Three months before my brother died in June of 2013, I ran into him at my aunt’s house. I hadn’t seen him in over a year. We sat in the hallway, chain smoking and talking about our childhoods, our pain, how damaged we still were. Carlos’s face drooped like a hound dogs, his cheeks caved in—the same look longtime heroin addicts get. If you have a heroin addict in your family, you know that look well. Carlos looked at me worried and said, “I’m scared something’s gonna happen to me and you and mom will never talk again.” At the time my mom and I hadn’t spoken in over a year.
As I write this, it is November of 2015 and my mother and I haven’t spoken in well over a year and a half. I’d be lying if I said I’m happy about it. The little girl in me will always want my mother to love me.
My mother has stopped talking to me countless times. This time I can’t tell you what it was I did or didn’t do, but in the past it’s always been because I didn’t do something or live my life the ways she insists I should. It doesn’t matter that I’m a month shy of 40 and left her house 27 years ago and never moved back. “I’m the mother,” she’s said, like that cancels everything else out.
Her silences have dragged on for months. And each and every time, I’ve gone back, my head hanging, wishing, hoping, sometimes even saying it outright, “Love me, please, love me.”
Every time except this time.
We have been taught to sacrifice ourselves at the altar of the family. That works and is wonderful when your family is supportive and loving and self-aware, but what happens when your family is not these things? What happens when your mother does not mother you? What happens when the love you need to function and be a productive member of society is not given to you by the people who are supposed to give it to you? Our culture does not teach us how to deal with these realities so we have to teach ourselves. This has been my life–teaching myself to mother myself and support myself and be there for myself. And I had to teach myself (am still teaching myself) how to mother my daughter in a loving, tender way. This is my journey.
I don’t know anyone who’s done it or at least I can’t remember if I do. Who am I referring to? People who’ve walked away from their mothers. Who’ve said, “That’s it.” This past lunar eclipse, under the red moon, I cut communication with my mother.
My mother has punished me for 39 years by denying me her love. I never had the audacity to walk away from her completely. I’ve gone months without talking to her, or better said, she’s gone months without contact. I’ve run into her at my aunt’s house during these silences. What’s she done?
She glares at me. Then she gets up promptly and says, “Me voy,” through gritted teeth. Her lips pulled back over her teeth like saran wrap. The same face that would send me scampering to a corner when I was a kid.
The last time she did this, my aunt’s best friend came out to the hallway crying. She hugged me and said, “I’m so sorry.” I shrugged. “How do you deal with that?” “I’m used to it,” I half-lied. The truth is that I am, but it doesn’t cut any less deep every time.
That day when she walked by me, she pulled her shoulder in so she wouldn’t touch me.
This is my mother.
I don’t know why she stopped talking to me this time. I know that in my grief over losing my brother, I was forced to face countless griefs I’ve been carrying, including the grief over being unmothered. I realized in my healing and in therapy that my mother is a bully and has undiagnosed mental illness. I realized I don’t deserve the way she treats me and the cruel shit she does. I never have.
A few years ago, I stopped by my aunt’s house with my sister-friend Jessica. I was there to pick something up. I didn’t know my mother was there. She glared at me like she does, then she stood up to leave. I introduced my friend, “Jessica, this is my mom.” My mother gave her a wide smile and shook her hand. “Hola.” Then she lifted her nose in the air and walked by without another word. No hello to her daughter. No blessing in answer to my “bendicion” as has been our tradition since I was a little, little girl.
When we left a few minutes later, Jessica stopped me in the street. “V…” she said and stared at me, her eyes wet. “We’re not gonna talk about what just happened?”
“What do you want me to say, sis?”
Jessica searched my face. I was numb or was trying to be. I shifted my weight and stared up the block at the tigueres on the corner. I pulled my scarf tighter around my neck. “I told you how it is between me and her…”
“Yeah, but… It’s different to witness it for myself.”
Jessica put her arm around me. We walked straight to the liquor store. That night, we sat in my kitchen and got falling over ourselves drunk. We didn’t talk about it again.
I don’t want to hate my mother. I don’t want to vilify her. I don’t want people to think her horrible or hateful or cruel. But more than that, I don’t want to hold it in anymore…this reality of my life. That I am unmothered. That this mother wound has been raw and open for a long, long time and I have to heal it or risk losing my mind.
My mother’s last message before I blocked her came on September 26th. Somehow she found out that I’m in a relationship with a womyn and she had to tell me what she thought about it. She called my relationship garbage. She called me stupid. She said my daughter would suffer as a result of this stupid decision. She went on and on about how stupid and sinful I was.
I know she’s projecting. I know she’s ashamed of having been in a relationship with a womyn, my Millie, for 20+ years. I know she sees that relationship as the biggest mistake of her life. I know all these things but none of this excuses her behavior. None of it. I won’t give her a pass anymore.
I didn’t respond to my mother’s text. I cried. I heaved. And I knew then and there that it was time to walk away. After 39 years of her punishing me by denying me her love, it took her trying to deny me this love for me to say, “That’s it” and “Ya!” and “I’m done.”
I blocked her under the blood moon while sitting in my partner’s backyard. I cried hard. I prayed. And then I let her go. I don’t know if it’s forever but I know that it’s for right now, and that’s enough. I’m taking my power back. At the ripe age of 39, I choose me. I choose my heart. I choose the little girl who somehow knew at 13 that she had to save her own life.
