Mother Knows Best: A Visit from Mom Put Her Back on Track

Entangled in a series of troubled relationships, she didn't know where to turn—until a surprise visit from her mother pointed her in the right direction.

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- Posted on Sep 19, 2017

An artist's rendering of her mother's hand reaching for Debbie's ankle

We were the perfect fairy-tale couple. I was 27, pretty.  Jake was 32, tall, dark and handsome. The revered high school football coach in our small Oklahoma town. The most eligible bachelor around. Everyone told me I was the luckiest girl to be hanging on his arm on a Saturday night. But they didn’t know Jake like I did.

That night, I watched Jake from my spot on the couch in his musty basement. We’d just come back to his place after a ceremony at the high school, where Jake had won the award for Coach of the Year, and he was ready to celebrate. He put Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” on the record player and bopped his head to the music.

“Let’s get this party started,” he said, reaching into his shirt pocket. He pulled out a baggie and poured its contents onto a mirror on the coffee table. He cut the powder into neat little rows with a razor blade, lowered his face and snorted.

I looked away, disgusted. How had I ended up here? Once upon a time, my life had held so much promise. When I was growing up, Mama had always told me I could do anything, be anyone. She was the kind of person who believed the world was your oyster, as long as you trusted God and believed in yourself.

Mama had all the answers. We’d sit at the kitchen table—Mama’s hazel eyes locked on mine, her thick hair pulled back in a French twist and her strong hands wrapped around mine—and she’d tell me to dream big. “Life’s too short not to,” she’d say. I did have big dreams. I wanted to move to Hollywood, write movies, fall in love. But I’d long ago lost my dreams.

When I was 16, I fell head over heels for a guy in high school named David. I was a sophomore; he had a car. Mama warned me to take things slow. I didn’t listen. I got pregnant at 18. David and I rushed to the altar. I told myself we were madly in love. That we would’ve gotten married with or without a baby. But I wasn’t fooling anyone. David’s mother showed up to the ceremony in head-to-toe black, as if for a funeral. “We all know why we’re here,” the preacher said.

Shane was born seven months later. I found a job as a receptionist at a law office and went to night school. Meanwhile my relationship with David went south. He ran around with other women and was hardly ever home. After four on-again-off-again years, we called it quits for good.

I rebounded with the first guy to smile in my direction. We got married and moved to Las Vegas. He told me I wouldn’t have to work, that I could stay home with Shane. It didn’t take long for me to discover, though, that I’d fallen for another dud. He was verbally abusive toward Shane. I moved back home to Oklahoma with Shane and filed for divorce. I swore to myself that from now on I’d make decisions with my head, not my heart.

And then I met Jake. Every girl’s dream. Sure, he was a little secretive. But that was part of his charm, I told myself. When I found out the truth about his “extracurricular activities,” I knew I should get up and leave. But I just couldn’t do it. As if I were frozen, stuck in place. Weighed down by the mess I’d made of my life and too discouraged to do anything about it. I should take what I could get. What was the point of leaving Jake anyway? I’d just make another bad decision after that.

Mama always told me I deserved the world. That’s where she was wrong. The world wasn’t cooperating. Maybe this was the life I deserved.

I watched Jake, wondering how he lived with himself. “Don’t you feel bad lying to everyone?” I said. “Especially to the boys on your team?” Jake just raised one dark eyebrow and I knew. He didn’t feel bad about anything. He plugged his headphones into the stereo and zoned out.

I got up from the couch, desperate to sleep this night away. I’d left Shane with a sitter so I could spend the night. “I’m going to bed,” I told Jake. He didn’t even hear me. I dragged myself to bed and buried myself under the covers, wishing they’d just swallow me whole.

I woke at 3 a.m. to someone tugging on my ankle, shaking it like a dog with a bone in its mouth. “Jake,” I said. “Knock it off!” I turned toward him. He was sound asleep. “What in the…?” I mumbled, then sat up. There was a woman at the foot of the bed! Her hair was pulled back in a neat French twist. Her strong hands were wrapped around my ankle. Her hazel eyes met mine, and her grip tightened.

“Mama?” I said. What was she doing here?

She stared at me silently. After what seemed like an eternity, she removed one of her hands from my ankle and pointed at me. “This is not going to get you where you need to be, Deborah,” she said.

She dropped my foot as if it were made of hot coals and left the room without another word. For a long moment, I sat in the dark, running my life through my head like a movie. I closed my eyes tight. Then I quietly got dressed, gathered my things, took one last look at Jake and slipped out of the house. For good.

Two years later, after saving up enough money, Shane and I moved to Tulsa, where my old boss helped me find a new job as an office manager. I took a break from dating. I gave myself time to heal and enrolled in school again. Eventually, I settled down and married a good, kind, creative and intelligent man. Today we write screenplays and produce movies together, including an award-winning short film. Just like I’d always dreamed.

I think about that night at Jake’s often. Was it just a dream or a trick of the mind? I don’t think so. A dream doesn’t change your life in such a powerful way. This was something else—a visitation too incredible for me to ignore.

And Mama? The night it happened, she’d been dead for three years.

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