How I Met My Mother

Delta Winds cover 2015Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


How I Met My Mother

Tenille Packer

"You must be Tenille. You look just like me." Those were the first words I heard when I stepped off the airplane in Columbus, Ohio, on a warm summer day in July. I was fifteen years old, and a lively teenager who had felt abandoned her whole life. I had entered the terminal and scanned the immediate area, not exactly sure whom I was looking for, when I heard her voice. It was the woman who gave birth to me-not my mother. I didn't really have one of those. I hesitantly gave her a smile. "Yup, that's me." This is how my relationship with a complete stranger began.

Her name is Allison Morant. She left me, my older brother, and my older sister for my grandparents to raise when I was just six weeks old. Actually, my grandma found me in a dresser drawer, and a highway patrol officer brought my brother and sister home from playing out by the highway when my dad was at work and my mom was who knows where. She left soon after that incident, and that's about all I could remember of her until that nerve-wracking day at the airport when I was fifteen. The only memory I had of her before then was when I was about four years old. She told me that she used to come to visit us until I was five. I thought she had come to visit when she was pregnant. And when I tried to sit on her lap, she pushed me off and said her belly was too big for me to fit on her lap. I don't really remember her from the waist up. But I had always thought this was a true recollection. When I asked her about it, though, she said that she never came to visit me when she was pregnant. I guess I subconsciously fabricated my only childhood memory of her.

When I went at age fifteen to visit Allison that summer, I ended up staying with her for a year. That year was quite eventful. She was a raging alcoholic who was almost never home. My nine-year-old stepsister was basically trying to raise herself. Allison would come home briefly, either drunk or hung-over, so she would give me the keys to her car and tell me to drive my little stepsister to her elementary school. I didn't have a driver's license or even a permit. I was happy to do it, though, because I was a teenager with freedom, and at first I cherished the adult role I was prematurely being handed-until I realized the gravity of the situation I had fallen into.

Allison soon told me about the many poor decisions she had made throughout her life. Turning to prostitution in order to support her drug habit was one of them. She told me that she needed money and became creative in ways to make more of it, by robbing her "johns." In San Francisco she specialized in robbing wealthy Japanese businessmen. She would take them into a hotel room and pretend to put the "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door, but would block the handle latch so it would stay unlocked for her partner to come in and rob the client while my mom would be in the bathroom with him. After Allison was finished with her client, she would quickly leave the hotel room and meet with her partner in crime to count their take and celebrate. I am not sure why she ever wanted to tell me these things, let alone right after I had just met her. I guess she wanted me to get to know what adventures I had missed out on in her life. I am glad I missed those particular adventures.

Even though we went through some traumatic experiences, Allison and I had some good times together as well. When I turned sixteen, she took me with her to a travel agency to book a trip to Chicago for the "Taste of Chicago Fourth of July Festival." That was the first time I had been to a travel agency, which later fueled a career interest for me, and also the first time I had been on a vacation. It was a blast! As mother and daughter, we needed that experience together. Everyone thought we were sisters. We had a spectacular view from our hotel; we went on a dinner cruise on Lake Michigan. It was the best memory I have of Allison. That trip changed my life. I found a new passion for traveling, and a few years later I went to a travel academy and became a travel agent. Because of Allison, my passion for traveling the world grew, and I have now been to seventeen countries so far, including Nicaragua for a year and Costa Rica and Panama, all of which were wonderful educational experiences for me.

Unfortunately, the positive experiences with Allison then were few and far between, and I spent only that one year living with her. I left Ohio very angry with Allison. I flew back to California to live with my grandma and siblings again. At Christmas, Allison came to California and got so drunk that she told me she had wanted to abort me but my dad wouldn't let her. That night, she was so obnoxious and abusive in her drunken rage that she tried to kick my pregnant older sister in the stomach. After that, I stayed away from her as much as possible until I could leave. I stayed with friends whenever I could. Once, after I was gone for about ten days straight, I came home and all she said was "There you are. I was about to put your face on a milk carton." I couldn't believe that was all she had to say.

Until I became a mother of two little boys, I could not fathom how Allison could do the things that she did. When I was going through my divorce, I had a moment of weakness when I thought that maybe I should leave my kids with their dad, that maybe they were better off without me. That is when I finally understood why Allison left me. It is extremely difficult to be a single parent, or a married one, for that matter. I am similar to Allison in the way that we are both the life of the party when we go out, and we are pretty funny and can make friends very easily. When I realized that she left us kids to go out and party and live a life free of responsibility, I actually felt empathy instead of anger towards her. I have had those exact longings. There are many times when I have said life would be so much easier if I didn't have kids. But the difference is that I would never do what she did. No party is more important than giving my children a good life and a good upbringing. Allison left us for an outrageous life of drugs, alcohol, and prostitution. She was so wrapped up in her own destructive habits that she wouldn't even notice if one of her children were gone. That I could never do to my kids.

When I was back in California living with my grandma, I got a letter from Allison saying that she had gone to rehab, and she apologized for all the hurt she had caused me. I felt like it was a robotic, rehearsed exercise, and I ended up throwing the letter away. I tried to avoid contact with her for a few years, until I got married and was in an abusive relationship, and I knew I needed to leave the unhealthy situation. Of all people, Allison ended up being my shoulder to cry on when push came to shove in my marriage. She told me about her past experience with abusive men and how it never got better, it only got worse, and that I needed to do what was best for my family. She told me that since I had been through so much adversity in my childhood, I deserved to have a happy adulthood. She said that my children deserved a happy childhood as well. Those words convinced me that she was right, and I have taken her advice and have been happier than ever because of her.

I am thankful to report that Allison is happier than ever before, too. She has been clean and sober for a few years now, and we have built a bond that I cherish. She is raising three of my sister's kids, and I tease her, saying she is finally "paying her dues." When I go back to Ohio to see her, my favorite time to visit is during fall foliage. She drives me around the back roads and laughs while I cry at how beautiful the trees and covered bridges are. At her home we watch Jeopardy together, and she is always impressed with how much random information I know. It is a serious battle of wits. She is very intelligent for someone who never received a college education. Since we both sew, we do crafts together. Through these and other shared experiences, I've discovered many connections with her. It is amazing how our senses of humor are exactly alike, and we even have similar mannerisms, even though I did not grow up around her. We are both extroverts and have a passion for sticking up for the underdog. I have seen her literally give the shirt off her back to a friend in need, and she will always give the benefit of the doubt to those who have done wrong in their lives. Perhaps because of her own many false steps, she will always give someone a second chance, and I, too, believe that everyone deserves a second chance-including her. My kids have yet to meet her. I can't wait until the day they can finally get to know their grandma, now that she is someone worth knowing.

Our relationship is not perfect, but at least I am able to call her and talk to her about things that only she can understand. There is nothing that I have been through that she hasn't been through. Allison is a new and improved version of herself since she has been sober. I commend her for letting go of her old habits and making better decisions in her life. I may not have grown up with a mother, but it is comforting to say that I have one now.