Monday, March 22, 2010

Two Proofs That She Is my Mother

HEAD’S UP: Yours Truly is still in North Louisiana trying to be the best patient advocate possible for my ailing Ma Ma. I arrived a few days after Old Girl was admitted to hospital on 31 January in atrocious shape. While much better, she is not yet well enough for me to return to Gotham where there are at least eight million stories. Dutiful daughter that I am, I remain in the southern branch of the family seat. Happily, I do have stories. And I plan to tell them.

That first day I saw my mother in the intensive care unit at Glenwood Regional Medical Center in West Monroe, Louisiana, I was struck by all of the tubes attached to her and all the equipment in the room. I also noticed how clear and smooth was the skin on her face, neck, chest and shoulders. Of all of the observations to make about someone who is very critically ill! Incredible, the workings of the human mind.

Over the last several weeks as she’s moved from intensive care and into a long-term care unit and later, on a brief return, into a regular hospital room and since her return to the nursing home where she resided before all of the drama and trauma, I have noticed her humor, too. It is significant that I would make these observations about my mother. Growing up and even into my young adult years, I was always on alert for signs that I was her daughter because I had convinced myself otherwise. That this woman, Leeunice Calloway Wright (LCW), was not my mother, until I had solid evidence to the contrary.

According to sketchy and suspect family lore, my mother became ill during labor and did not recall giving birth to me. She had very little to do with me when I was an infant. In fact, family lore continues, my mother was so incapacitated that my grandmother journeyed up to Saginaw, Michigan (the place of my birth) from Monroe to collect my brother and me. Apparently, eight "inside" children were not enough, for my grandparents would raise us, too.

My mother eventually relocated to Monroe, and I lived with her a few very unhappy years. To put it plainly and without further elaboration – she done me wrong. Because from my perspective she did not like me, I deduced that I was adopted. There was other anecdotal evidence, too. The first time I recall clapping eyes on her I was 8 and very wary of the meeting. “If she was my mother where had she been,” my child’s mind wanted to know.

THE WOMEN CALLOWAY: My mother, Leeunice Wright (left) circa mid-1960s, and Yours Truly circa late 1990s.

Further feeding my doubts was the fact that we do not look like kin. We do not have the same coloring. She’s darkened now to light brown but when I first met her she was high yellow and I was medium brown, as I am now. We have different body types. She’s curvy with bow legs and fat knees, while I am long and lean with an athletic build. My knees are not fat. She has the Chinese eyes of an ancestor in our diverse family tree; my eyes are round. Her nose is more broad and mine is more pointy. We do both have long, oval faces, full lips and high cheekbones, but they don’t translate into a resemblance. (Actually, I have more of a resemblance to my father, but that’s another story for another day.)

Moreover, no one in the same room with us who did not know us has ever thought we were mother and daughter. Over the years any number of my curvy, dark yellow/light brown friends were thought to be her daughter instead. Even when she was in hospital the surprise on the faces of the medical staff was evident whenever I introduced myself as her daughter. Most of the staff at the nursing home were under the impression that my mother’s roommate is my parent. Mrs. M has medium brown skin, high cheekbones and a pointy nose – her shorter face and squarer jaw – not withstanding, creating more of a resemblance. On the few occasions I have been asked whether LCW is my mother, I’ve said, “I think so,” because maybe – just maybe – she is not. Granted, I don’t have most of my mother’s physical characteristics, but I may have inherited her good skin and good humor.

Apropos to nothing one day, she said to all who had ears that her skin was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. And so it is, as I have observed since that first day in intensive care. I actually stare, studying its texture, wondering whether when I, too, am over 65 will my skin look so good. Since my post-acne years, people have been complimenting me on my skin. Often in high school, the girls would ask me whether I was wearing makeup because my skin was clear and smooth. I was not. Even today, as a woman over 30, my facial skin is blemish free with the exception of a few moles. The skin on just about every part of my body is silky smooth, with very few blemishes and bumps. And people notice, at parties, at the gym, at church. Makeup artists and photographers have their say, too. It’s flattering, and now I know one possible source.

Similarly, this may be the source of my quick wit and humor. Since I was a pre-pubescent, people have been laughing at my words. It made me self-conscious. “Were they laughing at me,” I often wondered. Was I considered an idiot? No. “I am not laughing at you, I’m laughing at what you are saying," I am often told. "It’s the way you say it that is funny.” This is true of my mother, too.

Before I ended my hospital visit one night, I turned on one of the lights in the room. It was a fluorescent light behind her bed, prompting me to say that I was going to give her some backlight, like a star. “I am a star,” she declared, provoking a smirk from me and a noise outside in the corridor. On my way out the nurse in the corridor was laughing and explained why.

Because LCW suffers from bi-polar, schizophrenia and dementia, it has become my habit to test her lucidity. I’ll ask her the day of the week or the year or discuss some current event. One day the “Oprah” show was on the television. When Oprah appeared on the screen I asked my mother to identify her. She lifted her head from the pillow, focused on the figure filling the TV screen and exclaimed with great annoyance and offense, “Oprah, shit!” Then she returned her head to the pillow, turned her scowling countenance away from the TV and slammed her eyes shut.

Recently, I inflamed her because I was interfering with her efforts to get the Coke she didn’t need to drink, owing to her diabetes. She stabbed me with a look of fury and said that she could not wait until I returned to – tilting her chin while she flipped through her mental rolodex to learn where I was currently residing – “New York City.” She spat out the name of the place like it was a bad taste in her mouth, causing the nurse practitioner standing next to me to collapse into a paroxysm of laughter.

LCW can toggle from joy to fury on the drop of a dime. In one breath she can praise and in the next, pillory. One moment I am beautiful, the next ugly. Lately, she's been telling me that I am po’ – Southern-speak for poor, that is skimpy/scanty, or thin. The other day when I had her outside wheeling her own wheelchair instead of bowing to her demand that I push her, she told me I was po’. “What do you mean,” I asked.

“Skinny,” she returned.

“What can I do to not be skinny?”

Scrutinizing me disdainfully, she said, “Gain some weight.”

One evening she was annoyed and expressing it in terms that would impress a sailor. In response I said she should be ashamed for using such language. “There ain’t no shame in my game,” she retorted, rolling her eyes for emphasis. Where did LCW learn such a phrase? …

I was privy to my birth certificate for the first time in the late 1990s when I applied for a passport. Even after I saw my mother’s name listed as one of my birth parents, I still doubted. Doubt was so normal, habitual and ingrained that it was difficult to overcome. What further proof would one need? “She does not like me; I look nothing like her,” I stubbornly reasoned in the face of irrefutable evidence. Interestingly, it is only in the last few weeks – watching and observing her – that I have begun to have belief.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Creative Commons License
VEVLYN'S PEN: The Wright take on life by Vevlyn Wright is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License .
Based on a work at .
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at .