I had only been at grandma’s for a few minutes when Mom stormed in and demanded that I leave with her. I thought she was letting me go home, so I followed her outside. As we approached our trailer, she turned to me and said,
“I’m going to find Ronnie. Since you wouldn’t stop him from leaving, you’re going with me. We will walk all over this town until we find him if we have to.”
She grabbed my hand and we took off down the driveway. I was still in my nightgown and I didn’t have a coat on. I was cold and tired, but she wouldn’t turn around despite my protests. We walked down the hill toward the bars; she didn’t think he’d go back to The Buffalo Tavern, so we stopped at Kenny’s, the other bar in town. We didn’t see his truck, but she wanted to go inside to ask if anyone had seen him. As we stepped into the smoky bar, I felt such shame, standing there in my nightgown and sneakers. I kept my head down as she talked to Kenny, the owner. Kenny hadn’t seen Ronnie, so we took off again.
At this point, there was nowhere else to look except for the lake. About a mile and half from our house was Osage Point Park, an overgrown former state park on Keystone Lake that had been abandoned in the 1980s due to budget cuts. We camped there a few times in the summer, and Mom thought Ronnie might have parked his truck there to sleep for the night.
We walked in silence. I kept hoping she’d change her mind and we could go back home. I could sense her resolve in every step, though. She determined to finish whatever this was that she’d started. Finally, we reached Osage Point, and as we rounded the curve in the road leading to the campground, I spotted the blue Ford F-150.
We walked up to the truck and Mom jerked open the driver’s side door, where Ronnie’s head was resting on the window. He awoke, startled, but he looked unsurprised. I think he expected her to come after him. He immediately began cursing her and he looked at me, shivering in my nightgown. He called her a bad mother for traipsing me all over town in my pajamas. He told me to get in the truck to warm up. I climbed in and closed the door, thankful to be shielded from the night air. I was glad to be away from them, too, if only superficially.
I watched them yell and claw at each other for a while before I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I was so tired, and I just wanted it to be over. I prayed, God, get me out of here. Please make this go away.
Just as I started to drift, Mom opened the door and told me to move over. Since Ronnie’s truck was a single cab, there was just a bench seat for the three of us to share. His welding bucket was at the far end of the passenger seat, so I moved on top of it as Mom moved into the middle and Ronnie climbed behind the wheel. He pushed in the clutch, shifted into first gear, and we headed home.
As we drove back, Mom kept at him. I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t leave him alone. Now, as a woman, I understand it more. I have felt that insatiable desire to drive someone to the breaking point, the sick satisfaction that comes from pushing all the right buttons just to get a response. I know now that she got off on the drama – it was as addictive as any drug for her.
Ronnie drove on in silence. His quiet resolve fueled her anger, so she slammed her left foot down on the brake, and I flew into the windshield. I hit my head, but we had only been going about 25 miles an hour, so it wasn’t too bad. I just wanted to get home so I didn’t make a big deal about it.
She let up her foot and we continued on. Finally, we pulled into the driveway. I climbed out immediately, not saying a word, and went straight to my room. I climbed over my sister into my bed and I went to sleep immediately.
When I woke the next morning, Mom was gone to work. She worked the Saturday lunch shift at a restaurant in Cleveland, a small city about four miles from Osage. I dressed and walked over to Grandma’s, who told me Dad had called. I called him back and confirmed the time of his arrival. I wasn’t sure whether Mom even remembered kicking me out the night before, but I didn’t care. I was leaving and never coming back.
I walked back to my house and I started packing my things. I looked at my sister, who was watching me pack, and I told her to start packing. I wasn’t going to let her stay without me. Ronnie emerged from their room, hungover but lucid, and saw what I was doing. He said he thought it was probably a good idea for us to go, to get away from our unstable mom. Truthfully, I think he just wanted to be rid of us. Dad arrived a little over an hour later. We loaded our bags, said goodbye to Grandma, and we left Osage. Mom didn’t even know we were gone until she got home from work that afternoon. She tried calling, but I wouldn’t talk to her. I still wouldn’t talk to her at the court hearing two weeks later, when Dad was granted custody of us, uncontested.
Mom died nearly 10 years later, she was 46 years old. During that time, I went on to graduate at the top of my class at Bartlesville High School. I attended the University of Oklahoma after that, graduating summa cum laude, with highest honors. She didn’t attend either of my graduation ceremonies, though I did invite her.
Mom spent those 10 years in and out of prison. At one time, she was listed among Oklahoma’s Most Wanted. She regularly attempted suicide, and I’d receive letters from her telling me she had no reason to live since I left her.
Since I was really disconnected from her during that time, my youngest sister recently shed light on what my mom’s life was like before she died: She wreaked emotional, financial and mental havoc on my grandparents’ lives through her manic depressive fits, drug addiction, and destructive behavior. She and Ronnie finally married, and then divorced, which made her a little crazy and she tried to burn his house down. She spent most of her life in pain and unhappy.
Ronnie died of lung cancer in 2009, and my grandparents found Mom dead in her home a few months later.
I’m a mom now, and I think about that night in November often. There are things I’ll never understand, and I’ll never be able to ask. When I look at my own daughter, I see so much of myself reflected in her eyes. I wonder if Mom experienced that, too, especially because family and friends often remarked about how we looked so much alike. Perhaps her anger that night was really meant for herself, projections of her subconscious. Perhaps it was just a byproduct of mental illness and drug addiction. Nevertheless, when I see the hurt in my daughter’s eyes if I raise my voice at her I wonder how my Mom could do it. Motherhood is complicated, but that answer doesn’t satisfy.
But, mostly, when I think about that November night now, I think about redemption. Being kicked out of my house was an act of grace in my life that began months earlier when I said “yes” to Jesus. The decision to give my life to Christ was the pivotal moment that enabled me to say “no” on that November night. I couldn’t have done it on my own. Instead, Jesus rescued me from the brokenness of life with my mom and his plan of redemption continues as I mother my children, free of drug raids and drunken rants. I’m not perfect, and I often feel like I’m not a good mom. I can feel her blood coursing through my veins when I yell at my children or fight with my husband. I see her reflection staring back at me in pictures and when I look at the mirror. To this day, I still bear a strong resemblance to my mom – to how I remember her, at least. However, that’s where the likeness ends, because I have grace. Amazing grace.
Epilogue: After mom’s death, my grandparents cleaned out her home and found a new Bible with fresh markings and Christian DVDs and music. Though I don’t know with certainty whether she gave her life to Jesus before her death, I believe she was seeking for peace. I hope she received it.