Nature or Nurture?byYKN4949©
It was the Monday before the Tuesday that my senior year of high school was supposed to begin. It was just two weeks after my eighteenth birthday. I was in my room, lying on my bed and playing with my iPad. It was drizzling outside and I felt cozy, curled up on my bed with the covers wrapped around my waist. I could smell dinner wafting up through the vents. And I was smiling to myself. There was no way I could know at that moment, while I was so absolutely content with my life, that everything was about to change. First, everything was going to fall apart, and then it was going to get put back together, even better than before. But I had no conception of that now, flipping through a magazine and considering what to wear at school the next day.
I heard the doorbell ring but didn't stir. I knew my mom was downstairs, cooking dinner, so there was no reason for me to get up. I heard her open the door and I could hear muffled conversation at the door. I couldn't make anything out, although I wasn't really trying. I thought for a moment that I heard my mother's voice rise a little bit. Then the talking became faster and finally I heard the door shut emphatically. It wasn't a slam, but it was pretty loud. I shrugged and kept reading.
"Ella!" I heard her call up the stairs, her voice sounding strange and nervous, "Can you come down here for a second."
"I am just finishing this article!" I called down.
"Please... now!" she said, almost sounding like she was begging. I felt a cold stab in my stomach. I got up quickly and started to move down the stairs.
This reminded me of another Monday, ten years earlier. I was 8 years old. My mother had called me out of my room where I was watching television. I'd crept down the stairs and she was sitting on the couch, clutching a pillow. Her eyes were watery and red, but she wasn't crying. Her normally tanned skin looked bleached and her lips were so thin. I had felt so much fear when I saw her that I sat down on the floor and stared at her.
"Ella, I have some bad news," she'd said and her voice cracked and she seemed to be fighting not to cry.
"What?" I'd begged. I always hated bad news, I wanted it out where I could see it and fight it.
"Today, on his way home from work you daddy got sick in his car. He had a problem with his heart. He got sick so bad... that he couldn't control his car. He crashed. Honey, your Daddy died. I am so sorry," she said and threw open her arms. I don't even remember how I made it from sitting on the floor up into her arms, but I did it. I remember her holding me there. On that same couch she still owns. She kept herself from crying; she let me take all the crying and all the sympathy.
I loved my mom so much for that day. But I didn't want to repeat it. But she had that same edge in her voice now. I crept down the stairs, my legs feeling like jelly. She was sitting on the couch again. She didn't look like she was about to cry, but she did look dazed. She looked up when she saw me, but didn't say anything.
I felt sick as I sat next to her. I couldn't think of what the news could be. Was she sick? How did tie in to the fact that someone had rung our doorbell? Did someone else we loved die? I couldn't take it. I had to know.
"Mom, what's wrong?" I almost screamed. She reached over and put her delicate hand with its long, thin fingers on my knee.
"Honey," she said, the pet name she used, "There is someone outside who wants to see you. I told her that I had to talk to you before she did." I was more confused than ever. Who wanted to see me?
"Ok," I said, a little bit too much like a bratty teenager, "who is it."
"Your biological mother," she said and I felt like I'd been kicked. I dropped back against the couch and crossed my arms over my chest. I'd known all my life that my mom hadn't been the person who gave birth to me. My dad said that he'd married a girl who was 18, just out of high school, because she got pregnant. I was born and she immediately ran off. Apparently, when I was two, my dad had met Linda. Mom. Linda couldn't have kids, but she always felt like my mom. I always called her mom. When my dad died, no one even talked about me going to live with my aunt or my grandparents. Linda was Mom. I can remember getting almost violently angry as a child (especially after my father died) when people would ask about my "real" mom. Linda was my real mom. That other woman was just an incubator. I didn't even know, or care to know, my biological mother's name. But I always knew in the back of my mind that she was out there. And I always sort of worried that maybe she was my "real mom" and everyone else was right.
I looked at my mom. No one looking at us would ever think that she was related to me. She was much younger than my father when they married, only 21 years older than me. She has long dirty blonde hair and dazzling blue eyes. Her face is angular and striking with a small nose, high cheekbones and wide eyes. Her skin is tanned and she is in very good shape. She had 36-B breasts, a slim stomach, and very small, toned butt and long thin legs. She is around 5'6 and 130lbs.
