by K.M. Perry
They divorced and I packed my books, piano music, and journals to move away from the house with the chair by the kitchen window and my secret mountain. I gave my homeless friends the rest of my money and my large, well-organized bundle of bus transfer slips before hugging each of them good-bye.
I walked across the street, turned around, and said, “Stay strong!” just before getting on the departing bus.
When he remarried there were no more threats to have my arms or legs broken and I no longer worried I would be locked in my room at night. The New Wife guarded my boundaries and protected me in the same way my older brother had years earlier. The scabs and bruises on my arms healed and she took me shopping for short-sleeve shirts. I never asked anything of her but she always knew what I needed and it was always better than what I would have asked for myself. Whenever I had a dress-up event to attend, she always handed me her silver fox jacket and pearl necklace to borrow. I never felt I deserved to wear anything so expensive, but the look on her face as I wore it made me feel nothing less would have been right.
The New Wife had been adopted as an infant and she told me the story of the gold Star of David she always wore around her neck. As an adult she searched for her biological parents and found out they had been a young teenage couple who were both Jewish. She gave me books about the Holocaust and we spent hours talking about the Righteous Among the Nations and what we would do if we were in a similar circumstance.
Everything I did and dreamed to do she told me was good and wonderful. Every day she hugged me and told me I was loved until one day I believed it. At seventeen, I now had a Mom.
When I was married at eighteen, my Mom bought my wedding dress, hosted my bridal shower, and helped me in the dressing room before the wedding. She graciously ran interference as the peacekeeper to keep me safe from others who wanted to bully themselves into this chapter of my life.
Before my Mom adopted me, she raised five other children and lived in Nome, Alaska. I loved everything about my Mom and as a voracious reader, I spent the next twenty years reading every Alaskana book I could get my hands on.
I moved to Norway and back again, raised three sons, became a homeschool activist, Boy Scout leader, Girls on the Run coach, and renovated a Victorian house. I started a non-profit rescue mission for domestic violence survivors and gave motivational speeches to create a surreptitious income to buy plane tickets to move women to shelters far away from their abusers. My Mom helped me secretly purchase $50 savings bonds every week for twelve years, before I was finally able to rescue myself and move to Alaska.
Over the years, my non-profit work became more than simply buying plane tickets to relocate women and grew into rescuing women and children from situations around the world many people turn away from. On one of my trips I stopped off in Paris for a week. I walked the streets of Paris to honor my Huguenot ancestors who had escaped to Switzerland in the face of religious persecution. I took a train to Rouen to see where my childhood heroine, Joan of Arc had been burned at the stake. As I serenely sat beside an ancient fountain while enjoying a hot Nutella crepe I thought how wrong it was on so many levels my Mom never got to see Paris and I did.
Almost thirty years after my Mom adopted me, I lived in Israel for three months. As I walked through Jerusalem every day, I frequently thought of my Mom’s love of her Jewish heritage. I kissed the Western Wall every Shabbat for my Mom before I slowly backed away.
Our lives intertwined in more ways than my Mom ever knew. Over the years I serendipitously adopted four daughters one by one. A deep part of me didn’t want anyone else to wait seventeen years like I had to know a mother’s love. Two of my daughters came into my life just shy of their seventeenth birthday, one was eleven and one was fourteen. My Mom’s adoption story continues to live on through my family legacy.
In the ten years since my Mom’s passing, I’ve accomplished so much more than I could ever have imagined for myself. All is good and wonderful and I know my Mom is proud of me.
K.M. Perry is currently living the adventurous life in Alaska as a photographer and creative writer, while working on international justice issues for a non-profit humanitarian aid agency as a Justice Pastor. She also works locally as a domestic violence and homeless advocate, enjoys playing hockey, hiking and camping, traveling, painting, and playing ukulele.