On Mother’s Day I almost threw my phone across the hotel room when the buzzing from Mother’s Day messages wouldn’t stop. Mother’s Day texts. Mother’s Day emails. Mother’s Day Facebook posts. Mother’s Day calls. I didn’t want to hate Mother’s Day but I did.
I walked out into the chilly Syracuse morning and asked the universe: “And what of us who are not mothered? Whose mothers are incapable of mothering us?” The universe sent me nayyirah waheed’s “birth lessons”:
cruel mothers are still mothers.
they make us wars.
they make us revolution.
they teach us the truth, early.
mothers are humans. who
sometimes give birth to their pain. instead of children
I was in tears the other morning when I saw the video of Kevin Durant giving his mother his MVP award, saying, “You’re the real MVP, mom.” I thought about mom. I thought about how I haven’t seen her since December, haven’t heard her voice since then, all the heinous messages she’s sent me. I don’t want to resent her. I don’t want to say that she’s never been there for me but it would be a lie to say that she has been. It would be a lie to say that she’s supported me through my fuck ups, through my successes, through everything. What can I say about my mother? When people are shocked that we’re not on speaking terms, I can’t help but purse my lips and roll my eyes. This is just one of the many times mom has denied me her love. That’s how she punishes me, how she’s always punished me, she denies me her love.
It’s called complicated grief. It’s the everyday living exacerbated by my grief or my grief exacerbated by my everyday living. I sat for months in my grief over losing my Superman, my brother Juan Carlos Moncada; feeling it; staring at it in wonder; marveling at it; letting it consume me. I let it kill me a little in hope that it would give me life…and it did. Eventually, it did…but first…
In December, my mother stopped talking to me. She’s done this countless times throughout my life, so maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. Maybe I shouldn’t have set myself up for this heartbreak. Maybe I should have known that she would eventually withdraw her love, that her opening up to me was just a fluke…but how can you prepare yourself for that? How can you not be happy, get excited when your mom opens up to you? When she holds you and cries and lets you see her, all of her, all her pain and her raw and her love when what you’ve known from her for so long is her ugly. For a few months, I had her and maybe I should be happy about that. A part of me is happy that at least I had that, but much of me is angry and resentful and sad, so fucking sad.
The day before Mother’s Day, I watched my comadre dancing with her mother. They giggled into eachother. Joked like mother and daughter do. I watched their dynamic all weekend. They snap at eachother and then lean in for a gentle tug of the hair. Mother leans in and rubs her daughter’s hand. Daughter watches her mother cook, how she serves her husband before serving herself. She shakes her head and rolls her eyes. To me, she says, not loud enough for either mother or father to hear, “Don’t even get me started.” But she says nothing to them. It’s how they are. Who they are. They love eachother through it all. It doesn’t matter if they don’t approve of eachother’s lives or the moves they make, decisions they make. Daughter came out to her family a few years ago. Today, mother cooked next to girlfriend. There is effort. There is love. There is trying.
My daughter walks up to me. She has a stomach ache, her head hurts. She leans into me. I hold her and rock her. Run with her to the bathroom twice so she can throw up. While her body shakes and she gags, I rub her back. I put cold water on her forehead. She pulls away, “No.” “I’m sorry.” She cries and says, “Oh mommy.” I hold her until the color comes back to her cheeks. This is the mother-daughter relationship I wish for, I’ve always wished for. This is how it should be. It isn’t perfect but it’s love.
In February, I finally realized I needed therapy. I couldn’t do it alone anymore. I didn’t want to. I’d sat in my grief for so long. It’s what I needed to do—pick up a chair and sit in the muck of it. Feel it all. Let it kill me a little bit so I could find/make a new life out of the wreckage. But then I found myself stuck. I didn’t know how to get out.
It started around November. I’d been grieving so hard. Writing and grieving and writing and grieving. On Thanksgiving I woke up choking. I couldn’t breathe. I was frantic. I woke up Vasia. Bless that child for knowing her mama. She didn’t even question it. Asked nothing. She just followed. We didn’t even brush our teeth. We didn’t change out of our pajamas. We threw on our coats and ran to my aunt’s house who lives two blocks away. I couldn’t be alone. All I kept thinking was: he should be here. Why isn’t he here? After a few hours in my aunt’s house, she sent me home with the boys to get my clothes. She made sure I wasn’t alone at all. I didn’t go home until the wee hours in the morning, when I was too tired to cry.
For my birthday a few weeks later, I went out because I felt I had to. He wouldn’t want me to be unhappy. He’d want me to celebrate. When the slice of cake came, I stared at the flicker of the candle dancing in front of me; I heard my friends and family singing happy birthday somewhere in the distance. I buried my face in my hands. “You should be here,” I whispered.
The rest of that time, until sometime in January, is a blur. I remember the snow. So much snow. I remember the cold. The biting cold that froze my fingers and ears and crept into my bones no matter how many layers I wore. I remember that cold creeping into my chest and sitting there. Getting out of bed was so hard some days. Some days I didn’t even try. It was in January when my daughter didn’t want to go with her dad for the weekend that I started to wake out of my stupor.
