A Mother’s Lullaby

No matter how hard I try to remember anything bad, my childhood was simply too perfect. I spent hundreds of hours thinking back to the time when I didn’t understand the world – and still, whatever I try to think of, every image and scene that I remember was always perfect.

Sure, my ‘parents’ were weird, but they never hurt me. My dad was overprotective and never even allowed me to play in the kitchen, but I can’t think of any other signs that my child’s mind could have seen. I can’t remember any screams or loud fights or slamming doors; among each other dad and Eliza never had any conflicts.

I hate those memories of the three of us sitting jointly at the dinner table with mom’s freshly cooked food right between us. I remember how ungrateful I was; how I gulped the food down without knowing how much my mother suffered to make it. Sometimes I even complained about the food and then Eliza went back to the kitchen and, a long time later, returned with a completely new meal.

I hate remembering the joy I felt on our camping trips to remote woods. Dad drove the caravan and Eliza sat to him while I slept in the back of the caravan. Even on those trips, while dad drove and I was falling asleep in the back of the caravan, I still had my lullabies. All the food and trips and holidays and TV nights and game nights and stargazing nights, all those were enjoyable, but even when I was small I knew that none of those acts compared to the wonder of a lullaby, hummed from a mother’s heart to the ears of her son.

The lullabies were always there for me right before I sank into the world of dreams. My mother’s lullabies were hummed just for me, no matter whether I slept in my bed at home or on the metal boxes in the caravan. They were always there and I think neither dad nor Eliza could have guessed how much they meant to me.

Of course, they would never have guessed it because dad and Eliza didn’t know about those lullabies.

Dad always told me to call Eliza ‘mom,’ but I never did. Eliza kissed me goodnight, carried steaming pots of food from the kitchen, and lighted my birthday candles. Still I knew that she didn’t deserve to be called mom. I knew, somehow, without ever being told so, that she wasn’t my mother.

Maybe it was the lullabies, this simple act of defiance. There never was a single spoken word, not even a knock. Those lullabies were the only form in which my mother existed for me, yet still I knew that she was my mother and that Eliza wasn’t. Her lullabies were the only gift that she was strong enough to give me, and it was enough to make me understand that she loved me.

For fourteen years I thought I had a happy childhood. For fourteen years I had my mom’s delicious food and my mom’s hand-made socks and my mom’s lullabies at night.

Then, one night, while I was lying between my legions of teddy bears, there simply was no humming. I lay on the bed, quietly, and waited – but there was no lullaby.

I cried long and hard about her betrayal. And in that night, just from the lack of a lullaby, I knew that my childhood would not anymore be a happy one.

The next day Eliza had a large blue and yellow mark on her left cheek. The food she brought from the kitchen was bland and far too soft. At night, instead of my mom’s lullaby, I heard my dad’s angry shouts.

I don’t know what exit plan they had had before Eliza’s mistake, but I don’t have any delusions about it: If they had a plan at all it probably was not too dissimilar from the way things turned out.

Eliza shut the box too hastily, that’s all it took to end my childhood.

In retrospect it all makes sense: Eliza always complained about her inability to have another child and dad always made sure that I knew how hard they had fought just to have me.

I like to imagine what my mother must have looked like when he met her. I like to think that she must was pretty and strong-willed. She must have smiled at them and said a friendly word.

Standing next to my mother’s grave is hard when I don’t even know what her face looked like before it dried and rotted.

I don’t even know her name. The only thing I know for sure is that they met her on the highway. That’s what dad said in court, but the judge didn’t ask about her look or smell or smile and dad himself didn’t even remember her name. Dad and Eliza had made their decision before my future mother had even entered their car.

She must have loved me a lot. I don’t know if a parent ever loved her child as much as my mother loved me.

They gagged her; then they tied her arms and amputated her legs. Dad said it was easier that way. The judge specifically asked whether they gave her pain killers – dad and Eliza said they didn’t. They said they “just didn’t think of it.”

It was all because of me. It was all because they wanted a child and Eliza couldn’t.

Eliza told the judge that they had tried for a few years before they made the decision to find a surrogate. She also told the judge that they planned from the start to kill her. They just wanted me, the baby, not my mother.

But then, when I was born, they saw how much she loved me. They told her that she would never see me and that I would never see her. But she begged. She said she would do anything just to be in my life.

They gave her the choice that either she could be there for me, or she could be dead. And my mother said she wanted to be there for me.

They sewed her mouth shut so that she wouldn’t be able to talk to me.

I hate that my memories are happy. I hate that I can only remember being happy in those moments when Eliza brought the food from the kitchen or when she brought me my newly knitted socks and scarfs.

For fourteen years they made her cook.

For fourteen years they locked mom in the kitchen during the day and in a large metal box during the night.

Even for our camping trips they took the metal box along. They knew that, without legs, she couldn’t run away.

With sixteen I found the box. They didn’t even give her a pillow.

I can’t imagine how much my mother must have loved me to go through all this. Still her only participation in my life was to hear me go through my day. She heard me talk and laugh and cry and that was enough to keep her alive.

Dad told the judge that they didn’t think she would last that long. They liked to have someone that prepared every meal and repaired their clothes and knitted my socks, so they never decided to kill her, but they thought that she would die after a year or two from sadness or boredom or suicide.

Her love kept her alive for fourteen years – until, one night, Eliza closed the box but forgot to open the air holes.

I am still wondering why they didn’t bury her. They too must have smelled the rotting flesh for weeks. They must have known the risk of keeping the body.

They must have known that someday a curious sixteen year old would go through the storage cabinet next to his room.

Some nights I still hear her humming lullaby. But now her lullaby keeps me awake rather than puts me to sleep.

On those nights, when I hear the lullaby in my head, all I can see is the face that I found in the box. All I can see are the lips that hummed for so many nights: sewn-shut but with a dried smile.

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