My Mother Gave Me Away To A Total Stranger When I Was Four Years Old

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woman walking with toddler holding hand

My mother gave me away to a total stranger when I was four as if passing off a baton with streamers to someone else.


Clapping like a monkey with cymbals, waving her wrist like a flimsy handkerchief, I drove away in a red Cadillac towards a neighborhood called “Miracle Mile.”

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My mother was the highest note of joy, her voice shot like a firework into the sky — ”AH!”— and sighed. She was dazzling with a killer smile. She knew no boundaries and she wanted to party, nowhere near the ground.

Dr. J was her name. I’ll refer to her by her nickname for now because she is still alive and scares me — to this point. Besides, “Dr. J,” it has a ring to it, doesn’t it? It always did.

If I were to take this a step forward, her initials are “JR”—as in a “Joker.”

Me? I’m Zero as in The Fool in the deck of Tarot.

“How could a mother do this?”

Ha, ha.

I received this question a thousand times.

“My mother gave me away to a total stranger when I was four” was only the beginning —  the topic sentence that took me almost 35 years to get to as a real occurrence. I was that untethered, that disconnected.

But I never disconnected from my love for the world, my real faith in human beings — that there was meaning, a purpose within any story, any person, waiting to be activated.

Every single person and experience has value.

At four years old, I was sitting in the middle of the living room; my domain, dressed like a doll with a big bow in my hair. I was watching a strange show that was my mother’s “business.”

Dr. J had taken over the top floor of our townhouse and turned it into her office. She covered the walls in mirrors with collectible teacup sets standing, proud, on their own individual pedestals trailing through “the common areas” in the house.

The articles written about her were framed, leading the way up the stairs to her office, the Emergency Room for “taxes,” or so I interpreted.

She called herself: “the Mother Teresa of the Tax Industry.” She also used the phrase; “Tax Minister.” This was published in print.

The woman who referred to herself as “Mama” made the cash in my house into an ever-changing set of the most fabulous, couture clothes and wigs — every shade of red.

Every day, the front door opened to a trail of the lost, cursed, damned, slippery, regular Joes, the IRS, rushing up the steps to see the doctor.

The television was behind me; I had no interest in it, not with this show happening in front of me.

“Don’t mess with the IRS,” this was Dr. J’s warning in her office of mirrors reflecting one another, the optical illusions — my fascination.

Already, the line between the screen and real-life was diminishing quickly. I watched the television more to understand — back and forth, my eyes on the screen — and the real-life scene in front of me.

“You can’t handle the truth…”

I was four at the time. A Few Good Men was on the television in the living room. All I remember is that, by the end of the film, I had been drawn closer and closer to the screen, watching this man! Tom Cruise! I was so angry with him! His desire to know the truth, demanding Jack Nicholson! Enough!

When Jack Nicholson said the famous words: “You can’t handle the truth,” I was relieved. I was with Nicholson then.

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I was picking up Dr. J at the police station practically every night for “drinking, driving, and looking for sex downtown,” or so, my father’s divorce file attested. I found it in my twenties; he was already dead.

“I came home,” I read his testament on graph paper in a sage-colored room.

“And Maria was living in a different house.”

It took me up to 35 years to piece — literally speaking — my life together. We picked up Dr. J at the police station almost every night, so why was this man leaving me alone with her?

Downtown LA— 4:00 am, or the middle of the night

I woke up in the back of the ’81 Cutlass Supreme in mint condition. My father was a big fan of the color blue; the upholstery was dark and light — cushy, soft, comfortable.

Lights were flashing into the car; on and off, blue and red. They were pretty, I was blinking. The smell of metal and gas; it was chilly. I was alone in this car, in this parking lot downtown. I remember, vaguely, my father telling me to “stay here.”

Which time was this?

I sat up.

I hoisted myself up with two little hands on the front seats — theirs. I knew what I was going to see through the windshield, and I wanted to.

There she was in a wig of an “Outrageous Orange” shade — slick with bangs.

I thought of the commercial I had seen on TV for Pantene Pro-V: “So healthy, it shines.”

Walking down the steps with a fit of cops all around her, she was wearing her signature floor-length white mink coat. The lights of the police cars — so many — lit her sequins into a fit of sparkles. She glowed red, white, and blue.

A Woman Came Through the Door With An Angel's Name 

I was smashing Barbie heads together, one in each hand. I was in a hunter green princess dress with a bow, like a present, all wrapped up and ready to go.