Unlike my white mother I am half-black (my father) and half Korean (my "biological" mother). I have very long hair that must come from my mother because it is very straight and a very black. I have high cheekbones and almond shaped eyes, a small nose, thick pink lips, and embarrassingly tiny ears. My skin is the color of coffee (much different than my father, who'd been very dark). Even at 18 I had a voluptuous build with 34-C breasts, a very thin waist, hips as wide as my breasts, and a large but toned butt. I am 5'3 and weigh around 125lbs.
"Oh," I managed to say. I wasn't sure exactly what I was supposed to say, or think for that matter. My mom looked nervous.
"What do you want me to do honey?" she asked, "Send her away?" And now the onus was on me and I was terrified. We just sat there for a few seconds. I looked out the front window. The blinds were drawn, but I could make the outline of a person standing on the front porch. My birth mother.
"What's her name?" I asked for the very first time in my life.
"What should I do?" I asked, "What would dad want me to do?" She gave me a wry smile. It was the smile she gave when I said something about my dad. But I think she was happy that I was thinking about him.
"Your dad never ever talked about your...Tiffany," she explained, "I don't know what he thought about her. I don't know if he hated her or loved her. I didn't ask. I don't know what he'd want. But, for what its worth, that woman on the front porch is desperate to see you. Your dad taught you to be a good person. Just do what you think is right." I sighed. That was the kind of answer you start to get when you're an adult. Not very satisfying.
"I guess I should meet her," I said and I stood up. My mom stayed on the couch. I looked at her, asking her with my body language to come with me. She shook her head.
"I will be right here if you need me," she said. I walked towards the front door. My heart was really pounding. I didn't know what to expect. I think part of me was terrified that I was scream at this person on the front porch. Make a giant scene. Demand to know why I wasn't good enough for her. Rub the fact that my stepmother was a thousand times better than her right in her face. Or that I would cry, make her think I cared about her. I opened the door and stepped out onto the front porch.
The woman was standing on the far side of the porch. Her back was to me and I could see that her arms were crossed in front of her chest. She was short, only around 5'2 and very, very thin. Her hips barely flared. Her hair was very long, going most of the way down her back. It was jet black and straight. She was wearing shorts and I could see the smooth skin of her calves. She heard the door close behind me and she turned.
She was a beautiful woman. Her eyes were a deep shade of brown (like my own) and her face was broad, smooth and welcoming. She had a cute nose, a wide smile with glittering white teeth and a perfectly formed chin. She was wearing make-up and it was clear she spent a lot of time on her appearance. Her bangs hung down just so, the rest of her hair framing her face perfectly. She was just as thin in the front as in the back, with a flat stomach and narrow legs. But it looked like she'd had some work done. Specifically, she had very large 32-D breasts that looked strange attached to her small frame. They didn't look natural, I mean they were clearly fakes, but they did look attractive. Her whole appearance was alluring. My dad apparently had a knack for picking up good-looking women.
"Hello Ella," she said. Her voice was soft and playful. She put out a hand to shake mine.
"Hello Tiffany," I said coldly, crossing my arms across my breasts. I was under no obligation to make this easy or pleasant for her. She slowly crossed her arms back in front of her ample breasts, pretending she didn't notice I was rude.
"You are so beautiful," she gushed and it sounded sincere. I was flattered despite myself. Even if she was just buttering me up, it was nice to have a gorgeous woman other than my mother...well other than my real mother... say I looked good.
"Thanks," I said noncommittally. For a long while we stood awkwardly on the front porch, not saying anything, looking at each other out of the corners of our eyes. After an eternity she spoke.
"I picked your name you know?" she said as if it were no big thing, "Your father wanted to name you after his mother. Doris."
"Thanks," I said and she laughed. She had a musical laugh, I loved it instantly. And hated it. Then there was another long silence. I saw her looking me over, but I pretended I didn't notice, I had important things to watch on my shoes. I heard her begin to speak a few times and then think better of it. Then I heard her say something lightly under her breath.
"Cinderella and her evil stepmother?" she said and I felt my blood boil.
