Tonight, Dad started sorting through photos, and he sat down with Brother, Mina and I and reviewed the images of the houses he and Mom lived in, pictures of Brother’s first haircut, images of me with the forced smile I still adopt for photographs. We saw big horn sheep and Old Faith in winter.

But the image that stuck out to me (and apparently to Brother since it’s the one he asked Dad if he could keep) is the one of Mom before we were alive when she was, it seems, about 16. Her face smooth, her hair almost platinum blonde. She’s in a mini-skirt standing by a finned car. She seems to be thinking in the photo. Of what? Her appearance? The person taking the photo? Something bigger, greater, more painful, more amazing? What was she so pensive about at that moment? I wish I could ask her.

Later tonight, I poured through another book of photos, more images of Brother and I when we were little, Dad with more hair. And then I came to Mom at her bridal shower, a giant pink and white crepe umbrella on the fireplace behind her. She’s showing off a casserole and what looks to be a wooden box that has, as all good wedding gifts do, no apparent purpose. She looks so young.

I wish I had known my mom then, before she was my mom. I want to know what drove her to take the time required to stack that beehive and when exactly she stopped feeling comfortable in mini-skirts. When did her hair take on the silver shimmer that I see in my mind now What was it like for her to be a teenager, for her to be engaged, just married, the mother of a fat baby girl with a lot of hair? Who was she as a kid when her mother (my grandmother) was so mean and cruel and her father sometimes very absent? Who was she as a sister to my uncle?

So much I want to know and never will – and probably never could. Sometime a while ago I realized that my mother had an existence beyond mine; she was more than my mother. It was a pretty mind-blowing insight back then. Now, it’s just heart-breaking to know there was so much more to know; there was someone else to know, with her blonde hair and smooth face. My mom, the mystery.