Back in October on a blustery day in Scotland, I entered The Great Hall of Edinburgh Castle. I soaked up the lavish details of the lushly appointed space with its wood-paneled walls and impossibly intricate carved roof. It was stunning.
What really drew me in though was a woman posing as Mary Queen of Scots at the far end of the hall. She greeted a crowd of visitors and put on a little show before inviting the crowd to approach her for a photo op. I got in line and waited my turn. At last it was time. I was finally going to meet my mom.
Let me explain.
I went to a Montessori school for two years as a kid where students were placed in one of three rooms depending on their learning pace in lieu of traditional grade levels. Blue Room was for pre-school age kids and students that needed a little bit of extra help. Orange Room was for kids learning just as expected for their age. Purple Room was for kids that were learning at a more advanced pace.
I was originally placed in Orange Room like most kids were, then was bumped up to Purple Room a few weeks later. At first, I was pretty pleased with myself. I’ve had a strong dose of Hermione Granger in me since I could talk and even at age four was a perpetually hand-raised know-it-all. I knew I was smart. Contrary to what you’d think though, I was also quite shy; I was very conscious of my Spanish accent, how little English I spoke and of the fact that I was one to three years younger than most of the other Purple Room kids. My excitement gave way to nervous hesitation.
Thanks to a fantastic and patient teacher and friendly classmates though, I found myself really enjoying Purple Room. That was until a couple of weeks later during reading time. We were split off into pairs and I was matched up with Antoinette, a girl a few years older than me whom I found intimidating as shit. She was pretty with gorgeous brown skin, long legs, and excellent reading skills, all things that she appeared to be very aware of. That in turn made me very aware of my chubby, pale-skinned, ESL awkwardness. But hey, maybe she’d be nice to me.
Nope. My stomach went even colder as she glared at me in a way that made it clear she was less than pleased to be stuck with me. Then she went and picked out the book that we were to read together. This chick went and grabbed some history book with words way beyond my reading level and sneered at me like, “Ha, that’ll show you to think you’re hot shit.” She made me go first and rolled her eyes every time I stumbled on a word I didn’t recognize, laughing each time my little Mexican mouth pronounced the “sh” sounds as “ch.”
Right when I was set to unleash the waterworks, Antoinette grabbed the book from me and let out an exasperated sigh. “Here, just let me read it,” she huffed as she yanked the book from my lap. I just nodded and blinked back the tears, thinking I’d spare myself any more humiliation by just letting her flex and read to me. That’s when she skipped ahead a few pages and began to read me the story of Mary Queen of Scots.
I don’t remember half of what she read, either because I didn’t understand that shit or because I was concentrating too hard on not wetting myself. I snapped to attention though when she asked, “So, do you ever miss you real mom?”
Huh? Me confused. I looked at her, she looked at me, and when I didn’t say anything back, she smirked. “Oh, you don’t know do you? Mary Queen of Scots was your real mom, but she betrayed her country and got her head cut off for treason and no one knew what to do with you. That’s when the people you live with now decided to take you, because your real mom is dead. I am so sorry.”
Santa Madre. I managed not to cry or clock this girl, but only because I was in cold shock. I sat there rigid as this monster kept reading like she hadn’t just shattered my little soul to pieces. Again, I was four years old. I didn’t get that this Mary Queen of Scots chick lived and died centuries ago, or that I wasn’t Scottish, or that kids lie. I absolutely, positively believed that I was adopted and my real mom’s dome had been chopped off for treason, whatever the hell that was.
I held it together until I got home, then yelled through tears, “You’re not my real mom!” as I walked in the door. My mom listened to my hysterical story and by the grace of God did not just dunk me in some holy water and write me off as possessed. She calmly brought out the baby books and photographs. My actual newborn photo was a weak link in the chain of evidence since I legit looked like a different baby one month later (see exhibit A below - where did all that melanin go??). Subsequent photos made a stronger case: ones of my mom as a kid that I would have sworn were of me, one of my dad and I side by side where it’s plain that I got my chin from him.
After an hour or so, I was 99% satisfied with my mother’s Little Girl, You Best Believe I Birthed You presentation. She advised that I ignore Antoinette in the future, lest she try to convince me that Zapata was my daddy. I don’t remember her being in my class the following year and I’ve always low-key wondered what became of her. I mean, isn’t that some sociopath shit to tell a younger student that she was adopted because her real mama’s head was chopped off?? Anyway, I wish her well and I hope she knows that I’VE MOVED ON.
Ha. That’s coming from the girl who almost three decades later waited in line to get a photo with a Queen Mary stand in. I guess maybe I needed to see her for myself, you know, just to be, like, super sure there was no resemblance.
After the photo was taken, I sat on a bench to laugh at its absurdity. I mean, look at the thing. I look like a lumpy mess on account of the bajillion layers I was wearing to shield me from the nippy wind and I’m trying unsuccessfully not to smirk. Still, it’s one of my favorite photos from the whole trip. When I look at it, it reminds me that not too long ago, I stood in a castle that overlooks one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the castle where the very queen whom I once believed to be my treasonous mother had lived and reigned for some time. I went on to visit the café where J.K. Rowling wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, drank real Scotch whiskey (and choked on it, peat is no joke). I walked the Royal Mile and climbed Arthur’s Seat. I explored the Scottish Highlands and roamed the Isle of Skye, trying haggis and black pudding and almost getting blown away by the wind.
So take that, Antoinette. I win.