I’m going off on a tangent again…let’s see, where was I? Who I am. Or rather, who I was. Right. Well, let’s go back to when I was 14 and became emancipated because I performed fellatio on some judge with a distinctive combover and took pictures of it to threaten him with later. But I never needed to; I told him I had photos and knew his wife and children. Enough said. He was so scared of his life unraveling, he put the paperwork through somehow, someway, some magical power of God’s hand working mysteries, as my grandmother used to say. Only God’s hand was my mouth. And my female bits. That’s all they were to me then. Bits. Parts. Tools. I hope you never know that kind of numbness on any inch of your body.

With my legal paperwork setting me free, like a newly emancipated slave, I pulled up my roots and became a tumbleweed, driven by wherever the winds took me. Eventually, I landed in Los Angeles and got a job as an au pair. I wanted to be someone fancier than myself and my shaming origins. So begins the story of how Heather Lyon was created.

I pretended to be a fancy 18-year-old from Spain. Since I am fluent in Spanish, having learned the language at school in Texas, I faked it. That’s how I ended up living in Santa Monica. I still can’t believe I faked it that well; I could’ve been an actress, ya know? You get that skill from me. You were fantastic in the role of Rizzo in Grease last year, by the way.

Yup, I saw the play at your high school. Every performance you’ve ever been in, actually. I was and am always in disguise around you. I have dozens of wigs. I never imagined I would become a collector of other people’s hair. Life, eh? More on that later. So much for later. I’ve lived my entire motherhood waiting for later.

As Rizzo, you were sassy, you were alto, you were elevated presence. I cried with pride. And with longing. And with every cell in my body arching and wanting you to see me in the audience, some flicker of recognition to the mother who bore you, birthed you, breastfed you. That happens to me every time I see you. I have to wrestle with a gravitational force to pull you to me. I have to smother myself with the opposite of inertia. A voice that says “don’t risk it.” Don’t risk it. Actually I sing this in my head, Relax. Don’t Do It When You Want to Go To It, Relax…

Something quirky about me: I have mantras—little songs I sing to myself to get me through everything. Here is the story of my life in song verses starting from childhood: The Sun’ll Come Out Tomorrow, We Don’t Need No Education, Staying Alive, Ooh Ooh Ooh Ooh, Staying Alive!, I Am Woman Hear Me Roar, Dream On, Sing Through the Tears, The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round, Trouble, Oh Trouble Set Me Free, ‘Cuz I Have Seen Your Face and It’s Too Much Too Much for Me, Every Step You Take, I’ll Be Watching You. That’s the one I’ve started to sing now. I need to replace it with If You Want to Sing Out, Sing Out, Sing Out, If You Want to Be Free, Be Free…but I am scared of losing you again and not ready for a bravery song mantra yet.

I’m not ready because you make me soft, scraping off the survivalist in me. You’ve been my downfall every time. My Latina baby kryptonite. It’s so complicated, my dear. I’m not crazy. I should’ve said that in the beginning. I’m predictable in that I find unpredictable avenues to survival. But me, I’m boring. My past isn’t, but I am. Your boring-interesting beautiful-tarnished ghostmother. Only I’m not a ghost. I’m a secretary at your school. More on that later, too.

Back to my untold history. I lived with the Abu Jabar family for five years. I made the best of those years, taking online classes. I worked my little tail off. I met your father as I was leaving the Santa Monica Library on 5th Street. It’s a decent library, lots of homeless people on the sidewalk. Then your father was there standing among them, a piece of gold in the gravel.

He was putting money in his meter, and I saw his fancy black Tesla, his buttery tan leather shoes, and I memorized the fact that when he looked up and saw me, he seemed flustered. That was my strength: noticing people’s weaknesses. He took off his designer sunglasses and smiled at me. A Latin smile of confidence and charm. You’ve seen that look: one of promise, wonder, adoration and excitement all bundled up with a beautiful bow of sumptuous lips smiling like a Roman god.

