The day my Mother died changed my life. Not only because I was losing the woman who gave me life, nursed me at her breast, bandaged my childhood scrapes, calmly explained the blood in my panties at eleven years old, cried when I went away to boarding school, carefully pinned my cap on my head at graduation, and became my refuge from the trials of adulthood, but because when she died I inherited her secrets.
I spent my teenage years resenting my father. I watched him have affair after affair with woman after woman and after awhile it got old... I walked in on Father with our housekeeper when I was twelve and never looked him in the eyes again. Sex was something that I heard about at school, something that I knew was necessary for my parents to have my sister and I, and something that I hadn’t imagined that my father would do with anyone other than my Mother-- if even with her! I stood in the doorway and watched my father with the plump Mexican lady, it took a moment for it to register, and by that time it was too late. We met eyes, I ran out, and he didn’t bother to come after me.
“What’s wrong honey?” Mama asked, catching me by the arms as I barreled out onto the front porch with giant tears streaming from my eyes. “What in the world has made you cry?” she asked, searching my heartbroken face for answers.
“Nothing,” I insisted, pulling away. I couldn’t tell her what I saw, it would break her heart. I couldn’t tell her that my own father was making babies with the hired help. I couldn’t even tell her that I knew what sex was in the first place. “I just don’t want to go back to school next week. I’ll miss you and,” I lied, my voice cracked as I spit his name out, “And Daddy.” I couldn’t believe how easily the lie had popped into my mind and out of my mouth.
“Oh is that all? Addy, you have one semester left before summer. It will fly by!” Mama said.
Her voice assured me, even in the midst of such a trial, that everything would be okay. She always had a way of making big problems seem like tiny nothings. If I had really been upset about the upcoming semester, that reassurance would have done the trick!
“You’re right,” I agreed, smiling up at her and nearly forgetting my troubles. I knew I had done the right thing in keeping his secret, but what I didn’t know was that it was the first of many lies I would tell about my father’s countless infidelities. That day was the beginning of a cycle that would continue until her death.
“Two of my three favorite ladies...” Father said, appearing on the porch and wrapping his arms around Mama’s waist.
I cringed at the sight of them together, and couldn’t help but think that I saw her cringe too. How could he effortlessly embrace a woman who he had just betrayed? Did the fact that he was making love with Maria mean that he didn’t love Mama anymore? How could you love one woman and be with another? None of it made sense to me.
Father rested his head on Mama‘s and said, “Maria says everything is ready for the New Year’s Eve Bash tonight! We’re going to make the front page with this one, darling.”
I watched my parents and wondered if they really loved each other. Did Mama love him? Was it possible that he loved her? Despite what he did in his study, he seemed to love her. I decided at that moment that what she didn't know wouldn’t hurt her, and vowed inwardly that it would be my job to protect her feelings. I had a secret mission. Mama didn’t need to know that she had married a scum bag and had hired a hussy-- she didn’t deserve that kind of pain. She was the most wonderful woman I knew.