I Grieve for the Woman I Knew Before

Melissa Uchegbu

© Copyright 2021 by Melissa Uchegbu

When I was young, I adored my mom and would do everything with her. She was truly the center of my world; I remember this one time my siblings were having a sleepover. Me being the youngest I honestly couldnít hang with the crowd, so I went into my parentsí room and slipped into their beds. My mom must have sensed me because she snaked her arms around me and held on tight for dear life, like in a momentís notice we would be separated. But the funny thing is, I look back at that time in my life and I canít really place a defining thing about her as a person. She was just my mom, the nurse who constantly fixated on her diets and workout regime, but nonetheless she was my mom and I adored her.

The story begins in November 2009, I am 5. Me and my older sister are at our after-school program waiting to be picked up by mom. It was so dark outside, and everybody had already been picked up. I should have had this horrible inkling that something terrible had happened, but I didnít. I guess my naivety made it feel like a normal day. My dad eventually came, which was strange, he never came it was always mom, so of course I asked where she was, where is my mom? My dad says that she had went on a trip, and it felt like such a hollow answer, it felt like my dad was hiding, from then on out it felt like my dad was always hiding. And in fact, he was in more ways than one, because my mom didnít just go on a trip she had been deported back to Nigeria as her 10-year ban from the US had begun. The story ends on New Years Eve in 2017, I am 13. I am on a plane heading to Nigeria for the first time and my motherís outside the airport waiting to see her children for the first time in 8 years. We are all coming together to attend my fatherís funeral.

During this 8-year period, when I had to eventually explain this not so bright part of my life, people always found it surprising as time went on that I even remembered her. At the time I took great offense.

ďI talk to my mom on the phone, every day.Ē My god, how that became a lie.

But now I begrudgingly think theyíre right. One night I had gotten off the phone with my mom and she was trying to recall old memories and by this point I had already become disengaged trying to keep up a relationship through phone calls for 5 years straight. She kept on trying to describe it and I kept on telling her I donít remember, when it finally donned on her the story was with my other sister. We exchanged good nights that my heart wasnít in and I sat there awake at night. I mean I always knew I had less time with her, I was the youngest in my family. So, I just sat there trying to remember the good times. You know how many I could remember? Seven. I tried not to worry about it too much, but my god was the thought depressing that I only had seven memories of my mom. I cried that night.

Itís not like I tried to forget or anything. We really tried in the beginning of all of this, phone calls and skyping every day. But it got old. I know that to my mom these calls were like a lifeline to her children but it made me painfully aware she wasnít there. I wanted my mom, and she wasnít there. I donít think I noticed it when I was younger, but it was probably there where I started separating the idea of the person who was my mom and the woman on the phone. I donít even think I meant to, I thought she was going to come back in a matter of time, and we could put this ugly thing past us and become a family again. But that never came. And it got unbearable waiting everyday for it to happen. I was tired of waking up to dreams of her returning, I was tired explaining to counselors how I felt about it, I was tired of feeling no peace within myself. So, I made peace with that she was never coming back. It didnít change anything but it certainly felt better than the alternative.

So, there I was, 13, and the impossible had happened. My mom was here. When I saw her everything slowed down. When I was in kindergarten, it would be the end of the day and it was the first days of school. I had this awful feeling. Everything sped up and I slowed down, and I just started to cry. I donít know why; I just knew I wanted my mom. This felt like the exact opposite. It was like I was having an out-of-body experience. I watched myself walk to my mom and it felt as if I wasnít doing it. I knew a life changing moment was happening and all I wanted to do was stop it or at least pause. When I was younger and fantasized about my mom and I reuniting, I imagined all this crushing sadness that just wouldnít seem to go away will simply melt. But as my mom held me in her arms, I waited. I held my breath and waited for me to feel whole. Iíve never felt so hollow before. I guess thatís on me. You canít expect someone to fix you. I donít know, it didnít help that my cousin was filming this supposed intimate moment. It felt like a performance, I looked at my mom and it felt like she was performing. All of a sudden, pictures were being taken and I looked down at my mom (I was so much taller than her), and I asked her in my head, ďIs this a show to you?Ē

The thing is after I reunited with my mom and began living with her in Nigeria, I felt the anxiety of being around a new person constantly. I was waiting for it to ebb away, but it slowly turned into a horrifying realization that the person before me is no longer my mother. My dad had just died, I didnít want to squander the last opportunity of truly connecting with one of my parents. But as time went on and my yearning for home grew stronger and this apparent ďmother-daughter bondĒ I was supposed to have just wasnít coming. And thatís when the fights started.

It felt like my mom amplified the worst parts of me. We were such direct opposites we could never agree on anything, but I admit some of her worst flaws are mine too. She was this super-religious ďgod is the wayĒ woman and I was a 13-year-old who didnít find religion a priority. Iím deeply insecure about my body, she made constant remarks about my diet and weight. But underneath I could really see it. She was a woman who constantly felt she wronged God and that led to her being separated from her children. She was a woman that constantly wanted to slim down, and thought she was helping. But she wasnít.

During my stay with my mom I wrote this little blurb, ďSometimes it just feels like girls are nothing but at war with their own bodies forever and their mothers donít know how to tell them any better because they are too. All of us doomed to repeat our motherís mistakes.Ē

One night, I had one of those dreams of me and my mom reuniting and when I woke up there was no relief. My mom was upstairs sleeping, and I still have dreams of her returning. I guess the story really didnít end and the situation wasnít helping. Later that day I had a terrible row at my mom of me not wanting to stay here, and in a fit of frustration I confessed how I really felt about her and everything,

ďI donít want to be stuck, like you!Ē

It meant so many things, but it felt like that moment in The Simpsons. Lisa had discovered Marge was also smart like her and instead of feeling a sense of belonging she felt the horror of becoming like her mom. I was seeing all my flaws being mirrored on to my mom and I didnít like what I saw. I was becoming a person who was so angry, insecure, and sullen. I needed to leave, so I finally did.

I didnít even want to write about this because I feel like I didnít overcome this the way youíre supposed to in the clear-cut way. There was no clear happy solution. I didnít get the A in the class, I didnít get the medal, or award. My mom got deported and my expectations of her were crushed, and I left after 2 years because our relationship would have gone on to become non-existent if I didnít leave the situation to breathe. So, what do I do now? Whereís the happy ending riding off into the sunset? What made me decide to do this is because I came to a realization. This was honestly my most challenging moment because its ongoing, life is messy and not easy so, sometimes things arenít linear. Because in my case this isnít about a solution is it? How do you solve a 13-year-long grievance with your mom? Its not going to take one big sorry especially since thereís so much to unpack. But we got time.

In my case my ďsolutionĒ, is to really grow, accept, and move on. So, Iíll leave myself to be a case study of the trauma that deporting parents and separating them from their children causes another day, for right now Iíll address my mom: Mom, I grieve for the woman I knew before, I grieve for the child I was and had become, I grieve for me who is still trudging through life of now and trying to make a place in the world for herself, I grieve for dad, I grieve for what was once our family. But someday maybe I can make peace with the woman who is now. You just got to give me some time. I never blamed you for being deported, why would I it was never your fault, I just wish it never happened. But it did and thereís nothing wrong with accepting it did, so maybe I can start from there.

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