I’ve been reading a lot about the mother wound; articles and essays and books. I’ve been posting them on my FB timeline, in solidarity. To let the quiet ones know they aren’t alone. I know I am not alone in this. I know how it felt to discover a while back that being “unmothered” is a thing and there’s community out there for womyn like me.
This past week I posted an essay my friend Jessica (yes, the same Jessica) sent me: “Navigating ‘No-Contact’: When Estrangement from Your Mother is the Healthiest Choice. I quoted the essay, “We can’t save our mothers. We can’t save our families. We can only save ourselves.” Shortly after posting, two womyn responded. These womyn are mothers whose children decided to walk away from them. I wanted to be compassionate. I wanted to understand and show them love, but I couldn’t. I got angry. I got resentful. You see, it’s always the same thing: the mother gets the last word, the children are silenced and shamed. The mothers cry and say how hurt they are, but what about us, the children who did the walking away? What about me? I felt my pain being dismissed again. It pissed me off.
One womyn wrote: “There’s a human being on the other side of that silence.” She made it about her. I get why. I get that she was triggered. I get that her son hasn’t spoken to her in five years and she wanted someone to hear her anguish over it. I get that she was venting, releasing, looking for compassion, but I can’t be her soundboard, I can’t give her that compassion, and I resent her usurping my post and making it about the moms. It’s been about my mother for 39 years. I can’t worry about her anymore. I have to worry about me and my healing. I can’t apologize for that. I won’t. It’s about time…
My writing is full of references to this mother wound. It’s the core of why I write… It’s how I take my power back again and again.
I recently rewrote my artist statement and for the first time knew without a doubt that I’d gotten this one right…
When I write, I am a little girl again, sitting at my mother’s feet. She is sewing a flower onto a table cloth as she tells me stories of her childhood in Honduras where she endured the kind of poverty we only see in Save the Children commercials. I see her eyes go far away and know she’s back in La Ceiba. She grows quiet when she gets to the part about coming to the U.S. at 15. That’s where she always stopped, no matter how much I tried to pry it out of her. I write to fill in what came afterwards; to try to understand why and how she became the woman and mother she did.
Mitch Albom was on point when he said: “Behind all your stories is always your mother’s story. Because hers is where yours begin.” In understanding my mother’s story, I understand why I’ve become this writer who insists on breaking these silences so neither I nor my daughter has to carry them. I understand why I tackle such difficult topics, like rape, sexual assault, drug abuse, sexism and homophobia, no matter how much they dig into me, because ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist won’t make them go away; it makes them ghosts that haunt you relentlessly. This is the root of why I became a storyteller.
I’m taking a Cave Canem poetry class and a few weeks ago our facilitator, Tracie Morris, had us write to our kidneys. This poem was the result:
The body knows
How do you teach your body joy?
Ask her to hold you when she doesn’t know how—to be held?
Ask your kidneys to breathe when all they know is clench?
Ask your heart to open when all she knows is blood and grief?
How do you let go and let love
When love told you:
“You ain’t shit!
‘cause you ain’t shit!”
How do you tell your pancreas:
“Thank you. I love you”
When love is what you longed for
But didn’t get
Because mama was raped
And her mama was raped
And her mama too was raped…
They were never taught
To hold and love tender
Never learned love that didn’t crush
Didn’t teach girls to hate themselves
Think themselves vessels
For men to spit on and in
How do you teach your daughter what you were never taught—
Remember how you taught yourself?
Remember the stories you told yourself up in
that plum tree in that backyard
of your beloved Brooklyn
all rubble and crack.
Remember how that tree taught you
all thick branches
and heavy fruit.
Teach your daughter the same way
Of surviving thriving living.
And forgive— yourself
and her mama
They were just surviving
And teaching you to survive
the best way they knew how.
And, baby girl,
they never had that tree in their backyards
to teach them…
I’m still working on that forgiveness part.
Deciding to walk away from my mother has been the hardest decision of my life. It’s been six weeks and I think about her every day. I wonder if she’s okay. I wonder if she’s eaten, if she’s taken her blood pressure medicine, if she’s thought about me today… I know it’s the right decision. I know that it’s about time I work on the damage that relationship has done to me but I also know that I can’t pretend to be unaffected by it. That’s never worked before and it won’t work now.
I miss my mother. I will always miss my mother. I will always long for the healthy, functional mother-daughter relationship we never had. It’s why I work so hard to have that with my daughter…and with myself.
I’ve been participating in Oprah & Deepak Chopra’s 21 Day Meditation Challenge: Become what you believe. Yesterday’s meditation brought up a lot. I heard my mother’s voice telling me that I ain’t shit, “dejas la inteligencia en la escuela.” All those feelings of unworthiness came bubbling up to the surface. When I opened my eyes, my face was wet with tears. I held myself and talked to that hurting little girl inside. I reminded her that I am here, that I am holding her, that she is loved and worthy and enough. “Look at what you’ve done, baby girl,” I whispered. “Look at where we are. Look at what we survived. You’re a bad ass.” I swear I heard her laugh. We laughed together. For a moment, we were good.