Friday, February 13, 2009

photographs and memories


One of the women at work has been out for a week tending to her really sick mother. This co-worker is in her early 50's, and had to drop everything on a dime when her mom had an unexpected medical emergency. Luckily, the mom came through, and today my co-worker came in carrying a small folder like a priceless treasure. Inside the folder were photos.


She showed them around and explained each one. I looked at the faded, sepia toned shot of her and her mom and wondered. Her mom is clearly, traditionally Asian. My friend, while having a hint of the same features, also has a very deep olive complexion and kind of wiry hair. I asked about her dad, and was amazed when she simply said that she didn't know. Her mother would never talk about it. I'm lucky, she said, that I even got these pictures out of her. It's taken me a long time just to get these. One of these days, she continued, I'll find out about my dad. But not today.


I know I should have kept my mouth shut, but I just couldn't. Doesn't that kill you?, I asked. Not knowing something that important? Well, sure, she replied. But my mom has never been willing to talk about it, and I never could figure out a way to force the issue. She started leafing through the photos. This is my half-sister, she said. She's a few years older than me. I looked at the picture and casually asked what her sister's name was. I don't know, she replied simply. My mom doesn't want to talk about it and I can't remember. I haven't seen her since we came to the US when I was six. She stayed with her dad. You were six?, I asked. Well, she said, that's what the papers say. But I think they were falsified and I'm really a few years older.


My inner control freak was having a very quiet meltdown. You mean you don't really know how old you are?, I asked. Well, it's not even just that, she answered. My birthday is in the winter, but I clearly remember celebrating it during the summer when I was a kid. I think, she continued, that when they changed the papers they changed my birthday. But what about your mom?, I asked. Surely she knows when your birthday is. Yeah, she answered, I'm sure she does. But it isn't something she's ever wanted to talk about. She doesn't understand why we can't just let things be.


This gal at work has had a difficult life, but came out just fine. She raised three kids on her own and made a very nice life for all of them. She's always upbeat and has a terrific sense of both self and humor. But I kept watching her all day, unable to get this thought out of my head...


How can you know who you are if you don't really know who you are?

14 comments:

Maggie May said...

This is terrible. No one should take a person's identity away like this, not even a mother.
I am fuming about it.
If she doesn't find out these things while her mother is alive, then she might never know.

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

She is an amazing woman if these details of her life don't determine her attitude about her life and her identity. Maybe she doesn't need to know and you have to be careful how you express your disbelieve. It is possible that she has accepted herself the way she is and who she is doesn't depend on when she was born and who her father was. Fathers don't have to be God's gift to a child, always.

Bella said...

Hi there, love your blog. As far as this particular lady, sounds like she's got her act together regardless, and good for her! For me, I think it would be hard not to know, or wonder why I was not told. I would be little more insistent!

Tawny said...

I think it would eat at me, but it probably doesher too, and she just has to live with it. It must be so so hard though

Flutterby said...

Just think, this lady can invent herself and not be influenced by progenitors. But I would want to KNOW too.

Indigo said...

Your reinvent yourself to some degree. I know when I was born, but there are so many murky unanswered questions...sigh...I can sympathize with this woman. Yet I know from experience you take the pieces you do have and make them work. The puzzle doesn't always need all the pieces for you to see the beauty of the image that is there.

I know as my mother used to refer to me I'm a halfbreed. Most questions are never going to be answered. Relatives are gone, I've been estranged from my mother since I've been 16. So I take the pieces I have and some of my friends would tell you, I'm one of the most aware human beings out there. (Hugs)Indigo

laurie said...

dear, your friend is in her 50s. she has had a lot of time to get used to the way things are, and she is hopefully past the need to find herself.

i agree that this is a difficult way to live, but i'm assuming that she has picked up vibes from her mother---maybe the father was abusive, and they had to hide, change dates, change birthdays, change identities? or perhaps she was the produce of a rape?

there are all kinds of family skeletons, and while they can be quite fascinating to poke at for people who aren't directly involved--a later generation, for instance--they can be excruciating for those who are.

who is the lovely person in the picture you posted?

The Finely Tuned Woman said...

Award for you over at mine.

CrazyCath said...

I am not fuming about it - it is sad. I have great admiration for your colleague - she still shows her mum love and respect - and obedience. She has great strength of character and great patience.

Excellent qualities I would say.
Yes her mum is wrong to deny her her past and her father's name at least, but she will have her reasons and it is to your friend's credit that she has not allowed bitterness to envelope and control her. As a result, she has some photos now and still has a relationship with her mum.

Great insights you give today. As you often do, you make me count my blessings. Please tell her (if you can) just what courage and strength I think she has. Thanks.

aims said...

I good friend of mine found out that his real dad was someone else when he was 70! His mother is still alive and she finally told him then. Not only that - but he found out he was a year older than he thought he was. She kept his birth a secret for a whole year!

I looked at him all day too when he told me. It just amazed me!

btw - his real dad is still alive and he went and talked to him about it. He has known the man all his life - but never known.

Akelamalu said...

That would just eat away at me, how can she not push to know? :(

Tiggerlane said...

I've asked that question so many times. I was abandoned within a few days of my birth, in a gas station restroom. I have NO clue...or didn't, until I had a DNA test done. I don't know my birthday either! But who I am is who I have become, and it has given me FREEDOM to not "be like" my adoptive parents, but embrace the parts of me that are ME, that MUST be genetic. Sometimes, it's really tough - but it's like ice cream. If you've never had it, you don't know what you are missing! Then again, I wish I knew something. (Not sure if you were reading my blog when I was telling THE STORY, but you can click on the link in the sidebar and see what I went thru.)

Frances said...

Well, sometimes old secrets are hurtful and shocking.
Sometimes Mum doesn't know who Dad is... or prefers to forget him - for a lot of reasons. Not all young women live in safe environments.
Sometimes not telling a child something allows them to take time to grow up and be secure. If your Daddy was a really nasty person who did something really bad to your Mum, maybe it's better for you not to know.
or something else.
The lady knows who she is and who her mother is. Daddy isn't in that picture, for her mother's own reasons, whatever those are.

Kila said...

Wow, I can't imagine. That would drive me insane. I'd have to search for the answers. ... Then again, the freedom...