After I said yes to a cup of fancy drip drip rich people coffee that a squirrel shat out in some third world country, coffee that cost more than gold per ounce, I had the salient information I needed from him. I knew he’d offer me a different life. It was that simple. So I jumped in. That’s how survivalists work. We don’t relax into an occasion; we glean it for its potential.

His family was warm and affectionate and laughed around the pool at their weekly Sunday BBQs. They didn’t go to church. They knew their laundered dirty money place. His family was nice enough to me. Although his grandmother would finger her rosary every time she saw me, mumbling something under her lips. Probably begging Jesus to get rid of me and let him marry a nice Mexican Catholic girl. Did you know they don’t know I speak fluent Spanish? Not one of them. Not even him. My secret. It saved me. That secret language I kept alive in my mind saved my life in the end. More on that later, too.

We married at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I had “arrived,” it seemed. A fairytale I could never have imagined for myself. Listen, it was fun; the tequila, the BBQs into the night swatting away mosquitoes, the dancing to 70’s Latin soul, the big family and the bigger money. Lots of money. Like $350,000 in my checking account money. Mad money. Sick money. Blood Money.

Even the survivalist in me doesn’t like drug money. See, I never sought wealth. I sought security. The two dance together, of course, but it’s a sloppy tango with smashed toes when there’s hiding, disguises, secrets, and slit throats supporting all of that steaming wealth. Your father didn’t know, though. He thought his family was richy rich from owning a corporation which owned a slew of Mexican outlets; a big beer factory in Mexico. Cerveza money, he thought. The businesses he was given to manage, giving his life a purpose and a front for the real family business, Until…until he figured it out. That corporations and cartels are synonyms.

I figured it out before he did but never said anything. A survivalist knows that information is power. I kept it in my survivalist files. Stored deeply in my marrow. For when I needed white blood cells of information to survive.

I see you at least once a month. Whenever I can find an excuse to go to one of your classes. Sometimes in the hopes of seeing you, I position myself at the office window and search among the hundreds of high schoolers prancing around with large patches of their skin exposed, as though their clothing was collectively chopped up and then redistributed, as bits and scraps of denim and activewear stretched over adolescent flesh. I rarely spot you that way. Always my impossible dreams. After all of this time, I’ve been waiting. I’m like a predator hunting you for my emotional survival. But better I know you like this, as a ghostmother secretary, than you know me as a ghostmother incarcerated or ghostmother buried.

Do you remember once in English, you had a substitute, Mrs. Arrowhead?

I know, know. Stupid name. One that stands out too much for someone trying to hide, for a ghostmother on the lam. But there in Lake Arrowhead was the last time I held you in the nook of my body, curling yourself into me. It was as though all of my pretending to be something better than I was slated to become, was right there curled around us.

The shit! as you young people say. Shhhh—it. The it hidden in the quiet. Like everything wonderful in life. The quiet calm of happiness.

I’m not religious. Are you? Does your Catholic grandmother still have all of those rosaries? The amber, the jade, the gold, and I’m sure she mentions the missing diamond one. I took that one. Because I knew that having left my mad blood money checking account behind, I would need to sell the diamonds one by one over time in pawn shops. Little pieces of faith broken apart and sold for my survival. Faith that one day, I would have you again. Like you are a possession who isn’t a possession who is a person who is part of me but your own being. A ghostmother’s brilliant daughtermuse.

You are why I go on and stay stuck here in the quicksand of love’s devotion. I can’t leave and start a new life. That would mean really leaving you. Yet, I couldn’t have met you; that would mean risking my life. And I promise you, if I had stayed, I would have ended up in prison with the Mexican cartel soldiers having me killed quietly, framing it to look like suicide. I really would be a dead ghostmother then.

But I didn’t disappear. Not really. I went to Poland, a country that is a hellhole of ancient sadness. And a place that Mexican thugs aren’t welcomed. I sent your father a letter from there claiming that I met someone and was pregnant and would leave you all alone if he would drop the charges against his knife-wielding wife.

And where did I hide? In your backyard. Sort of. I live in the guesthouse of the elderly couple in the house behind you, to the east and one house north. I can look out of my window and see your bedroom light and watch you read, talk on the phone, and just be you—my hallucination of a daughter. A ghostmother has to search the crevices and the shadows for her daughtermuse.

