My story starts with her, my mother, as it does for us all. They say we come into the world alone and that’s how we leave it, except I feel that isn’t quite true. She was my portal into this world, this life. And still, over the years, I’ve found our relationship has taken work to nurture and sustain.
It has taken me a long time to reach the point where I’m able to tell this story. Even now, I can only write part of it. The half which is mine. Because the other half is my mother’s to tell. What I’m saying is: this is for my mother, for the words she cannot say.
She has lived a chequered life. She has, and continues to, move through it as best she can.
Throughout my childhood, I saw how she was treated by men, often abusively, in all of its awful and twisted forms. I resented her for not being like other mothers, who I’d see collecting my friends from school to take them back to the safe, warm and loving homes my imagination conjured up for each of them. I felt short changed, like I had been given a front row seat to a show I didn’t want to see. Over and over again.
“I feared that her pull towards bad men would seep into my skin, or worse, that I was peering into my future. History has a way of repeating itself, and perhaps it has.”
I questioned why she wouldn’t leave, and I was angry, although I didn’t recognise it as anger at the time. I was angry that she wasn’t the kind of woman who would want better and could do better. A woman who would want more for herself. Who would pack a bag and leave, and never look back. Time has taught me that it’s never that simple and that isn’t how this works.
Now, I wonder, what kind of woman did I have in mind? I was nowhere near a woman myself, and I couldn’t know the countless reasons why a woman who should leave, can’t. Sometimes it’s near impossible to imagine that another life can exist for us.
I say this with great shame. I spent years pushing her away and keeping what I felt was a safe distance. Put up walls that I rendered myself unable to offer or submit to the most basic forms of affection or closeness. What at the time felt like self-preservation and protection was in reality detrimental and hurtful.
Back then, I feared that her pull towards bad men would seep into my skin, or worse, that I was peering into my future. History has a way of repeating itself, and perhaps it has. In adulthood, I’ve anxiously attached myself to men who have behaved in ways that are at best unacceptable, and at worst abusive. Without realising, I’ve often pursued chaos and toxicity, and run in the opposite direction of secure love. My fear of these men as a wolf in sheep’s clothing overriding everything else. I’ve had heartbreak blindside me and render me hopeless.
“As a child, I didn’t or couldn’t understand. As an adult, I choose everyday to try.”
I can see now – with absolute clarity – how closely my broken parts mirror those of my mother. As do our good.
The writer Maya Angelou once said, “to write about my mother would be to write about a hurricane in its perfect power. Or the climbing, falling colours of a rainbow”. My mother is darkness and light. She doesn’t always get it right. Which is to say, she’s a person, like you and I.
While what remains of her is not who she once was – a bright, shining star, able to light up any room – sometimes there are glimmers of what was. When I think of her now, I think of someone with strength beyond measure.
Here is my resolve. I can’t take back the past, but I can try my best to accept it. That she has been a victim, one that mothered as best she could. I have seen bruises, but know they are just the surface of her suffering. As a child, I didn’t or couldn’t understand. As an adult, I choose everyday to try. To counter the mistreatment she has faced with recognition and love. I tell myself that I did my best with what I knew to be true at the time. That is all we can ever ask – that someone does their best by us.
“I received assurances from well-meaning friends that we never know what great love is waiting around the corner. And this time, it was between me and my mother.”
I picture myself on a winding road, looking back at the rocky terrain I’ve climbed. Sometimes I’ve fallen, and it’s taken me a while to get back up. Other times, I’ve walked slowly, peacefully, observing the beauty in the wilderness. Until reaching a point in the path which is unfamiliar, and I’m entirely alone, not knowing how to put one foot in front of the other. This is where we meet, my mother and I, and though she can’t show me exactly how to go forward, she tells me I must. It is one step at a time. It’s building a home brick by brick, with my own hands and grit. This is enough. It is love.
This is where our stories come together – it’s in this place that I’ve developed a deeper understanding and compassion for her – as our experiences in romantic relationships have aligned more than I could have predicted. It’s taken time, but I believe we weren’t ready to meet here before now. We seem to have arrived together. At exactly the same time.
And so, amongst the tears and the confusion and broken hearts, there’s a gift in here too. After my own heartbreak, I received assurances from well-meaning friends that we never know what great love is waiting around the corner. And this time, it was between me and my mother.
Perhaps this is my great love story. Maybe, we can save each other yet.
Dani is a freelance writer and part-time Creative Writing and English Literature student based in London. Her work has featured in Cosmopolitan, Metro, Refinery29, Severine Lit, and was longlisted for The Primadonna Prize in 2019. @DL__McCarthy
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