Hello Stranger-Part I

“Stranger in My Room”


“The best thing to do to your enemies, to get revenge for all the wrong that they have done to you, is to write the truth and name them in it for all to read and know.”

-One of my therapists, Dr. Cherilyn Davidson Cibelli

My life changed the day that my blond-haired mother tried her best to explain to me that, even though she was leaving, it didn’t mean she loved me any less. She had called me gently away from my white writing desk toward the bottom futon-portion of my bunk bed, pulled me onto her lap and stroked my curly black hair as she gazed out of the window. Around the time that I giggled from looking up at her nose hairs, I got too heavy for her to hold, and she slid me down to the floor to stand on my own two feet.

Standing on the floor, I faced her at nearly equal eye level. I searched her eyes for clues to her mood. When she is happy, her eyes are sky-blue with flecks of gold. When she is sad, her eyes are turquoise, like the green of algae on an ocean rock. Her eyes were a teal I’d never seen before. What did that mean? I didn’t know, so I made other observations. She blinked a lot. Her melodic voice vibrated like a guitar string that’s just a little too loose, and the raspy struggle in her throat signaled she was choking back sobs.

I knew she wanted to cry, but there was more than sadness in her eyes. She kept looking over her shoulder to the crack in the door to her right toward my father’s room, so I did too. I periodically looked over my left shoulder, wondering what was there that I didn’t see. Nervousness and fear wrinkled across her face with every floor creak. With each noise outside of my pink bedroom walls, her hands tensed, squeezing my shoulders just a little tighter. I tried to detect more clues.

She played off each startle into her movements — fixing her hair, moving a nearby item on my dresser, or straightened her clothes. This time she straightened her arms in front of her, moving me back from an impromptu hug so that she could look at me, her clumsy, creative, seven-year old daughter. How could she make me understand why she was leaving? How could she express any more deeply that she loved me and would do anything, anything, for me? She tried by simply telling me.

“You know that mommy loves you very much, right?”


She looked me straight in the eyes. I watched her pupils make quick small movements, left and right. She squinted, as if to ask if I really understood the depth of her love. Instead, she asked a different question.

“And that you are a very smart girl?”


I continued to nod, my tan chin jutting against the purple of my Rug-Ratz nightgown. I noticed a clear tear had escaped from her pretty eyes. I watched as it slowly wiggled its way down from her brown lashes to midway down her right cheek. I wiped the tear with my left thumb, mentally comparing the size of my thumb to the size of her nose. My thumb was slightly smaller. I wondered why she was so sad and how come my eyes were so dark, and not light like hers. Motherly, she kissed my wrist bone.

“I know you are very smart,” she said as her pink lips flashed a smile, a quivered reflex of nervousness and complex emotion.

“That’s why I hope you can understand why I have to go away.”

I looked at the crack in the door, to her eyes, and then over my right shoulder to my desk.

“Are you listening? I need you to listen very carefully, Sweetie.”

I wanted to pull away, to go back to drawing, to call her attention to the pretty, hot-pink stencils of roses on the walls, flip on Aladdin or the Hunchback of Notre Dame, or even grab the Barbies that my older half-brother had beheaded from the closet — anything to make her not say what she was saying, to not be sad, to just be happy. But she continued holding onto me, holding my hands firmly, yet lovingly at the wrists, trying to force open my child-eyes to see beyond my years into her adult world.

“I need you to understand that if I don’t come back, it’s not your fault, and it’s not because I don’t want to, nor because I don’t love you.”

There was a growing sense of urgency and desperation in her words. We both stared at the crack in the door, and then I knew what we were listening for: heavy footsteps, a turning knob, the metal clink of keys, a belt, or a gun. I strained to listen, trying to will my ears to hear downstairs, outside, and beyond the houses on Radka Avenue in Beaumont, Calif., but I could only hear two things: the beating drum sound of my own heart and the startled gasps of my mother’s shallow breathing.

“I love you so much, princess.”

I was startled out of focus by the abruptness and tension in her words. There was a tone of finality, as if I love you meant please believe me and goodbye. She moved, as if she were preparing to stand up like an old lady would, after rocking forward a few times, but I knew she was young, about 23, so I reasoned she just wasn’t sure of whether or not to get up yet. My heart quickened at the thought of her getting up. Unsure of what she would do next, I continued standing in front of her, blocking her path to leave.

“I love you too, mommy.” The words flew out without me realizing. My voice sounded like a high-pitched whine, rather than a strong reassurance that I believed her and loved her equally as much. I hated the betrayal of emotion.

In protest, I broke free by pushing my hands down and twisting my body back towards my desk. She loosened her grip at the first signs of serious struggle. She let me go, but her hands remained suspended in the air while I climbed back onto my desk chair. Once on my chair, I regretted the show of emotion. I picked up a color crayon, and secretly blinked back tears. I didn’t want to make her sadder, so I tried to distract myself and make her happy by furiously scribbling colorful doodles of happy things onto paper after paper.

