The 20 seconds it took my mother to say, “no, thank you” to the nun, turn toward me but not look at me, and take her first step towards the door felt like an eternity. It so clearly illustrated our relationship up that point in time. My mother has blue eyes that are difficult to see because she is so short. She does not look up to anyone. When I was 12-years old everyone in the house, step-dad, two younger sisters and a younger brother, forgot my mother’s birthday. That is hurtful. As someone wrote, and I recently read, celebrating birthdays are very important because that tells the person you are happy they were born and that they are in your life. I understood that once my son was born. I call him each year to thank him for being born and being a part of my life. I celebrate his life. Well, the 12 year old that I was did not understand that. My mother did not speak one word for exactly seven days. She spoke to no one in the house, not even to discipline us and when she passed by me she did not look through me. I was not transparent; I was non-existent. This is what I experienced in those few seconds.
The memory of that week of non-existence, the quiet of a household typically filled with noises of all kinds was unnerving and a lot scary. When, as a 15-year old pregnant girl, I was faced, again by that sense on absence it was as if I had been removed by a vacuum in the universe, and was slipping into a deep, dark, black hole. Even though I was prepared for it, it hit me like a flash Flood hits the desert floor. I thought that at the very least I would merit a dirty look, a sneer, sharp words, something to indicate her displeasure of my present condition. I did not even hope for compassion or kindness. True to form, my mother pulled herself up to her full five feet two inches looked right at the nun and said, “no thank you.” I can only imagine the shiver that traveled down the spine of that nun because I know it happened. She was no match for those deceptively soft blue eyes. To this day people with blue eyes frighten me just a little because I have seen those soft sky blue eyes transform in nanoseconds to hard blue ice that cuts through anything that lies within their gaze and erases anything they do not wish to see. On that day, at that time, the nun was the former and I was the latter.
When those 20 seconds passed and my mother had made it to the door, her husband close behind her, after a quick pat and a good bye that was tinged with relief, I looked to the nun to confirm my existence. It was all too possible that I had become a mirage of some kind. One minute there stood a long, lanky, scared and pregnant 15-year old and the next moment; she was gone. The nun did see me but not until I had seen her. Her face was not inscrutable, it was so busy processing a response that I could not quite pinpoint what could have been a look of pity or maybe disdain, or maybe both mixed in with a bit of resentment, for my mother's gaze might not be strong enough to disappear a nun, but a nun could stand witness to a parent erasing her child. Maybe she had seen the like with hundreds of girls before me, but the ever-changing expressions on her face told me that she was probably new to this line of service. So, feeling a little like Casper, but not so friendly a ghost, I followed the nun when she nodded toward the door and we stepped into the lives of 90 other women and children who had been erased by their families, if not by themselves.