by Selimah Nemoy
“When I was 17 years old, I was forced to relinquish my newborn baby and told to “just go home and pretend it never happened.” Not likely. Twenty-four years later, I found my daughter and our reunion was broadcast on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This is my coming-of-age memoir of what happened those 24 years since losing her, and the power of soul music that brought me through.” – Selimah Nemoy
Los Angeles, 1967
For What It’s Worth
I’d paid my dues, big time, the ultimate price for committing the unpardonable sin. After five months of humiliating incar- ceration, with the stroke of a ballpoint pen I agreed to the life sentence that had been handed down: I was walking out of there alone.
Early morning fog met me on the landing outside, and the whiff of budding flowers on a weedy Scotch Broom in the alley caught me by surprise. I wondered if it was heralding my free- dom or mourning my loss. My father, shoulders sagging with resignation and relief, went first, carrying my suitcase to the car, where my mother, eyes forward but looking at nothing, was waiting inside with the doors locked.
I took one look back at the hideous institution from which I was being released. Behind its windows, like dark condemning eyes, were generations of secrets and shame—where the wanton and wayward were imprisoned by wicked old witches who had been born with their ugly gray hair in a bun and never been loved by a man in their whole life.
Across the street behind a chain link fence, a dirty Chihuahua yapped and barked as, for the last time, I descended the wide concrete steps of the Florence Crittenton Home for Unwed Mothers, a relic of last-century history to which teenage girls like me were banished for the crime of falling in love.
Halfway down the steps I heard someone call my name. The Director had forgotten to give me her farewell speech: those tired, fake words of wisdom that unimaginative old people hand to young ones as if they were tools or money or the Bible. Standing on the step above me, she put one lizard-like paw on my shoulder.
“Now dear, you’re only seventeen years old. Your whole life is ahead of you. We’ve taken care of everything.”
I held my breath, along with the urge to slap her and watch those withered old legs go tumbling down the stairs.
And then, just like everyone else who had ever inflicted damage on me, she poured on the perma-seal.
“Just go home and pretend it never happened.”
About the Author: Selimah Nemoy is a storyteller, journalist, and author of SINCE I LOST MY BABY: A MEMOIR OF TEMPTATIONS, TROUBLE & TRUTH (OG Press, June 2020). Born in Los Angeles, her coming-of-age journey was shaped by soul music in the 1960s, then by the turbulent, multicultural 1970s in the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Area.
Selimah served with the (President Bill Clinton) White House Press Corps in 1994, and as the English editor for both an Italian-American and a Japanese-American newspaper. Her play, THE DADDIES, was performed at the Buriel Clay Theatre in San Francisco’s Western Addition, and her short story, GOODBYE, received first place at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference. Learn more at selimahnemoy.com