Where I live now, well, she died of cancer and I stayed on as his caretaker. He has Alzheimer’s. They have no children. He thinks I am his daughter and his attorney gave me a life estate on his house. Survival takes on many forms, my dear. Your father’s family. They are a different breed of parasitic survivalists. Well, at least I’ve never had to kill someone. Did I mention that I’m an optimist? Listen, I know I sound like a stalker, a hawk circling her prey. Really, it’s more like a bird’s eye view of longing.

That night, I walked a mile and ended up in an Iranian man’s yard. They were having a garden party with heat lamps and figs and baklava cigars and nuts spilling all over the table, like a buffet of deconstructed penises. I remember feeling dizzy, hearing the Iranian folk music thrumming in the background, shifting seamlessly between major and minor tonalities, meshing with the adrenaline still pumping through me. But the survivalist in me was able to plot, and so I fake-mingled and pretended to be too drunk to drive home and was offered the guesthouse to sleep in that night. No one ever asked who I was or why I was there. Or why I was barefoot. Beautiful people get away with a lot of shit.

You made me soft, my babyLatinakryptonite. I had to have you. When I was sure no one else was there, and I saw Rosa go outside, I snuck back in from the back set of stairs and grabbed you from your room. I told you, we’re going on a trip to Arrowhead again! I melted, I softened, I lost my survivalist’s footing. You insisted on bringing Pilpil, your stuffed elephant. I acquiesced to a child’s pure desire for comfort, likely the purest form of love.

The downstairs door slammed shut, the whoosh of adrenaline whipping in my ears. The sandstorm had begun. I couldn’t see clearly. I crawled under the bed telling you to pretend I wasn’t there. But you, innocent little thing, were so excited you were telling your daddy I came to visit you. I smelled horchata and cedar and the angry spices of his hormones mixing with his cologne. I felt his hand reaching under the bed, yanking me out.

You aren’t only my babyLatinakryptonite. You are his, too. He didn’t dare touch me. Not in front of you. He took you outside while I was greeted at the stairs by his guys, his security, his thugs, his bundle of machismo gone wrong, the offspring of disappointed mothers.

In Spanish, they said: Don’t touch the gringa. No blood. Not yet. They shoved me in my bedroom. I pressed my ear to the door, listening and understanding every rolling chop of a word. They discussed how his family was going to frame me for Arturo’s murder, get their attorney to lock me up and get rid of me while incarcerated and claim suicide. I knew that was it. I had to leave. Without you. If I ever wanted to see you again. I had to leave you.

Then they said something like, come help me get tortas from the food truck down the street, I can’t carry it all, the door is deadbolted, she can’t get out. 

Language saved me, didn’t it? I understood—every round, rolling word in Spanish, giving me the momentous opportunity to escape. Language, and postnatal anxiety, saved me. I had a rope ladder that I had insisted upon having right after you were first born. My postnatal mind had obsessed on how I would escape with a new baby at my breast if there was a fire. My postnatal imagined-disaster-insanity had saved me in the midst of a true life or death situation. I hadn’t been that far off, after all…

I grabbed the pistol from the closet. With the warped potential of a gun’s heaviness against my hip bone, my magic metal wand, I threw the rope ladder down like Rapunzel escaping from cartel hell without a savior at the other end. A fucked-up fairytale of survival gone wrong.

That’s when I left, while they were hunting me. I left my tail behind. You. I left you behind in order to survive. Then I held tightly onto hope. Hope that hops around like eggs cracking open with gold, there in my beautiful little mind. You see, a survivalist is also an optimist. I write this letter, staring at a rainbow of our reunion, ignoring that if I don’t land precisely in the pot of gold at the bottom, there’s a helluva lot of mud sloshing there at the wrong end of the rainbow.

So, that’s the story of it. All that brought me to you and away from you.

More than love,

Your missing scorpion survivalist mother


For all installments of “The Story of It,” click here.

Previous installments:

  1. Part 1