This is the story of a mother-daughter relationship. A daughter who rejected what her mother embodied. Socialization and nurturing significantly dictates who we are and what we become. Rejecting your socialization is hard, but in our communities that raise us with so much misogyny, it is a necessary journey to take. Here it goes…
She had the dignity of a queen but I guess she was not born with the star of a queen. The fault in our stars. She was the woman they wrote ballads about. Ballads of praise for her beauty, poise, strength, dignity, resilience, and intelligence. Semi-baked ballads that hypocritically failed to mention the other side of her story. That side was not a good fit for their narrative.
I loved her more than anything. She loved and put me first always. I looked up to her every day of my life. Stole glances at her gorgeous face whenever I thought she was not looking. Gazed upon her beautiful form whenever I walked behind her. She was still shaped like the African woman in those ballads, even at her age. Her steps had become shorter over time. She had become slower too. Still, those steps were assured and firm. She was still the woman I loved and cried for.
She was their role model. She was mine too so I never hesitated to write long compositions about her elegance and resilience. I was younger then. I remember how widely she would smile whenever she read the compositions I wrote about her. She once laughed after reading one and mentioned something about how my writings were hyperbole. They were not, she just did not know how amazing she was.
I cannot stop these tears from flowing as I write about her and for them. With a grateful heart because I can write because she taught me how to. I cry because I watched her roll in the mud like a pig for me and I could not pick her up from it. I cry because the most beautiful woman I know lived all her youth with a man who could not love her even a little. Maybe just enough to not disrespect and humiliate her with those nursery school teachers he liked so much. ‘If she was that beautiful and he couldn’t love her, who would love me who looked exactly like her?’ is what I often thought during those moments when I stole glances at her gorgeous face. I used to wish I could look like her even when I am older but I do not even recall when I stopped wishing for that.
I cry because all I remember is her picking crumbs from the floor when she deserved to head the table. ‘How could she be so happy with those crumbs every day when she could have so much more?’ That is what I wondered about later on when I got older. When I was younger, I bent down and helped her pick up those crumbs just so I could see that smile on her face. Her joy at having me by her side, learning how to pick crumbs too. She was my everything, she still is, how could I not help her in the only way I knew how?
I cried because I felt helpless watching her put a knife to her stomach on that day. Tears were flowing down her face and she was ready to leave me. I don’t need to remember grabbing the knife from her because I still have the wounds from that encounter on my hand. I do remember screaming at her, ‘Please stop. What am I supposed to do without you?’ I remember her telling me that I will be just fine and referencing how there were so many orphans in the world and some turned out okay in response. I am glad I refused to listen to her. What would I have done without her? Even now, at my age, I still need her.
I cry because of the shame. The shame I felt every time and every day. I still do. The shame I felt every morning after staying up all night screaming at her to let him go. Her screaming back at me about how he was the roots and we could not live without him, just like the branches and leaves. Why was I ashamed? Nobody knew that was what I had dealt with all night. Nobody could tell by looking at our smartly dressed selves, holding hands or driving out of that home they could all kill for. I still feel shame every time I speak. The shame of keeping his secrets. How could I tell you he came to visit me in school with her? I dreaded those dark nights that came a little too often, I could not cause one of them.
I cry because every time I look at her I see a rose trampled on the ground. Getting stepped on to create space for me. So I can be the rose in the expensive glass jar of an art gallery. Galleries I dislike, dread, and despise. Then I cry some more because she will not perceive the gallery I choose to be as good as the art gallery she intended for me. I hate that I cause her pain in this way but this rose has to stay far away from that ground my beautiful rose got trampled on. Is it not natural to avoid a tragedy area whenever possible? This rose has to avoid the art gallery too because roses in the art gallery are only useful for a short while when they are fresh. When they lose some colour or get a little stale, the art gallery throws them away forgetting that their lack of care is what made the rose that way. So how can this rose willingly walk into an art gallery? No, never.
My woman with stories to tell, who kept silent all her life because she was scared that they would label her the woman with stories to tell. Nobody liked a woman with stories to tell. No man wanted to marry one and no woman wanted to be one. So any women who had stories to tell stayed silent. That is how they bought our silence and wrote ballads of the parts of our lives they thought fit to air. We appreciated their ballads and felt like they were speaking for us hence the reason why we did not dwell on their half-truths and white lies. Hence the reason why we let the air out of our lungs only at their convenience.
I hope she forgives me. I once woke up every day and did everything perfectly out of the fear that I might not live up to her standards. Now I wake up glad that I am too scared to make the choices that she did. I once woke up glad every day because I had her in my corner. Now I wake up with so many regrets that I never saw her pain and I ended up adding to it instead of making it better. I once got out of bed energetically ready to ease her burden by doing the chores. Now I wake up terrified that she could leave me before I am capable of making sure she lives the life she deserves.
My heart breaks every day for her because she deserved more than this life gave her. I scream in pain for her because she took less than she deserved every day and nobody could change that, not even her. So I forgive her. And I show up with double effort and energy because I am showing up for her too. For both of us. So I sit at the head of the table where she couldn’t. I walk out of situations that cause me any pain or misery. I demand what I deserve from this life. And I go back to all the places where she was trampled on and speak for her. That nobody will ever have to write single-story ballads about me as they did her. My story will be what I dictate and stamp.