what to say when people ask: so what about your “real” mom, have you found her yet?

one:
strange. to begin to search is to accept borders. the endless geography of my body turned road map. after so many years of self-invention. of discovering my own. naming myself. making sense of an absent mother a mirror the only way i know how. the thought of searching. of reunion is nauseating. for so long a mother has been fiction. alphabet turned word turned story. a mother is a lighthouse surrounded by dangerous coastline. a bluff too sheer to scale. a language i understand only in dreams. even then the two of us are without speech. communication morse code at best. all sharp vibration and memory. the lullaby of her heart pumping blood to mine. the percussion of me kicking her womb hard. hoping to leave a dent. something to remember me by. a mother is winter. the days growing shorter. a mother is revision. a cast of characters at my fingertips. to find her. look into her face. hear her speak. is to give up a kind of freedom. is to surrender my gold. give up my survey. a mother is colonization. the sacred places renamed new world. it will change me. i will belong somewhere. to someone. and the question becomes so much steeper: if i search. if i find her. how. what. who will she be?

two:
i see reflections. everywhere. my mother. a troupe of brilliant black women. sometimes i story her famous. billie. oprah. toni. audre. nikki g. ru paul. the list goes on and i daydream. audre sitting with her pipe giving my awkward 11-year-old self the sex talk. ru paul strapping on my first pair of heels telling me not to “fuck it up” at the prom. nikki g in my college dorm room preaching revolution. billie and i drinking whiskey and chain smoking in a new york hotel. i want so many things from a mother. so many impossible things. sometimes i am just a child. with a pair of tin cans and ten feet of red yarn strung between two dark windows. expectant. a chorus of ghosts in my ear singing wake up wake up wake up child and breathe.

three:
in another story my mother has been waiting. has been sitting on her porch everyday staring down a road lined with peach trees anticipating my shape my face. my return. this is the story where i imagine her consumed. haunted by the finality of her act. a woman who sleeps with the baby weight of my absence on her shoulders. who spends each one of my birthdays writing love letters to my infant eyes. let’s call this mother toni. let’s call this baby (me) beloved. living ghost to her sacrifice. sometimes a mother is a woman without options. crazy in loss. forced to do unspeakable things. a woman scattering the most valuable parts of herself like seedling. hoping they’ll take root somewhere safer. a mother is a martyr. a murderer. a saint with stains on her hands begging to be forgiven. this is the story where i find her with open arms. twenty-seven years of stolen motherhood dragging at her ankles. where she embraces me. then pulls me dangerously into her chest. a smothering kind of love. in this story. i am also the one who leaves. the baby who first rolled away down a long hospital hallway never to return. who returned. finally. only to realize that a mother is a cage. in this story. i run at the sight of her. sitting there expectant. it is too much. her breasts dripping milk. blood. even when i am wanted i don’t know how to belong.

four:
no words here. so i listen. a mother becomes a sharp note. billie’s voice filling a room. a “gloomy sunday.” this is the story where she has forgotten. where i knock on her door and she doesn’t recognize me. where i sit down under the spotlight of her dinner table with her husband and two daughters and we make polite conversation. it was so long ago. she tells me. i was so young. i have a whole new life now. i never expected you’d find me. a mother is a performer. a mirage. a woman picking the gardenias out of her hair. one by one. then shooting her veins full of forgetfulness. a mother is an eraser. memory loss. a smooth talker with a sweet voice. it was so nice to meet you baby. have a safe trip home and do ring us every now and then. a mother is a curtain coming down. end scene. the blues. “god bless the child that’s got her own” a baby is a misstep. the first disfigured pancake. daughter twice removed. listen. in this story. no more words. just deafening noise. a single note slicing umbilical cord. again.

five:
how. to begin. after twenty-seven years of radio silence. how. how to speak. how to return. look her in her eyes. not know what she is thinking. not know her. how to find a mother. a stranger. playing hide and seek with my heart.

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