In 1977, my 14 year old biological mother, Mary, was married to my 50-year-old father, as payment for a debt owed to him. I was born shortly afterward and put for adoption with an American family.
When I was 33 years old I returned to Bangladesh to meet Mary for the first time. The awareness of her circumstances gave me this profound sense of helplessness to change her past. Mary was very small and frail like a bird, with intense eyes and dark hair. Her face showed years of hardship and sadness. Although I am small too, I have more meat on my bones and more energy in my hugs. I wanted to hold her like a child and tell her it was going to be OK. She was no longer 14 years old, but in my mind the time may have stopped that day we met.
I felt like an older sister who was responsible for her well-being, or the adult who could offer comfort and emotional support. In my mind, I could not protect Mary and keep her safe. I wanted to give her my strength, the kind that would have kicked a man for any attempts to physically hurt her. I wanted to see her smile more and break free from any fear or silence. I could feel in my biological mother’s searing gazes that she didn’t understand my choice to live in America. Perhaps she could not comprehend or understand my world or my freedom. This was hard for me, because I did not want her to feel I was abandoning her again.
It has been very difficult for me to see Mary as a mother figure, although I know she would like me to.
I feel sad and guilty that I am not able to give her that opportunity to be my mother. I am an adult now, and I have a mom who has been there for me my whole life. I cannot take that experience away.
I don’t want Mary to be known as a statistic. I want her voice and story to be heard. In honor of her, I have found my own courage and voice to share this.
With a Perspective, I’m Maya Katherine.
Maya Katherine is an author and visual artist, focusing on women’s issues and the arts.