A Letter to a Mother Unknown

black child's handI am thinking about you this Mother’s Day, but what shall I call you?



I never called anyone Mommy although I remember one day during my first spring semester at Union Theological Seminary in 1988 when I was rolled into St. Luke’s Hospital Emergency Room because I was hemorrhaging, I just called out this name.

Yes, I remember now. I was actually calling for you, although I don’t know you; you don’t know me; we don’t know each other, but for some reason, however, the you who resides in me was being carried away by this raging current of blood gushing from between my legs. When I felt the you about to dislodge from that place inside of me, and was about to take flight with a torrent of rumbling blood clots, I yelled for YOU. Mommy! As I slipped in and out of consciousness while the doctors worked to keep me alive, I knew if you left me this time, Mommy, I wouldn’t make it.

You knew it, too, so you stayed.

What shall I call you?

Perhaps, Mother!…Mother?

No! I called my foster mother, Mrs. Flowers, “mother.”

No bed of roses bloomed between us. Our garden grew an abundance of weeds and we became two immovable cacti at its north and south ends.

Mrs. Flowers was forty-eight years my senior, but only had the social skills of an eleven year old. As two women-children, we were forced to be adults before we were ready. And in having been reared as only children and not taught the art of compromising, we fought like incorrigible brats for eighteen years until I left for college. We never embraced each other, nor told each other that we loved each other, but our game of “go-away-closer” encapsulated our love, our hatred, and our ambivalence.

There were a plethora of names, profane and vulgar, we each would have liked to call the other, but we both agreed, for the sake of company, for the sake of show, and for the modicum of civility we sometimes genuinely felt for each other that the name “mother” was neither too ostentatious nor too glib to call her by.

But, what shall I call you?

Mom?…Perhaps, so. It seems to roll off my tongue with mental ease. No heart palpitations, no muscle headaches, and no involuntary twitches wreaking havoc through my body.

This ado of what I shall call you is of paramount concern to me. It is imperative that I convey the proper title with the proper greeting. Beginnings are important, and often times when they commence amiss, like ours, then finding each other again can become impossible.

Our beginnings may not have been wrong. Your goodbye to me in Fort Greene Park, in a trashcan, may not have been wrong. Your leaving me without a clue about my name or date of birth may not have been wrong. Speculations made outside of the lived context of your life at that time can certainly lead to false assumptions, like you did something you weren’t suppose to do, something unconscionable for a mother to do, albeit the choices surrounding our beginnings, perhaps, could not have been anything else.

This letter I want to write to you is about you and me, about us, about black women’s choices and their complexities, and the oppressions intrinsic to our lives. This letter is about liberation, and healing; it’s about how, as I began to live my life, I also began to understand yours and Mrs. Flowers’s. Yes, I want to write to you although there is no mailing address to forward this letter to, because by breaking my silence, unleashing my pain, removing my shame, I pray for you to do the same.

I’ll call you Mom with the hopes that my caring vibrations are felt. So let me begin:

Dear Mom,

irene-headshot.jpgFor many years, during all the seasons I walked up and down the pot-holed streets of Brooklyn looking for you. At undesignated hours with no specific roadmap in hand my legs followed my mind’s compass pointing anywhere. The seasons guided my peripatetic journey: summers, I would walk the entire Borough of Brooklyn, through all its various ethnic enclaves, in search of you, and only stopped to rest my tired feet on park benches alongside brothers playing conga drums or winos swigging their liquor. With school out, and folks hanging out on street corners, on metal fire escapes, on roofs, on stoops of brownstones, and in parks fleeing their home infernos, I knew my chances of running into you were greater.

We haven’t found each other yet, but I haven’t given up.

Rev. Irene Monroe

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