by Cindy Wiggins Tapia

Susan Dollar was my first best friend. Susan lived in the projects below my house on Hill St. Susan was a year older. I believed everything Susan said  Susan told me in hushed tones that Frankenstein was buried in my backyard.

I went running to Daddy. Daddy assured me there was nothing under that grass but dead pets. I moved on.

But some don’t.

Years before my time, another little girl dark as her Cherokee ancestors played in that backyard.

Her parents worked for Bona Allen Harness Shop. The extras their meager wages afforded failed to sate the little girl’s cravings for better things. The house was so ramshackle, she was ashamed to invite friends over. She resented never having more than one or two out-of-date outfits while some of her Buford classmates boasted a wardrobe of fashionable clothing.  She was agitated by what she called her mother’s lack of housekeeping habits. That good mother was fond of cutting out paper dolls for the baby, and the little girl grumbled into her sixties about having to pick up the trimmings every day after school.

“I couldn’t stand seeing them strewn across the floor!”

It didn’t help that she was jealous of that baby.

One afternoon while playing out back, she saw white words forming in the heavens.

She wondered aloud, “What’s that?”

A neighbor lady replied “It’s God’s finger in the sky, foretelling the end of the world.”

She went screaming to her mother. Her mother explained it was merely an airplane writing a vapor advertisement. But once woken, the little girl’s fear never slept again.

Thus began an already neurotic child’s slow slide into madness.

Her name was Christine Dorsey Wiggins.

My mama.

She pulled rags out of her bag and hand-stitched clothes for my Barbie dolls, and showed her teeth at me. She turned shoe boxes into houses, with real carpet scraps and furniture clipped out of the Sears catalog and called me stupid. She dressed me like a living doll and deliberately beat me so the welts and bruises were above my hemline. Many times Daddy had to jump in to stop her before she went too far.

In 1971, Mama started going to church, quit smoking and quit drinking, but  when Daddy abandoned us in 1974, she started back with a vengeance.

“I’m gonna drank! and I’m gonna smoke!” And she took pills.

She pitched vicious fits. Once because my in-hospital oral surgery got her in debt, and another  when she couldn’t find her “special” hairbrush.

She heard voices and enjoyed listening to them. But when they urged her to kill me, she committed herself to a mental hospital in Midtown and spent her remaining years in and out of SummitRidge in Lawrenceville.

Last time I saw Mama awake was Mother’s Day 2006 at Joan Glancy. Monday she slipped into a coma. Friday she slipped away. She was sixty-seven years old.

I cradled her in my arms and bawled my eyes out, wishing I could tell her that I knew she was the best mother her demons would allow her to be, that I wished I’d been better to her, that I loved her despite everything, but it was much too late…

Miss you, Mama!

 Photo courtesy Cindy Wiggins Tapia
Photo courtesy Cindy Wiggins Tapia

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