"Carrie" my father began innocently enough, "I need your help."
I admit I was excited. I was ten years old and my father was asking - no imploring - me to help him with some important and secret mission. Maybe I was a warrior princess - responsible for the rescue of earth from the evil intentions of the Alien fleet headed our way!
"As you know, your mom and I have been battling each other in court for custody of you kids"
I nodded my head.
"I am going to lose, unless you tell the truth"
"The truth?" I asked. I wanted to help of course. I wanted to tell the truth, but I was also alarmed. What would I have to do to help my dad win? And if he won would they all stop fighting?
"Yes. That's it. All I need you to do is tell the truth to my lawyer"
I immediately got nervous. Talk to a stranger? To a lawyer? I was a shy kid, an awkward and quiet child and authority figures terrified me. What if I disappointed them somehow? I hesitated and he could see it on my face. He pulled out the big guns - my Achilles heal if you will.
"Carrie. If I don't win then you and your brothers will have to go live with your mom and your step dad, Murray. Do you want to put your brothers in danger?"
The way my dad spat the name Murray off his tongue as though the very taste of it was revolting made me cringe. My dad hated my step father, almost as much as he hated my mother. And I can't say he didn't have good reason to. My step dad had proven that he was a little unstable. The truth of it was I feared Murray - at least a bit. He had a short fuse that sometimes made the house so still I thought I'd be frozen forever - breath trapped within my chest - every limb quivering from the strain of staying so perfectly rigid. Of course my father had a short fuse too, so I was confused. I didn't know who was right in this whole mess.
"I don't know..." I hesitated again, my mind a swirl. The last thing I wanted to do was to make my dad disappointed in me. He shook his head slowly - sadness etched across his face.
"Carrie" he pleaded again, "think of your brothers".
There was a lot more words - my father has this talent for lecturing that allowed no chance for escape. He begged, cajoled and manipulated, but he'd already won. In my mind I had to protect my siblings. From the time I was a little girl I'd taken care of them. Friends and family alike had nicknamed me "Little Mama". And so it was no surprise that I agreed. In my ten year old mind I was doing the righteous thing. I was going to save my two baby brothers. I may not be a princess taking on an evil alien army, but nevertheless, I was going to be a hero.
Perhaps my father will contest my memory of this conversation, but it was traumatic for me. I remember feeling that if I didn't help my dad - didn't write an affidavit against my mother - that my brothers would be in grave danger. So I went with my dad to the lawyers, I spoke with a "psychiatrist" who took notes. I was oblivious to the position I had been put in, and I was completely oblivious to the effect it would have on my relationship with my mother...
When the affidavit had being typed up I was called into the lawyers office - alone - and asked to sign the document. Before I could put pen to paper the lawyer looked me in the eye and said, "Carrie. Is everything you said truthful?"
"I just want you to be aware that if any of this turns out to be false - do you know what false means?"
I nodded again.
"If any of this turns out to be false then you can be sent to jail"
I immediately panicked. I can go to jail? What if something I said was wrong? What if it was a lie and I didn't know it? What if they think its a lie when its not? I felt close to tears but shook my head.
"It's not a lie" I whispered. My dad's lawyer smiled reassuringly and I signed the document.
I told my father what the lawyer had said - about lies and jail - and I began to sob. My father was livid with his lawyer, but the last ditch attempt to win worked out - so anger was soon forgotten. My mother lost custody...
Before the verdict had been rendered, however, my mom received the affidavit through her lawyer. She was cutting chicken in the kitchen when she mentioned it to me.
"Carrie" my mother voice wavered and nearly broke - its what caught my attention and held me in place, "I got the affidavit you wrote, today."
"Oh" I choked out. I couldn't look her in the eye. I was ashamed. She stared down at the chicken. Her butcher knife cutting through bone as she sliced the usable pieces for dinner. She brought the knife down, over and over; crack, crack, crack. I trembled a little.
"Its okay. I'm not mad" I looked up then, surprised.
"Your not?" tears filled my eyes.
"No baby, I'm not"
That was all that was said. We never spoke of it again for many years.
It has remained a source of discomfort in our relationship though - mostly on my part. The guilt I hold for not only tearing apart my mothers world, but also my brothers, will haunt me until the day I die.
But in that moment - I got to see her as my mother - not as the woman my father despised. She revealed herself - revealed her love for me in that simple grace. She wasn't mad. She didn't hate me. Only later I would learn how far my mother went to protect me. Her own lawyer wanted to put me on the stand, wanted to tear my testimony apart, wanted to make me look like a liar.
My mother refused. Win or lose she wasn't going to do that to her daughter.
I wish there were words to thank her for that.
Instead I will only say, I love you mom so very much; and I know what you gave up for me. You gave up the biggest pieces of yourself - your kids - in order to salvage whatever was left inside of me.
So thank you and please know, if I could take it back - I would.
Happy Mother's Day.