July 5th, 2016
Today will mark the 26th anniversary of my mother’s death. This is always the toughest day of the year, as anyone who has lost someone can relate. I was 12 when it happened. This is a tribute to her life and death. Let me take you to the day she died to start the memory train of her life.
Around 10 am, I rolled out of my sleeping bag and walked over to my mom’s bed area in our air conditioned room. In 1990, central air was not a thing, you had an air conditioning unit that just sat in the window (at least if you were within the poverty spectrum). Noticing that her bed was not touched, I knew she was most likely downstairs. Sometimes she would sleep in the living room with a fan on her.
Getting to the last step, I turned right into the living room. I saw her lying on the floor with a blue sheet covering her body and the fan blowing her brown curly hair around.
Happy that she was okay, I decided I was going to make us breakfast as a peace offering. The night before I argued with her about not wanting to do dishes.
In order to get to the kitchen, I had to go through the dining room. On the dining room table, I noticed my mom’s teddy bear, Snuggles. He was sitting on the table wearing his “I love Mommy” t-shirt.
The bear always made me smile, but this time it made me concerned. See, my mom never went anywhere without that teddy bear. She would even put the teddy bear in a seat belt when she was in the car. She slept with it every night and when I was sick, she would let me sleep with him so that I would be feel better.
I knew she would be sad if she did not have it, so I picked Snuggles up and brought him to the living room. I walked in the room and noticed that her sheet was soaked and it smelled like urine. She had a bed wetting issue, so that was not too weird. However, she would want to be woken up to clean it up. She was embarrassed by it.
I spoke softly in her ear to wake her up and there was no response. I shook her shoulder and there was no response. I lifted her arm thinking she was teasing me, her arm was cold. Much colder than a fan could make skin feel in 90 degree temperature with high humidity.
I knew something was wrong.
I yelled her name, becoming panicked. I began to swear at her, as I furiously looked for a phone number to my stepdad’s sister’s phone number (no cell phones back then). I could not find the address book.
I ran to my neighbor, who was a nurse. Begged her to come over and check on my mom. She put on her robe and ran over. She checked my mom’s pulse and told me that there could be a chance she was ok. I knew it was a lie, but I wanted to believe. I called the police.
That was it, that was the events of her death. She had a brain aneurysm. It was quick-ish. She had suffered from years of headaches, dizziness and mood swings. She was bi-polar but in the 80’s this was not a diagnosis. It was most likely due to the pressure in her head from the aneurysm, but no one knows for sure.
The real unfortunate part of her death is that on the same day she died, she got a job as a chef. She worked hard all her life as a cleaning woman, but her passion was in cooking. Without a high school degree, most places would not hire her.
She did the best she could with the cards that were dealt to her. I want to share with you, a little of her story.
Her mom was a bit on the crazy side (like I mean bat a$$ crazy). She made my mom stay in a high chair until she was 8 years old. LaVirgin, was her name. She would yell and scream and beat the children (my mom and her brother). However, my mom’s father, Rollin Sr., always kept her from going too far. When he died, my mom was just 12 years old. And things changed drastically in the household.
LaVirgin got remarried to a new man. This man was violent and would beat the kids and LaVirgin. One night LaVirgin fell down the stairs and had what was thought to be a concussion, later it turned out to be a brain aneurysm. Little was known about them in the 50’s. LaVirgin could not recall who anyone was, not even her own children. She was blind as well. My mom’s new stepfather did not want anything to do with the whole situation and refused to take care of the woman. So, my mom at age 16 dropped out of school and became the caretaker. She forced her little brother to stay in school.
My mother never stated this, but her brother (my uncle) did tell me that their stepfather raped her throughout this time.
My mother met a guy and became pregnant. She was forced to marry him due to her “condition.” She miscarried the baby soon afterwards. Her husband was an alcoholic and abusive. He would beat her and force himself on her (back then you could not get convicted of rape, especially if it was your own wife). She had three children with this vial man. One boy and two girls.
She finally got the courage to leave this man and she took her children. She had to work two jobs and hire babysitters to help take care of the children while she was a way. Usually the babysitter was her friend Dick, but sometimes it was her brother.
Then she met my father. A charming, tall, Italian man. He had the most infectious smile (you all know what I mean by that). He knocked her right off her feet. She fell hard for him. He moved in with her fairly quickly and began to take care of the kids. Little did she know that he was harming them. She would get home after working a double shift and little John (name changed to protect him) would have new bruises. The girls would also have bruises.
