For years I've tried to focus on the indomitable strength of my parents. The people that brought me into this world and who made a conscious decision to be the all and everything to and for my brothers and I for a lifetime. I made a consolidated effort to try and steer my thoughts whenever they strayed to the darkness and really focused on spreading light forcefully into anything that attempted to seep into my spirit and crumble my resolve.
Sometimes it works.
Sometimes it doesn't.
When I think of all a parent has to be, I am humbled by the sheer weight of the job. Of dedicated fealty. And honestly, sometimes, I'm thankful it's a job I never had to undertake. I think of my mother, beaten and broken, getting up, no matter what, to get us ready for our day. I think of her soft hands, smiles and kisses as she made our breakfast, placing our plates gingerly on the table in front of us wincing slightly at the weight of balancing the plate as she holds one of her wings close to her side to balance out her pain from her bruises, her abuse, her choice to keep her children in a two-parent home which all the Elders and society lead her to believe she needed to have so that we could grow, and soar and fly while she watched protectively from her nest.
With a broken wing.
So we had to learn early on to not depend on her always, not because she didn't WANT to take care of us the way she wanted to but because her choices might hinder her from being able to. Her wing might be broken. Or her jaw. Or her collarbone. Or four fucking ribs and her wrist.
And she'd arrange her long hair artfully. A long spiral curl falling softly in her face hoping you wouldn't look closer into her eyes and see the bruise there fading or pay attention to how one half of her face slumped from the stroke she'd had and wasn't afforded with the luxury of recovery properly because he demanded that things get back to normal as soon as possible because the longer things weren't "normal" the longer he was faced with what he'd done. Again, and again and again. And how watching her hurt hurt him and he saw it in our eyes and he knew he'd done it but he didn't want to but dammit he did it. FUCK HE DID IT. HE HURT HER REPEATEDLY.
And always with remorse. Always with gifts. Always followed by something pretty when she was the most beautiful thing he could ever touch.
By age 12, I was put in charge of her Mother's Day gifts. My father would give me a wad a cash or a credit card and he'd take my brother and I to the mall to pick something out. He'd sit on a bench and wait no matter how long it took. He didn't rush us, he wanted to make sure that she got something she'd love. I'd go store to store looking for the perfect something for her. Something I'd seen her linger on before but wouldn't buy for herself because she didn't want to spend the money on herself because she had four growing children running out of yesterday's clothes. I'd touch the fabrics as I'd watched her do a million times. Rub it against my cheek to see it if was a pleasing feel. I'd imagine how she'd look dressed in it. How'd she'd walk if she wore it while free and happy with the wind blowing in her hair and with her dress up jewelry and shoes. I'd always get it gift wrapped there and take my time choosing the paper and ribbon in the back of the store or at Gaudchaux's up the elevator that smelled of ammonia and something sweet in the middle of it. I'd be proud and my little brother would be quiet knowing that this was the most important thing we were tasked yearly because it was her day. HER day. The one who did so much and took so much yet received so little in the form of hugs and kisses. Not knowing then...that it's what she truly valued the most.
And when the box was complete, when I'd passed over the money and the gift was placed directly in front of me, he'd stand on his toes to take it off the counter so he could carry it gently. Wearing his clean and pressed shorts, his tube socks with the coordinating stripes. His afro picked out to perfection because she plaited his hair every night before bed so it didn't get tangled. And he'd carry it reverently and I'd follow behind him, small chest poked out. I got it right. I know I did. I know she'll love it. Not that pretend mommy love either. The for real kind.
She'd love it.
He'd see us coming and ask if we were good?
We're good, daddy, we're good.
Your mama gonna like it?
She's going to love it daddy.
My brother silent, looking at him with eyes that were always cloaked hiding what I now know he never really hid. He simply kept it at bay from this one.
And we'd keep the gift hidden. A secret. Until Sunday morning and we'd be so excited. And she'd sit on the furniture we never sat on and she'd exclaim over how beautiful the wrapping paper was and she'd take it off gently so as to not tear it and we'd be giddy with excitement, jumping beans in pajamas with bed plaited hair and sleep crust on the corners or our eyes. A runny nose from the air conditioning and ashy knees and elbows. And she'd open it and lift it from the tissue paper, her eyes glazed over with happiness. She'd place the box gently to the side and hold her gift and she'd look directly at me with softness in her eyes, girl-to-girl, and smile KNOWING IT WAS ME WHO KNEW HER SO WELL.
I so loved that feeling of being able to do for her something she'd never do for herself in a way she'd taught me how. Paying attention to the details.
I don't know if I would have been able to be her. I doubt I could ever bend the way she did. I doubt putting the lives of four other people always above her own is something I would have ever been able to do the right way. The bar of motherhood she set would have been a struggle for me to lift myself over. I don't have the dexterity it would have taken under the conditions she did it all under. I doubt if my anger, always right below the surface, would have been able to be pushed out of the way by light as she did. I doubt having my wing broken would have ended with my making breakfast.
All the mothers I know have this. That all consuming power they use to cover their children and keep going. Bullshit at work with a smile because they can't pop off in an explosion of words and angry emails taking down fools with them and rolling out in a blaze of glory.
I am in awe of what children do to women. How it polishes them into such rare and beautiful sparkling gems. How it preens them into powerful all knowing beings.
For the past month I've been on top of the world doing what I love. Last night I dressed up like a girl and danced with true happiness. Nearing the end of the night...someone release a lantern into the sky. Just one. As I watched it fly away my mind exploded with thoughts and images and sensations of her and my heart cracked open yet again. A wound nothing will ever truly heal.
I drove home in pain. In silence. With tears streaming down my face missing her so fucking much even as she'd been gone more years now than I had her.
But I remember her.
And I miss her.
And God knows how very, very much I fall back on the strength of her. Of needing her.