There are days that I wish I could have had just one mother-daughter conversation with my mom.

She left me and my sisters when I was five because she didn’t “want” us. The last memories I have of her involve red lipstick, cocaine and my little feet in her black stilettos.

My mother was beautiful. Her voice, her long dark hair, the clothes she wore. I would stand and stare in amazement when she’d perch herself up on the bathroom vanity and put on her makeup. And every time I sit in my own sink and pluck my eyebrows, I think of her. Sometimes I smile, but most times I cry. I cry because I wish I didn’t know what it felt like to love my mother and feel the pain of losing her. It’s a pain that just won’t ever go away.

The day my dad told me my mother got on airplane and wouldn’t be coming home was the day that grass and I became good friends. I spent hours laying in it, scanning the sky for airplanes, hoping my dad was wrong. I so desperately needed him to be wrong. I needed my mom. I was five and obsessed with Barbie doll dream houses and playing princess and prancing around the living room in my pink poodle skirt while she watched and smiled. I needed her feminine presence and the comfort and security of her arms the first time I experienced heartbreak. I needed her to tell me I was beautiful, smart and that she was proud of me. I needed her out in the audience at every talent show, choir concert and on the sidelines of every soccer game. I needed her to teach me how to be a good friend, and how to shop without anxiety and socially gossip without wanting to punch people in the face. I needed her to teach me how to date, how to deal with emotion instead of ignoring it like my dad. I needed her to do my hair for my proms and tell me that white eyeliner wasn’t a good idea. I needed her to mother my sisters so I didn’t have to fill her shoes. I needed her to be my ally in life, the woman that would have my back no matter what. I needed her to be my voice of reason and wisdom when I said “yes” to the man I knew I should not have married. I needed her comforting and consoling arms when I asked for a divorce and my life turned upside down. I needed her to be next to me when I woke up in the hospital after trying to take my own life. I need her right now, just to talk to. I didn’t need this hole in my heart and life.

Growing up, my mother was the unspoken and broken piece to my family’s puzzle. If she was brought up, it was always bad things: the drinking, the drugs, her going away for days and leaving my dad alone with three babies, the other men. It hurt to hear those words. Gradually I accepted she was a bad person and I shouldn’t have any desire to want her in my life. I began to feel incredibly guilty for it and somehow believed it was a smack in my dads face. I asked him once if she ever has tried contacting us.

Dad, don’t ever lie to me again.

Turns out my mom sent me a birthday card every year and said some of those things I desperately needed to hear. But I never saw them. Not until my senior year of high school when I found all those cards and her phone number.

Dad, I love you and you are my hero, but you keeping my mother from me is the reason I don’t trust people. I don’t care that she is mentally unhealthy and chose to walk out on us, you should have told me the truth. However, I know you did it to protect us and I’ve tried to focus on that fact. I just wish you would have been honest and allowed me the courtesy to know what the fuck was really going on. And maybe one day I will be able to say this to your face and forgive you. But right now, at 28, I still pretend “I’m over it”. And I do it strictly for you. I see the look in your eyes when something big has ever happened in my life, things that she should have been there for. I know you don’t blame me for keeping my step-mother at a distance. I know how much guilt you feel and how much you wish you would have done things differently. And maybe that’s why I don’t have it in me to tell you that you broke your little girls heart. Because I know it would devastate you. I love you and I have learned that there are some things better left unsaid, you taught me that.

I’ll never forget sitting in my dads closet, staring down at phone records with a Nevada number strewn across the page. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I gripped the piece of paper with white knuckles and glanced down at the birthday cards scattered across the carpet. Fuck this. I’ve spent too long not knowing. So I called the number. The voice on the other line? My half-brother. He was just as completely shocked and overwhelmed as I was. How in the hell do you have a conversation with a sibling you knew nothing of? Part of me regrets making that phone call. Because that phone call allowed me to look my mother in the eyes and listen to her tell me why she left.

How do you stop “wanting” your daughters? Rhonda, please tell me how you can sleep at night. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your honesty and you have no idea the courage it took for me to mouth that question when I knew what the answer would be. Though I really am better because of the pain, it still sucks hearing your own mother tell you that you aren’t good enough for her to stick around and love.

That exchange between us changed my life forever. In that moment I knew the woman I didn’t want to be, the mother I would never permit myself to become and the human being that I would desperately strive to be the complete opposite of. In that moment I realized I had to start growing up without your ghost by my side.

10 years have passed since then and the brokenness you brought upon me is still there. It will never go away but it’s just the hand I was dealt. I refuse to be crippled by your absence and allow your bad choices and negative energy to take away my happiness. That doesn’t mean I don’t have sorrow in my heart and wish you were around to teach me how to be a woman. It just means that I’m painfully aware of my demons and weaknesses as a person.

Because at 28 I have realized I am my father’s daughter. I have listened to romantic partners tell me “I’m cold” and “more like a dude” and “guarded” and “un-emotional”. I have sabotaged healthy relationships because I am so used to chaos and pain in personal relationships that the drama-free ones feel wrong. I keep my circle of friends and people I’d give my life up for as small as humanly possible. Because you taught me that you can lose the things you love more than anything in one second and the instance someone breaks your trust, it never returns no matter how bad you want it to. You also taught me how reliance in yourself is the only thing that matters. People are going to let you down, they are going to leave you when you want them to stay and they are going to cut you deep and say things like “I don’t want you”. So you taught me to be strong, to keep on going even when my heart is hanging out of my chest and somehow manage to still feel warmth and joy. You’d be really proud of me.

My life is not perfect, believe me and I really do suck at being a girl but I’m working on it. And that’s all I can really do. I have hope that more time goes by, the less blame I will put on you and perhaps just see you as a hurting person that made choices that probably weren’t the best. I have hope that someday I’m going to have my own little girl and she’ll know how beautiful, smart and powerful she is. She’ll learn it through love instead of through pain. But when the pain does come, she’ll know that everything in the end is going to turn out alright.

Despite you not being here, I feel like I’m figuring it out though. All the good has been worth all the bad. Somehow, through everything, I’m alive with air in my lungs and I want so much goodness for others. And with every fiber in me, I know that’s nothing other than a gift.

So perhaps, mom, you’ve been the biggest lesson in life for me thus far. A lesson that seems to keep popping up and transforming the way I look at the world. No longer am I a scared and sad little girl with delusional eyes fixed towards the sky. No. I’ve planted my feet on the ground as firmly as I can and grasped the notion that whatever happens in life, I will undoubtedly be ok. Because I’ve got the most important person in this world looking out for me. Me.