One night a fire was started in the apartment that the children were in. A space heater with a little green soldier inside had caught on fire. My father, acting like a hero, saved all the children. Rumor has it though (even my mom thought years later), that he started that fire to make himself the hero. This is when social services became concerned.
Back in the 70s, it was unusual to have an unrelated man babysit children. Social services started to question the bruises and the fire and began to do check ups. Being that my mom worked two jobs, they would inevitably come when my father was babysitting. They classified her as an unfit parent and took the children away.
In 1977, after a short while, my father, being the cunning a-hole that he was, received my mother’s mail. There was a letter that asked for my mother to sign her parental rights away for her three children. My father was a jealous type and did not want to share in her affections, so he forged her signature on the papers and sent them into the courts.
My mother never knew, but my father’s mother did.
My grandmother watched as he did it. Later on, she told me that this happened. My grandmother thought it was for the betterment of my mother, that she deserved this for getting involved with her son.
Because, my father did this, social services stopped contacting my mother. My mom would try to contact them to see the children, but wasn’t allowed to. She did not understand why and no one ever explained it to her.
As time went on, the families that took the children wanted to adopt them. My mother was out of state. She was trying to get a stable job in the casinos in Las Vegas, so that she could get her children back. She was also out in Vegas, trying to help her younger brother get out of debt and trouble.
She left a forwarding number for social services to contact her, but she did not expect the type of phone call that occurred. Social services called her to tell her that the children were up for adoption, that the courts wanted to finalize everything. She had no clue how this could happen. My father said nothing, of course. Neither did my grandmother.
She and the rest of the group that went out of state, tried to drive back in time for the court date. Sadly, the car broke down and she was delayed. When she got back to Wisconsin, it was already too late. She missed it. She cried many nights, she would dream about her babies and want to so desperately be there for them. She loved them so much.
However, she was given a second chance when she found out she was pregnant with me. She thought God was blessing her again. She was in a happy marriage, had friends around and was super excited.
However, once my father found out, he changed. He began to hit her and refused to help her out with the whole pregnancy. She was expected to walk 8 miles, no matter the weather, to get groceries. She had to still work two jobs, while in her final term. While my father did nothing but leach off her and take all the money.
Once I was born, he became severely violent. He would throw her down stairs. Calling her names and leaving massive bruises on her arms and legs. He would force her to sleep with other men. Who also beat her, one of them actually punched out four of her teeth.
Finally, after all of this, one night as I was standing in the doorway (all of 4 years old), she bunched up her left hand and upper cutter him in the jaw. He whimpered and left with a broken jaw and a hurt ego. He no longer had any power over her. Even at four years old, I was proud of her. I knew a lot of what was going on, I would witness some of it and other times I could hear. Do not be fooled parents, kids can hear everything.
Well, she got a divorce from him and a restraining order. And he seemed to follow the rules. At least from a distance. He would call and threaten to kidnap me all the time. My mom would get incredibly scared and would stay with me even while I was in classes at school. Eventually, my father got remarried and left my mom alone. The only time he came around was when he needed money or wanted to take me for lunch and show me off to his friends.
Then my mom met Bob, my stepdad. He was a playful and happy man. He would take her out on dates and just treated her with so much respect. His mother really liked her and me. I remember her calling my mom her daughter and me her grandchild. There were family dinners and so many happy memories. My mom was happy and for the first time in her life safe. Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of money and my mom didn’t have a glamorous job, but it was a happy little life we had.
My mom started showing the symptoms of bi-polar when I hit 2nd grade. I remember her slapping me and being seething angry one moment and apologizing the next. She would have bouts of depression so bad, that she couldn’t get up in the morning. She also got horrendous headaches and would vomit. I started skipping school to take care of her during these times.
Little was known about the disorder or why she was having the headaches, she was diagnosed with migraines.
In 1990, my mom was going to the doctors a lot. Various ones. I did not really know what was going on. Later, I found out she was getting X-rays and what have you.
That same year, My stepfather proposed to her. They were to get married in October of that year. Also, she got her GED finally and an associate in food preparation. She was so proud and everyone who knew her was proud of her.
Everything was coming together for her. Things couldn’t have been better. Sadly, it was all for naught and she died on July 5th 1990 unexpectedly.
She was a wonderful woman, caring and loving. Sure she had her bad days, it wasn’t her fault that she was an untreated bi-polar person.
Her life wasn’t easy, but she showed strength and a will to survive. She passed those qualities on to me and I live with knowing that I come from a woman that over came so many obstacles. I loved her so much and will always love her.