That’s what I told nosey old Penny Parker, anyway–mostly because she always acted like she was better than me, but also because the truth was much worse. I’m sure she would’ve loved to hear how my real mother didn’t love me, how she’d thrown me away like an old bag of clothes, but I refused to give her the satisfaction. Penny would say, “She actually dumped you like garbage? Wow, glad I’m not you.”
Heck, I wished I wasn’t me, but Penny didn’t need to know that either. No one did. So to make myself feel better, I made up the story about my mother being murdered—anything sounded better than rejection—and she bought it.
Unfortunately, Penny Parker had a big mouth.
“Why on earth would you tell Mrs. Parker’s daughter that your birthmother was murdered?” my mother asked the very next morning. Although she’d waited until she’d sung me Happy Birthday and lit the candle on my birthday muffin, her question turned my wish into one for Penny Big Mouth’s murder.
“Good Lord, So-So,” she said, using the moniker I’d been given years earlier by a relative who’d curiously decided ‘Sophie’ was too difficult to say, yet hadn’t considered its possible long-term affects on my self-esteem. “Making up a story about your birthmother being murdered? That’s just wrong. Reminds me of the nonsense folks made up back in the fifties. Girls suddenly sent off to live with relatives, parents hoping no one would be the wiser when their daughter reappeared nine months later, everyone acting like nothing happened. You know my dear friend Linda? She reached adulthood before her parents even told her she’d been adopted.”
Sixteen years old and my birthday celebration reduced to a lecture and a muffin.
“Things have changed in the last twenty years, So-So. Putting babies up for adoption is an act of love. If you aren’t comfortable telling people the truth then tell them it’s none of their business, but don’t just make up stories. Especially not awful ones.”
A long silence followed, leading me to believe she might’ve finally exhausted her subject matter.
“Do you suppose she ever thinks of me?” I asked.
“Does who ever think of you, dear?” She tilted her head to view me above the eyeglasses perched upon her nose and which had come precariously close to falling into her sink of sudsy water. “And stop playing with your food. You’re making a mess all over my floor.”
“My birthmother.” I swept the remaining muffin crumbs off the table and onto the floor when she looked the other way.
“No matter how many times you ask, my answer isn’t going to change. I don’t know.”
“Come on. Isn’t it normal for me to wonder about something like this–especially on my birthday?”
“Yes, of course it is. It just seems that you’ve been asking for as long as I can remember–and not just on birthdays, either.” She tossed the towel she’d been using to dry the dishes on the counter and faced me. “I don’t want to seem heartless, but I can’t change the facts. I don’t know the answer.” She removed her glasses and held them up to the light. Once satisfied her view was unimpeded–acknowledged with an imperceptible nod of her head–she put them back on. “Enough now. Go get ready for work. Seeing as this was the only job you could get, you better not start off being late.”
Lie number two I’d told in as many days. The nursing home wasn’t the only place I could get a job. It was the only place I’d applied. Assuming the residents were unloved toss-aways like me, I figured we’d have something in common. This idea—spawned by the anniversary of my birthmother’s choice—made near perfect sense, but my mother didn’t need to know as much, seeing as she’d just busted me for one lie.
Instead, I left the lie intact and dressed for work. The required shapeless polyester uniform, paired with the white rubber-soled shoes, looked ridiculous and only added to my already-sour mood.
Happy birthday to me.