written January 8th
“Your motherboard is gone. She’s dead.” These are the words my computer tech wiz guy (yes, that’s what I call him) messaged me shortly after picking up my computer. I thought, “Damn, how’s that for a metaphor!” Then I almost lost my mind thinking about everything I had on that computer, including my manuscript. Fresh edits. So much of my work. WTF?
Sunlight shone in through the fog: my data was not lost. Amen!
My sister friend Joshunda Sanders’s writing newsletter landed in my inbox right on time. “I connect my faith to my courage. I believe that courage is really faith, which is the evidence of the unseen.” I read this right when I was breathing through my desperation. Reminding myself: Okay, you didn’t budget for a new computer but your data is not lost, V. My manuscript, my writings are safe. Courage, V. Faith. Remember.
A little while later, another sister friend, Maria Rodriguez, posted a link to my wall, saying she felt I would appreciate the words. The title read: “can we heal what family means?” I read it on the 34th Street A train platform, after buying my new laptop with money I didn’t have. I had to squeeze the tears back into their ducts, breathe thru the pounding in my chest. I felt like I was about to explode. “What happens when we let ourselves be exactly as we are? What energy gets released when we stop trying to pretend we’re already someone or somewhere else.” Damn.
Today, I too am “full of questions and mourning and loss.” Today, I too “am wondering about family, how we learn to exclude ourselves from it, and how we unlearn the lessons from family that came to us when we were children: that family is not safe, is a site of abandonment and/or control, and is better shunned at all costs.” Today, I too am “feeling that place of separation and longing.”
“Your motherboard is gone. It’s dead.”
It’s been over a year since mom stopped talking to me. Sure, she had a moment, a window of tenderness a few months ago. Sure, I knew then that mom’s unpredictable and could very well send me a fuck you message at any moment. She hasn’t replied to my texts or answered my calls since. I didn’t expect her to. I only expect her to be who she is. Who she’s always been. This doesn’t make her rejection any less devastating. Some days it doesn’t stab quite as deep. Today is not one of those days.
Today I am feeling the loss.
“Your motherboard is gone. It’s dead.”
Today I’m sitting thinking about what I had to do to save myself: I had to abandon my mother. Sure, I was only 13. Yes, I know that I wouldn’t be who I am had I not left. But still, when I left, I left her. It’s what I had to do.
Excerpt from A Dim Capacity for Wings, Chapter 1 – First Light
By the time I was five, I already knew something was wrong with my mother. I knew she wanted to kill me. And I knew it was my fault.
I was so little I had to climb onto the toilet seat to look at my reflection in the mirror. The blue plastic shower curtain framed my body. I pulled up my flimsy white t-shirt and stared at my torso. The left side of my rib cage was dotted with red splotches, where Mom had pushed the knife in. Not hard enough to break skin but hard enough so I that it hurt. Hard enough to terrify me and break capillaries. Hard enough that I thought she was going to kill me.
I don’t remember what caused Mom to flip out that day. Maybe I walked in front of the TV while she was watching one of her novellas that played on Channel 41 and 47. The ones she watched religiously, every night, sin falla.
Maybe I’d broken a glass, tripped and dropped some food on the floor. I’ve always been clumsy. And Mom couldn’t stand it. I got beat so many times for it. I fell. Scraped a knee. A hole in a pair of pants. “Es que tu cree que yo soy rica.” Slap.
Or maybe it was my mere presence that set her off. I was so often the target of Mom’s rages.
Mom was violent. She used her hands. Or a belt. A coffee mug with hot coffee hurled straight at my head. (Thank God I’ve always had good duck and weave skills.) An extension cord a few times. But that day Mom took her anger somewhere else.
I don’t remember where she got the knife. Or how. But I remember clearly how sharp it was.
It was a small knife. Like a paring knife Millie used to peel my apples. Or an orange peeled into a long curled string that I carried around until it was hard and cracked. But this knife was pointy. I felt that point push into my skin.
I didn’t dare look at Mom and I didn’t dare cover my ears. I heard her tell Millie, beg her, “Atréveme que yo mató a esta desgracia’.” That’s when she first poked me. I bit down on my tongue. I couldn’t yell. Couldn’t say anything. That would make it worse. I pushed myself into the couch. The rips in the plastic pinched my arms and scratched my back. Dug into my thighs.
No te muevas que te mata. I was so scared Mom would plunge that knife into me. Over and over.
She kept poking and daring Millie. Begging her.
I stared at the oil stained walls of our living room. The pictures on the walls. Pictures of my family. Us kids, me, my sister and my brother. My parents, Mom and Millie. I stared at Mom’s ceramic figurines on the wall unit. The capias from sweet sixteens and baby showers. Her porcelain Honduran flag. I looked at Millie. Pled with my eyes. Begged her to save me. My Millie who I met when I was two. Who took me in as her daughter, her negra. Millie, the butch who taught me love.
“Dejala. ¿No vez lo que le estas haciendo a la nena?”
Mom just kept begging her. “Atréveme. Atréveme.”
“Mommy, please. Please Mommy.” Mom’s face was twisted. Wild. Her lips were pulled back over her teeth. She looked like the demons I’d seen in so many movies that had kept me up so many nights, peering through the length of our railroad style apartment, I fought sleep until I saw daylight break into the kitchen window. Only then would I let my eyes close. The demons only came out at night.
“Cállate!” she yelled and poked me again.
When I told my mother years later that she’d held a knife to me when I was five, she told me I was crazy, that I was making it up. That she was not capaz of doing such a thing. I don’t think she’s in denial. In her mind, she never did this. This was her first psychotic break that I can remember. It wasn’t the last.
Mom didn’t kill me that day, obviously, but she spent much of my life trying to break me. Tame me. And that day I learned that Millie couldn’t protect me from my mother. No one could.
So many times during our fights, mom would yell, “Te fuistes. Tú te fuistes.” It was an accusation. She was really saying, “You abandoned me.” Today I feel the guilt of that truth. The one I’ve denied, convincing myself that I hadn’t. I was just a kid. Mom says, “tú eras la fuerte.” She says my sister and brother needed her more. And perhaps that’s true but I wish she would’ve asked me, said something. She never did. I just watched her be there for them. Watched with jealousy and resentment. That was my fuel for leaving. That and her abuse. Safety didn’t exist with my family so I went searching for it outside, far away, alone, on my own. I was only 13.
And now, 24 years later, I wonder if I ever found that safety. Part of me is still searching. I look at all the stupid decisions I’ve made in my search. Mistakes I still make. But how can you find something you don’t know? You’ve never seen its smile or smelled its body.
I’ve had to create safety for myself. I’m still learning how. I’m only now giving her a face.