furnished room—this place had not yet become our home. Still, standing in the middle of the floor were my father and mother, arms wrapped around each other, dancing though no music played.
My sister and I watched this silent display of love before my sister led me in further. In imitation, we began to dance together ourselves. I looked up at my sister, so tall and protective, feeling awe in my heart. It didn’t take long for my mother to notice us.
“Look, Jerome! They are dancing like us!” my mother said. They both turned to look at us, smiles on all faces, the light creating a glow behind both of their curly-haired heads. It is my best memory of us as a family.
Not too long after this my mother’s father died, and she changed. Something broke in her and she needed someone to blame, so she blamed my father. She was a passionate and intelligent woman with a master’s degree from Georgetown University. The intensity that made her successful was also part of her disease—bipolar disorder.
The next few years were chaotic. She took us to live in Virginia until her disease morphed into paranoia, and she lived in fear of being found. This time of upheaval ended with her arrest and then institutionalization. My sister and I went into foster care and then to our grandparents before our father was able to come to us.
During that time of forced separation, my mother died, and we had no idea. We moved back to Bermuda when I was twelve, and my father was waiting for a court order to stop us from being taken out of the country. We didn’t know that she was no longer there to fight the custody battle.
Though we didn’t hear anything, I still hoped that one day I’d see her again. I dreamt a fuzzy, distant dream of what having a mother would be like. Because of this, her death was like a release of held breath—a tiny flame of hope extinguished.
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