“See mommy, look. It’s a house, and a picture of you, and a sun, and hearts, and a rainbow, and …”

“… and a fish, and a cat, and grandma,” and I scribbled anything that I could think of to try to make her smile again.

She did, but it was not a fully happy smile, and I knew two things: I wasn’t good at drawing, and she was going to leave me again.

Vibrations from rap music with turned up bass grew louder outside, shaking my core. Heavy wheels pulled into the drive. A car door slammed. We froze like startled deer. As the dreaded footsteps approached the front door, the ability to breathe left the room. The metal clink in the door below stabbed me with the icepick of panic. Instinctively, I reached for my mommy to hold me.

She had moved from the bed to the middle of the room at the same time I had moved from my chair towards her. We bumped into a clumsy hug.

“I love you mommy. Don’t go. Please stay.”

I couldn’t say the words fast enough. I reached for the hug. She patted me on the back, but continued moving forward. She guided me gently to the side, back toward the chair. My thoughts and heart raced. Her hands had moved from my back to the window so quickly I questioned if I had really felt her touch, or if I had merely felt her brush the air above me. I longed for the comfort of a good hug, the kind the warmth lingers after the embrace has ended, but I was left with a ghost sensation and mounting emptiness.

I felt guilty for being angry seconds earlier, but I made no attempt to shield the rawness of my emotion this time, and I selfishly let the tears burst freely from my eyes, not caring that snot bubbled out of my nose. Through the tears, I saw she had already removed the screen from my window and was climbing outside onto the roof. I tried to pull her back in, crying, “Mommy, Mommy,” wrapping both arms around one of her legs, so that she was stuck mid-lunge, half-caged and half-free.

Afraid that she might fall down and get hurt if we continued the struggle of me pulling her backwards as she tried to move forward, I forced myself to let her go, and she climbed out into the dusk air. Standing on the roof, she leaned her torso into the room to try to comfort me. The sunset backdrop made her look more like an angel, which is how she taught me to spell her name, “angel with an ‘A’, Angela.” Her golden hair cascaded forward while she hugged me, and I soaked it with tears and snot.

“Don’t go. Take me with you. Please mommy. I don’t want you to leave.”

I pleaded and pleaded. I repeated the magic word, “please.”

“Please. Mommy. Please.”

I saw her look down the roof, considering for a moment if there was any way that she could take me with her. The trickster of time both sped up the good moments while simultaneously slowing the bad, prolonging the agony. On one hand, I was frozen, locked in the prison of my own thoughts and emotions, experiencing the situation as a slow-framed nightmare, and on the other hand, the world around me moved so quickly that I couldn’t keep up and felt dizzy from the fast pace of life.

“It’s too dangerous.”

I burst into more tears and tried to climb out by myself.

She tried to reassure me in a loving voice,

“I know, I know.”

She suppressed tears of her own, and gently pushed my hands down from the sill, keeping me inside.

“I’m so sorry sweetheart. I have to go. I love you with all my heart.”

Her voice cracked when she said, “heart,” and it felt like both of our hearts cracked too. We stared at each other with tears in our eyes, no longer able to speak. Words couldn’t convey everything fast enough. With every passing second, the distance between us grew. I wished a thousand things. My biggest wish was that we could live happily-ever-after together, but what I felt instead was goodbye forever. Afraid I’d forget her, I hastily wiped tears from my eyes, so I could see her clearly. I wanted to memorize everything about her.

I thought of happy memories when I used to live with her, and tried to forget the sad times when she came to visit me in my new room. The memories welled up along with the tears. I remembered all of the happy times. Being with her in Aunty’s apartment, going swimming in my pretty rainbow fish swimsuit, eating red popsicles with my cousin, coloring, playing with the animals at Grandma’s, picking pretty flowers on our walks, and trying to color in-between the lines. I remembered being happy when she sang to me.

Once there was an Indian who, had the name of Eagle-Feather,

With skin so tan and eyes so true, moccasins of deer-skinned leather,

Living in the forest dark, hunting, fishing every day,

When his arrow hit the mark, here’s the chant he used to say,

Mohawk, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Tuscarora, saga

Bravest of the Indians, mightiest of they,

Keeper of the longhouse, keeper of the longhouse,

Whose arrows never strayed,

The final lyric “bum, bum, bum,” which she would playfully drum on me before we would both burst into playful, high-pitched giggles, coincided with the pounding of dreaded footsteps up the stairs. As the steps grew louder, she made her way down the faded red bricks of the roof, jumped down onto the hood of the car in the driveway below, and sprinted down the block. I continued staring out of the window, crying uncontrollably, until the crack in the door widened, and someone came in the room.

“Why are you crying?” he demanded to know from his position in the doorway.