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Lions Roar : Nov 2007
63 SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2007 Looking back at those visits, when she and I talked of many things now lost to my memory, I especially remember her trying to explain why she couldn’t take me away. I would sit in her lap; there was never anyone around us. She would fight back tears and constantly wipe her eyes, and I felt strong, as if she had given me the power to hold her, rather than her holding me. Then she would tell me that she was still “sick.” I knew what she meant. Even as a tiny boy, I knew that her sickness was not the kind that would make a child need a doctor. When she said that she was very sick, I knew it meant she was not being her true self. I had witnessed it many times before I was taken from her; I had seen this sickness steal away her life energy when she lay across the bed in a daze or crouched on the floor in the corner of the bedroom, trembling as if she were freezing cold. Now I know it was her heroin addiction. On my knees, peeking through the open bedroom door, I had seen her tying off her arm with a rubber strap and shooting heroin into her veins. There were times when she could not get up afterwards. I would walk over and sit down next to her. If she was conscious, she would lean on me and say, “Mama is sick” and use me as a crutch to get to her bed, where she would fall asleep. Every time my mother mentioned being “sick” at one of our visits, this was the image that arose in my mind, and I felt like I understood why she could not take me home with her. At the same time, I was sad that I couldn’t be her crutch anymore. The secrets about her life that she entrusted to me made me feel older, as if I was grown up. Later on, in the early 1970s, when I lived with my aunts and uncles, I heard many stories about my mother’s life. They weren’t all good. But no matter how many times my relatives called her “crazy,” their stories still gave me much to be proud of. When she was growing up, my mother was a tom- boy. My uncles taught her how to fight, how to use knives and defend herself against the kind of men she always fell in love with. They were always protect- ing her and beating up her boyfriends, but once they showed her how to use a box-cutter, she didn’t need their help any more. So my uncles told me. I was eleven when I was placed back with family members. I reminded everyone of my mother. Sit- ting around their kitchen tables, my relatives spoke of things that had occurred before I was born, and their stories helped fill in the gaps about my mother’s life that I didn’t know. I didn’t care if their recollections were “good” or “bad,” as long as I got to learn who she was and what it meant to me to have a mother. I spent little of my childhood and teenage years around her, and yet she knew me well. She could see right through to my heart, as if we had never been separated. It didn’t seem that anyone else understood the deep connection be- tween us. Whenever I heard the words neglected, abandoned, or abused—words my social workers used to describe my first years of life—those words didn’t include my mother. Nobody ever gave a single, professional thought to my mother’s own suffering. Nobody knew about my memories of my mother getting beaten repeatedly, of hearing the thump of her body against the floor, of see- ing her lying in a pool of her own blood. As a child, I felt like I was the only one who knew what those words—neglected, abandoned, and abused— really meant. Every time the social workers separated me from my mother, the suffering I had witnessed only made me feel that much closer to her. ♦ Jarvis Masters’ mother, Cynthia NOV 58-63.indd 63 NOV 58-63.indd 63 8/29/07 2:17:19 PM 8/29/07 2:17:19 PM