In June of 2007, I wrote an article about Georgia Manguso, a woman I babysat for when I was a teenager. Georgia was an amazing woman and mother who emanated a certain light and kindness that was missing in my own life. I loved her. I was stunned when she committed suicide after a long battle with her ex-husband over support and custody of their six children. It made no sense to me. Georgia's love for her children was huge and palpable. When all six of them piled on the couch with her, talking all at once and vying for the closest position, Georgia was in her element -- bemused and calm, smiling gently, stroking heads and rubbing backs as if she had all the time in the world -- as if she wasn't exhausted working two jobs, and there wasn't a looming fear that her ex-husband would make good on his threats.
I wrote the article about Georgia because my memories of her and the children she left behind are both vivid and gut-wrenching. I think her death was tragic and highly preventable. She did not get the help or support she needed, and I can find no good excuse for that. People often wear blinders. They don't want to be inconvenienced by someone else's pain or turmoil. I believe Georgia died from a lack of compassion and support.
I never stopped wondering what happened to Georgia's children. I looked for them shortly after her death, but couldn't find them or anyone who knew where they had gone. Then, in 2009, because the article I wrote was on Google, I received a letter from Georgia's eldest son, George. Very shortly afterward, I heard from the youngest, Christa. Hearing from them shifted something in me -- it was like a weight I didn't know I was carrying was suddenly lifted. Finally, last week, I received a call from Georgia's fourth son, Todd. It was emotional and touched with pain, but also redemptive. Georgia's kids did not have the kind of childhoods she would have wanted for them, yet each of them seem to have made it through with the same kind of determined, scrappy, loving spirit their mother once had.
Yesterday, I received an email from Christa that I count as one of the most amazing things that I've ever experienced -- as a writer and as a human being. "Slowly but surely," she wrote, "us kids are contacting each other more often and are making an effort to be in each other's lives. I don't know why but I think the closure that we all wanted so dearly popped up on the internet and huge weight lifted from us all. I have attached something I wrote in your honor..."
I have never received anything that has left me feeling so tenderly humbled, or that made me feel like there may really be a higher purpose to the weights we carry in our hearts -- one that eclipses just a random chain of events. This is an excerpt of the story Christa wrote for me, unedited:
. . ."One last time, Christa. Look one last time, type in her name and see what comes up". So I did. I googled her name, Georgia Manguso. . .
I can't begin to define my emotions as I saw the results, 'Jane Devin - Georgia Manguso' as my hands trembled I mustered enough courage to click on the link. Scared maybe, cautiously optimistic, and confused were just a few emotions that crept through me. But, if I truly had to define one single solitary feeling, I'd say hope. I was hopeful there would be some miracle of an explanation of my mother. It is crazy to think that something on the internet can possess such great hope. I want and have wanted so badly to remember her touch, remember her face in something other than a photo, a smell, a laugh, a characteristic. What kind of feet did she have? Does she have Fred Flintstone like me? Her hands, do we have similar hands? Her walk? Her touch, was it soft? Did this link possess answers to thirty four years of those thoughts, did it. . .
As I read Jane's story of her summer babysitting for my mother who often times worked two jobs to support my brothers and me, I was simply beside myself. My emotions were raw and my heart beat so fast I thought I may pass out. BOOM, BOOM my heart beat. As I read each line with a renewed sense of hope that my mother was happy, that she loved, hoped, dreamed and wanted a future with us. That her time in the end was that of joy that she cherished us kids and worked hard to provide a life for us and herself that she could be proud of. That she had hope. I had to know more, could Jane have the answers I needed to let the past be the past? I made the decision that I needed to find Jane. . . When a person embarks on such an important journey it is important that you first check your expectations at the counter and proceed with caution. I couldn't help but hope as I decided to make contact. I decided email was best. I was blind as I typed a message to Jane asking her the simplest of all questions, "Were you really my babysitter?". I can't remember hitting the send button, I can remember however hoping that one day I would open my email and there would be a reply.
It's weird to think how one can hope for the little things in life and feel such disappointment when those little things don't happen. It is at times the little things that one can get lost it in, it is the big things that seem so insurmountable that mean so much that we often push aside for fear of the unknown and maybe for fear of the pain the knowledge can cause. I am not afraid of what might be, simply because what already has been. As I went to bed that night I was full of hope, short on expectations and trying in vain to let the past be the past.
I laid in bed thinking about the story that was written about my mom. I cried. I cried because I miss her, I cried for the pain she must have felt and I cried because no matter how much I prayed, I could never go back for the memories that were lost on the child I was back then. I cried for my brothers for their pain for their lost memories for the stories they were told. I just simply cried. For the first time in my life I could feel the pain of my mother's death and I felt like a lost child in a strange place looking for a familiar face. I found none, my pain was new and unspeakable.
Her pain as she said goodbye for the final time to her children, I can't imagine. I just simply can't do it. I bet she cried as she drove barely able to see through her tears as her hands gripped the wheel. I bet she didn't want to die, not really, she wanted peace. She wanted hope for a future that to her seemed out of reach. She wanted to live a life she thought undeserving of, she wanted her children to be happy. It was hope she wanted for her children. . .
As I became familiar with my grief I found solace in thoughts of my own children. Was I imprinting them with memories of me that they could pass on to their children? Would they remember my feet or hands? Had we ever compared? It was then when I was lost in these selfish thoughts that I received a reply from Jane. Hope. "Yes, I really was you and your brother's babysitter. I am so glad you wrote me! I have spent years wondering about all of you", Jane wrote in her response. Wow! I began to cry as I read the remainder of the email. . .
"Your mother adored you and your brothers. You were a particular delight to her, being the only girl. She was having a rough time -- she had a lot of fears -- but she was not a typically depressed person. She loved to laugh, she loved to make people happy. She was often tired from working two jobs, but I never saw her act cranky. She was exceedingly grateful for the love of her children and her friends, and she was always very demonstrative. She was big on hugs."
Hope. I wrote Jane back and told her about all of my brothers and me. We all have families, we all have or I believe we all have some misgivings or resentment over what happened to our mom. We aren't close. It is sad when I think about my brothers, we should be close. Somehow the truth about our mother has torn us apart. Maybe it is because the younger children don't remember much and want to ask questions. Maybe it is the way we were raised, the fear that was given to us for asking about our mom, the stories we were told, the negative was always prevalent. . .The death of our mother happened to all of us, it has affected all of us in ways no one can understand. We live on, yet in the end it is there. I cried as I wrote Jane back. She wrote me again giving me her number to call....... Hope.
I thought all day about calling Jane. I kept myself busy, I think at one point we all do little things to keep us from something we fear. I wasn't particular fearful of calling Jane, I was fearful she couldn't possibly have enough stories about my mom. As I grabbed my phone I decided to put everything aside for a few moments and call. The phone rang several times and I thought to myself, "Great. I am going to have to leave a message and again hope for a return call" and then, "Hello?". My heart was beating. I began to sweat as I asked to speak with Jane. I already knew it was her who had answered and she knew it was me calling. Have you ever met someone for the first time or heard a voice on the other end of a phone that in an instant you are meant to know each other? Not so much a sole mate but a person who in an instant becomes family. God's plan. That is how I felt as Jane and I began our conversation it was easy, meant to be and simply just there..... Her voice was pleasant, I felt as though she was my mother, I really did. That is how I imagined my mother's voice, I can't say why, but it was like coming home. Thank you, Jane, I have finally come home. . .
Georgia, these are your children. They are beautiful, they are kind, and filled with love and empathy. You would be so proud of them.
There's just nothing else to say.