My look was also signature: a princess dress, white pantyhose with red or green hearts sewn into the fabric, and patent leather Mary Janes with white laced socks folded over.

I remember the brightly painted, cold blue eyes; my mother’s color. I was in a trance. I didn’t care anymore who saw, obviously, and who didn’t.

There was a glass panel by the front door the color of the song about “America” — amber waves.

A woman walked in and froze when she saw me in the middle of the living room. I felt the way she did.

In a white tennis skirt, a Bevery Hills Tennis Club cap, she grained towards the “sponged” railing that enclosed the in-set living room; white and gold.

The Tennis Club 4 Years Later

I began interrogating the stranger from Brazil who walked through my door 4 years later at the Beverly Hills Tennis Club — a crystal-clean pool behind me where she taught me how to swim.

“You were like a fish!”

Eyes over her slim beak, she was the stork with thin lips in rouge who swooped in and snatched a baby back in her tennis gear.

“Did I really live with you for 4 years?”

She put up four fingers — waved, and counted them.

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I laughed.

“One, two, three, four.”

She showed me her four fingers again with a sinister smile, pissed, but how we laughed.

“You never came to my house before?”


She was “picking up a tax return for a friend,” or so she said. I knew who he was.

Beady brown eyes on me back in the living room, Dr. J came down the steps with her friend’s tax return. I remember this part; a file in her hand.

The woman from Brazil thought I needed a friend. That’s what she told me.

She kindly suggested to my mother that she had a daughter about my age. They could set up a playdate sometime.

“Take her!”

My mother said.

“Just like that?”

I shrugged at her at the tennis club. I couldn’t believe it myself.

“Wee! Take her!”

Why not today?

She cracked up.

“I’d never seen anything like it in my life! Here! Take her!”

I looked up when it was time to go

I ditched the Barbies, I was going on a playdate?!

She welcomed me warmly, “Come on!”

I was stunned by her legs! They were shaped by the Gods! I told her!

Everyone did!

She kicked them under her tennis skirt — these were 100% Brazilian.

Into her red Cadillac with red leather upholstery, she took off her tennis cap and threw it in the back, her brown feathers falling over her shoulders.

“Do you know Julio Iglesias?!”

Tipping up the volume on the stereo, she stopped me before I could answer with red nails.

“I didn’t think so — believe me!”

She clapped, cracking herself up.

Putting her hips in her seat, she began to dance, the song beginning to flow. She ran her fingers through the Brazilian prayer bracelets hanging on the rearview mirror.

“We’re going to play now, okay?”

She reassured me.

“I have a daughter about your age…”

Up against the wheel, she turned to check that the street was clear.

“We were going to have fun…yeahhh.”

MA VA ME VA by Julio Iglesias

“Now,” she tipped up the volume on the stereo.

“It’s time to pay attention.”

And we were off…for what we believed would be a day.

It was time for me to learn all the Great Love Songs. Julio Iglesias was first.

Her brown feathers for hair falling about her face over the center console, she sang the lyrics to ME as we cruised down La Cienega Boulevard.

Let the love lead the way.

“Do you understand what he is saying? Let the love lead…the way, okay?”

She got sassy, showed the way through the windshield — up La Cienega Boulevard — making tiny footsteps with her fingers.

“This is the way—okay? But do you understand,” she pointed to her ear, her eyes hazy, “what he means? Do you?”

I was laughing.

She put up a finger, wagged it—no.

Chewing her gum suggestively, she flashed her brows and tipped up the volume a decimal.

“Pay attention…”

Hanging over the center console, we were listening; she was singing in her “angel voice.”

She sat up straight, giving it to me over the wheel with her chin, honking at people, yelling at them, switching lanes.

“Listen,” she tripped over all her children’s names.

I couldn’t stop laughing, especially when she snapped at me to stop.

“The words! Listen to the words! Are you listening?”

She turned up the volume a pinch higher, eagerly.

“Pay attention…”

I saw the sign above San Vicente and Hauser: Miracle Mile.

We were onto Barbara Streisand by then.

Four years passed.

Maria Mocerino is a freelance writer working on her first book; Christmas in Naples is a Sport. As a former journalist in psychedelic medicine, she has written for publications such as The Chacruna Institute for Psychedelic Plant Medicines and Reality Sandwich.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.