“Umm, funny story. I don’t have one…a mother, that is.” I hated that answer.
“Oh, I’m sorry. It says that right here. It’s just a security thing you know.”
I don’t know how it came to be that my mother gave me up. I was told I lived with her for a while before she came to that decision, but I was like eighteen months or something, so I don’t remember her. I also don’t know why I was never adopted. I lived in several foster homes, but it was always temporary, like staying at an aunt’s house. You never really unpack. I remember just feeling like I was waiting to be picked for a basketball team. The teams were formed and playing and I was still sitting on the bench.
After you’re eighteen, you’re out of the system. It’s sink or swim then. I’ve tried my hardest to keep from sinking. I’ve seen some of the others: addicted, homeless, dead on the streets, and a few who joined the military because it was a sure job. I didn’t want to kill anyone –especially myself, so I got a job as a nursing assistant in an old folks’ home. You don’t need special education or experience, you just have to be strong and know how to listen.
After I cashed my check, I walked back to work because my lunch time was almost over. One of the perks of working at the Golden Lake Rest Home was free food, so I could always grab something if I walked through the kitchen.
“Hello, Georgia!” I said as checked on my first charge. “How are you doing today?”
“Oh Mandy, I am doing fine, just fine. Why don’t you sit a spell? I’ve been dying for someone to talk to.” Georgia’s family lived over 100 miles away and they were pretty poor, so she didn’t get many visitors.
I’d love to,” I told her. “Just let me check on the others, and I’ll be right back.” Homer was napping. Betsy needed a pitcher of ice water, but she was other-wise happily chatting on the phone, and Diana was downstairs playing bingo. I got Betsy her water, and returned to Georgia’s room.
“So what have you been thinking about, Georgia?” I said as I sat in the straight chair near her window.
“I was thinking about when I was your age. Some things were harder and some things were easier.”
“I’m sure that’s true.” I agreed.
“But sometimes it’s all about our attitude and our choices.” She said slowly.
“I have to agree with you there too.”
“Take us for example,” she said leaning forward in her rocking chair and patting my knee. “How old are you now?”
“I’m 19.” I told her.
“When I was 19, I was married and pregnant with my second child. –Now, I’m not saying that’s the right way –no, not at all. But times were different then. That’s what a young woman did. But now, you have so many choices. I watch these soap operas and I think Mandy is more beautiful and so much more smarter than the women on them.What do you want to do, Mandy?”
“I don’t know really.” I said. “Sometimes it’s hard enough to think past the next rent payment.”
“Whatever you want is out there waiting for you. If you want to go to college, there’s a way to find the money. If you want to own this place,” she said sweeping her hand across the room, “there’s a way. Just don’t limit yourself.” She said sternly pointing her bony finger at me.
“I have something for you.” She got up and opened the little treasure box on her dresser. She kept the object that she pulled out enclosed in her hand before she placed it in mine. It was round and gold and looked like a pocket watch with a very detailed engraved design of schooners sailing on high waves. When I opened it, I saw that it was a compass. “It was my grandfather’s.” She said. “So you can imagine how old it is. He was a merchant marine and he kept that compass with him. It has been to Africa, and India, Japan, Peru, Brazil, China –you name it. All you need,” she said patting my hand, “is a little direction.”
The thoughts that ran through my head about sailing and flying and far-off places swirled around until I was dizzy with them. I couldn’t think of anything to say right then, except a quiet “Thank you.” It was time for my shift to be over and time for Georgia to go downstairs for dinner. As she got her little white cardigan out of her closet, I turned around in the middle of the doorway.
“Georgia?” I asked, “I was wondering…What’s your maiden name?”