Standing in the door of what was left of my bedroom, I felt a pulse in my temples and a strange, churning feeling in my chest.
After coming home from school, I found my half of the room cleared out.
Empty closet. Vacant bookshelves. Four black, heavy-duty trash bags on the floor, perfectly fitting all 18 years of my life. The heavy scent of an argument I had with my mother the previous evening still hung in the air.
I wasn’t sure if a few seconds or a few hours of me standing there had passed before the reality sank in: My mother was kicking me out.
Uncertain of what to do and where to go, I called my dad, who had not lived with us for almost three years at that point. He immediately picked me up and without mentioning what happened, he took me to my grandparents’ house, where I stayed for the rest of my senior year of high school, before moving to the United States.
I’ve been asked, “Don’t you miss your parents?,” whenever my home country, the Czech Republic, came up in conversation in my six years of living in the U.S.
“I miss my dad and my brother very much,” my answer used to be, resulting in sad looks, quiet condolences for being a half-orphan.
Growing up, my mother was like an occasionally-strict best friend. She knew about every boy I liked, watched my favorite shows with me late at night and called my friends by the endearing nicknames she gave them.
It all changed around the time she divorced my dad, shortly after I turned 15. It was a surprise to all of us, but it especially affected my dad. He was devastated and unwilling to talk about her for a long time.
My mother brought a new person into our lives the moment my dad packed his last bag. Her mean, judgemental and demanding boyfriend was the reason for our constant arguments.
She started to look at me differently, blaming me for taking drugs I hadn’t touched based on rumors she heard about my peers. She dismissed my desire to go to college as a waste of money and criticized me for working too much.
During our final altercation, I told her how much I disliked her boyfriend and how much she changed since he appeared in our lives. She said I’m not trying hard enough to get along with him and don’t want her to be happy.
Since then, I’ve often questioned whether I’m to blame. Should I have been more obedient? Less stubborn? More understanding?
I often missed having a mom — not my own, but a mother figure. Someone who would help me make important decisions, pass on her wisdom and just hug me after a bad day.
And then my dad met Dana.
By Dana’s side, he started to be lively again. He smiled, joked and planned trips and activities for us. And he finally spoke to me about my mother, telling me how unhealthy their relationship was and reassuring me it wasn’t my fault that she kicked me out.
It was the affirmation I needed.
Dana helped my dad become happy again, and then she helped me.
Already a parent and a loving person, she showered me with affection from the first day we met. She’s been supportive and proud of me for my achievements, and encouraged me when I was not doing well.
No one gets to pick their biological parents but I get to pick who I call family: Dana became that long before my dad proposed to her.
I gradually stopped blaming myself. I accepted that my mother will never be the parent I want her to be. I learned that it is all right to not have a good relationship with her and that there is nothing wrong with me. In the end I did what was best and healthiest for me — I forgave her.
Her behavior and choices have shaped me to be the person I am — independent, responsible and appreciative for the people around me — and there is nothing I should be ashamed of.
When asked today, whether I miss my parents, I add that my mother is not involved in my life because that fact is an essential part of who I am and where I come from.
Besides, I have this amazing stepmom that filled that empty part of my heart and I will always be thankful for, someone who reminds me that the past is past and that family means what I define it as.