I took her to a psychologist who met with me for the first two sessions. There were two things that she said that leaned in through the fog that was my heart. I was telling her about the last few months of our lives, all the loss she’d experienced, my brother’s death and the people who’d left our lives since then, some because they couldn’t handle my grief, some because I’d decided I didn’t want them there anymore. I told her about how mom had abandoned us, yet again. “It’s a lot for a ten year old to handle,” I said. She looked at me intently, “It’s a lot for you to handle too.” I fell apart.
During that same session, she said, “Taking care of you is taking care of Vasia.” I knew at that moment that I needed to get therapy, no matter how much it cost me. I started therapy less than two weeks later.
I haven’t really worked on the memoir since January. I needed to step away from it for a while. I tell my students that not writing is part of the process, but I rarely permit myself that. And when I do, guilt gnaws at me like a serrated knife. This time I knew I had to. I had to give my heart some rest.
But, every night, when I look at the storyboard of my memoir, on its perch across from my bed so I have to stare at it daily, I feel the guilt bite into me. I feel the “you should be working on that fucking book, V.” I remind myself that this space is necessary. I needed to do something different. I needed to process therapy and my grief. I needed to process the different perspective therapy is gifting…her reminders that I am not crazy, that I have had a difficult life, that I am not weak for needing help, that mom likely has a personality disorder as well as PTSD and bipolar disorder and there is nothing I can do to help her, that it is me I have to save.
I told my therapist that it wasn’t until about two years ago that my brother and sister finally agreed, “yes, mom was harder on you.” For the first time I felt validated. So it’s true, I wasn’t just being sensitive. (To this day I hear her, my mother, “Ay, a ti no se te puede decir nada” when I fell apart under her verbal blows.) “When your feelings are denied, in some ways it’s like denying your existence,” my therapist said. Woah.
Yes, I had to process the discoveries I’m making in therapy.
I’m starting to put the pieces back together. And the other day, as I sat on the porch in Syracuse, New York, I felt this “new normal” creeping in and for the first time in a long time, it didn’t feel scary. It felt promising and full of possibilities. It felt like a new beginning. Like I get to try again and there’s always been comfort in that—the chance to start again…
Before Carlos died, I was surviving. There was so much I hadn’t dealt with because “you don’t have time for that, V.” I was focused on survival. On moving forward one step in front of the other, and again and again. There was no time to look deeply into my pain and all I’d been carrying from my past, from not being mothered, from having to become a woman by myself through trial and error, and, yes, I confess with some shame, from falling in love again and again with the same type of emotionally unavailable man. But then Carlos died and I knew that loss had the potential of breaking me. I pulled up a chair in my grief, not because I’m a glutton for punishment but because everything inside me told me that if I ran from it, it would destroy me. Carlos’s death triggered something, the opening of the infernal Pandora’s box, and all the hellish chupacabras I’d stored away to deal with later or never deal with at all, came rushing back, except now they had this Herculean strength and a resolve I’d never imagined. They came for my throat. They wanted blood. They said, “Look at me. Feel me.” There was no other way….but it got to where it was too hard for me to do it alone. Me, who prides herself in being able to do this shit on her own. That was such an incredibly sobering realization—that I couldn’t do it alone and that I didn’t want to.
My mind goes to just days after my brother died. I was at UC Berkeley for the VONA/Voices Workshops. My brother died on Monday. I threw myself into my work. By Wednesday, I needed an out. I was drowning in my sorrow. A few friends and I walked to a bar in Oakland. When we walked in, we ordered drinks and just as we raised our glasses for a toast, “To remembering,” I said, Rihanna’s “Stay” came on. I felt grief grab me by the throat and squeeze. The walls closed in. I ran outside. I tried to breathe through it. I tried to cry but the tears wouldn’t come. Crying would have been a reprieve. Grief wasn’t having that. When I finally caught my breath, I felt a presence next to me. I looked over. My VONA sis Arianne placed her hand on my shoulder. “You don’t have to do this alone.” That’s when the tears came. Soft, quiet tears that streamed down my face and neck and pooled in my cleavage. “I feel guilty,” I whispered. “I feel like my grief is tainting VONA. I know what VONA does. I’ve been here five years. I don’t want to taint anyone’s VONA.” Arianne gave me a soft smile. “I’ve been studying wine, she said, “I learned that on the land where the grapes to make champagne are grown, thousands of people lost their lives in battle. So what feeds the grapes, what gives them their body and richness, is blood. Don’t deny how your blood is feeding this VONA.”
And so today it’s okay for me to say, “Mother’s Day was hard this year” because though my mother is alive, I have been an orphan for years. This truth has been whipping me for the past few months since mom stopped talking to me again. It’s a truth I’ve run away from for years, and one I can’t run away from any longer.
I am an orphan…
I escaped the city for Mother’s Day weekend. My comadre’s daughter graduated from Syracuse so I headed north. I would have gone regardless but I won’t front, I was grateful for the excuse to get away. I felt the anxiety slipping off me like silk the farther I got from the city. As I watched us slip through lush valleys, flocks of hawks and ravens swooping overhead, smaller birds darting around, deer in the fields, I could feel the tightening in my chest loosening. I thought of my mom and the dinner that was planned that Saturday. I imagined her cruelty, her biting indirectas. Her energy is painful when she’s angry. Venomous. She shoots me “you disgust me” sneers and shifts her body away. When I texted my sister to get the details, she answered, “Same old.” I looked up at the Syracuse sky and mouthed, “Thank you.” Bullet dodged.