"What the fuck did you just say," I screamed. I could hear my mother bolt off of the couch inside. But I heard her pause at the door. Tiffany looked embarrassed.
"I'm sorry, I am so sorry," she said, "That was a very inelegant way of asking how you are doing. I just know teenage girls fight with their... with their mothers. I am sorry." She looked shocked. I was surprised myself. I very rarely swear. But how dare she question my mother? Where did she get the right? But I controlled myself.
"I guess it was a misunderstanding," I said and sat down on the porch swing. She walked over next to me. I could smell her perfume as she sat down.
"I really didn't mean to offend you. I always seem to do and say the wrong thing, you know?" she said. I decided to twist the knife.
"Like abandoning your baby and your husband?" I said. But she didn't even wince.
"Exactly," she said, "Ella. I thought about you every day. Leaving you and your father was the biggest mistake of my life. There isn't a day that goes by that I don't wish I had made a different choice."
"Well I am glad you did," I said, letting the venom drip off my tongue, "I am so glad my mother raised me instead of you." I meant it, but the main reason I said it was to hurt her.
"You're probably right," she said and then she sighed. She leaned back heavily in the swing. I was sort of relieved that she'd admitted I was better off without her. I could respect her for that at least. A very little bit of respect.
"If you missed us so much why didn't you ever come? Why didn't you come for dad's funeral?" I asked. I hadn't realized that I wanted to ask her that question until it was out of my mouth. Now I needed to know.
"Would you have wanted me?" she asked, "You were better off without me. I am not a good woman Ella. I've done some terrible things in my life. I am not nearly as bad as I used to be, though. If I came before... it would've been bad. Plus, at the time, I was married and I don't think my husband would have been very happy to know I had an ex-husband and a daughter."
"You're re-married?" I asked. It seemed strange to me. For all these years I sort of pictured my birth mother as disappearing from Earth the instant she disappeared from my life. It made sense that she continued to have a life after she was gone, but it was weird to think about.
"Not anymore," she explained, "I got a divorce two years ago. It was a bad marriage... we hurt each other. He wasn't a good man like your father. And I have spent the last two years thinking about my life and the mistakes I've made. I am not a smart woman Ella, I do stupid things all the time. But I have been trying to figure out why I worry about things like this," she said point to her breasts, "When I should be worried about this," and she put her hand on my knee. Involuntarily I jerked back. I didn't want her hands near me.
"Well I am not something you have to worry about. A better woman than you has worried about me my entire life," I said. And I realized I didn't want to say anything else to her right now. I stood up from the swing and started to walk towards the door.
"Ella," Tiffany said and I turned and looked at her, "I came by today mostly to tell you that I moved back in town. I have an apartment on Fisher Street. I want you to come see me sometime, if you want. Here is my number and address." She extended a small card between her fingers. I walked over to her and snatched the card away, then turned quickly and walked into the house.
My mother was standing in the hallway when I came inside. Suddenly, emotions welled inside of me that I hadn't realized I was holding back. Tears came quickly and I felt indescribably tired. I ran to my mother and she held me in her arms, crying with me and telling me that everything was all right.
Chapter 2: Requesting a ride and getting one
"But mom!" I almost screamed, "I told you about the game like two weeks ago and you said I could take the car!"
"I know that Ella," my mother said in an exasperated voice, "And I have already apologized. Twice. I really wish you could take my car to the game. But the hospital called. They are short on nurses and I need to take an extra shift. There is nothing I can do about it." My mother was wearing her scrubs already and she was collecting her keys and other items on her way out the door. I was following behind her. My mom worked at a hospital an hour and a half away. Her shift started at 6 p.m. and she worked for 12 hours. She wouldn't be home until at least 8 o'clock the next morning.
"Mom you have like a million vacation days. Can't you take one of them today?" I was desperate to go to the game. My boyfriend, David, was normally the back-up fullback for the football team. But the starter had twisted his ankle and was out for a week, so David had the chance to actually play! I needed to be there to support him.
"Honey, I can't take a vacation day when they call me in because too many people have taken vacation days. Can't one of your friends take you? Or David's parents" she asked as she opened the door to the garage.
"The game is 80 miles away, my friends aren't going to want to go. And David's parents never go to the games," I explained with the intensity that only a high school girl can conjure.
"Why don't his parents go? That is terrible, especially since he is starting today," my mother said and I rolled my eyes. This was really beside the point.
"It will be really terrible if his girlfriend doesn't show up," I said. I knew David. He would want to find me before the game to get a kiss for good luck. If I wasn't there, he'd be very upset and I knew he wouldn't care that I tried. I needed to get there.
"Dear, I am really sorry, but there is nothing I can do. Here," she said and she handed me a twenty, "buy yourself some pizza or something for dinner and I will make this up to you later." And with that the door to the garage closed behind her and she was on her way to work.
I slouched over to the living room and threw myself on the couch. I was absolutely miserable. I looked at the clock. It was 4:30. The game started at 7:00. I resigned myself to the fact that I wouldn't be going to the game. I turned on the television but couldn't focus so I turned it off. Finally, I decided to take my mother's advice and order a pizza.
I opened up the drawer on the end table next to the couch and pulled out all of the pizza fliers and phone numbers. As I did so, I saw a little white card fall out of a menu and land on the floor. When I picked it up I saw that it was Tiffany's number. Suddenly inspiration struck. I shoved the pizza menus back into the drawer and grabbed my phone. I dialed Tiffany's number.
"Hello?" A woman's voice said after two rings.
"Hello," I said, "May I please speak to Tiffany?"
"Oh sure," the voice said and then, away from the phone, "Hey Tiffany, there is some girl on the phone for you." I heard more muffled talking and then finally, Tiffany's voice.
"Hello, who is this?" Tiffany said in a cheerful voice. Suddenly I couldn't believe that I had called her. But it was too late now.
"Hey, this is Ella," I said and she made an excited sort of noise her throat, but I talked over her, "who was that?" I asked.
"Oh, my roommate Beth," she explained, "We used to know each other back when I was with your dad and I were together. I am staying with her. What's up?"
"Well," I started and then didn't know what to say. How could I ask her for a favor now? She'd come over to meet me over a month before and I had completely ignored her since. I didn't want a relationship with her. I could be opening the door for something more than I wanted.
"If you need anything from me Ella, just ask. Are you having some sort of problem?" she asked and she sounded understanding. Warm and almost motherly. And I did need help. Suddenly the whole story poured out of me. I needed the car, my mom was at work, I wanted to support David, and every other little feeling I had about the game. The whole time Tiffany listened patiently and expressed understanding.
"So I was wondering if...maybe you could..." I said, stumbling now that I actually had to make the request.
"You want a ride to the game?" she asked, saving me the trouble.
"Yes," I said, relieved.
"Of course Ella, I'd be happy to go to your game. And meet this David character, he sounds cute," she said and I blushed.
"Thank you so much Tiffany," I said and I meant it, "Remember the game is a ways away and it starts at seven, so get here as fast as you can!"
"Of course, I am on my way," Tiffany said and then we hung up.
I ran up to my room and quickly got changed into a little powder blue skirt and a pink polo shirt. I slipped on a pair of rubber flip-flops and went back down to the couch. My purse was already there and I was ready to go. I clicked on the television and waited. And waited. And waited.
Occasionally my eyes would dart out towards the street, looking to see if a car was pulling into the driveway. But time just kept crawling along while the television blared. Soon it was 5:00, then 5:30, then 6:30. I called over to Tiffany's apartment again but her roommate said she'd left just minutes after she got off the phone with me. Then the game started and I was still at home. By that time I started crying. I figured it was about halftime when lights poured into my living room from the driveway. I saw Tiffany sitting in the driver's seat. She honked the horn once.
"Yeah right," I said to myself and crossed my arms over my chest. She honked again and I still refused to budge. Finally I heard her car door slam and her feet crunching in the gravel. A few moments later there was a knock at the door. I got up from the couch and went to answer it.
"Hey Ella," she slurred, "You ready to go?" She was wearing a skintight black dress that exposed her ample cleavage and she was standing over me on 4-inch heels. She seemed to be having a little bit of trouble keeping her balance and I could tell she was drunk.