Love Letter to the Unmothered Women Among Us on International Women’s Day
Last September, I cut ties with my mother and ended her decades-long cruel treatment of me. It was time… I thought it was Mother’s Day that would roil me in my feelings this year. I thought I was good until then. Well, it’s not that I’m not good, it’s just that it’s International Women’s Day and I’ve been up since the wee hours pondering and writing and brooding, and I think I found the reason why I’ve been up for four hours and it’s only 7:30 in the morning. My partner didn’t stay over so it wasn’t her who woke me up with her insanely early morning electrician hours. I was up when my daughter’s alarm went off at 6am. This was all me. What’s going on?
I thought maybe it was this week’s Pisces new moon/super moon/solar eclipse. Everything I’ve read about this week’s celestial dance points to this week being about letting go/freeing ourselves of toxic entanglements and making space for new beginnings and dreams and deliciousness. But first we have to be willing to do the work…
Kate Rose of Elephant Journal writes:
Most new moons are quiet and introspective times, yet with the aspects of Mercury, Chiron and the Nodes of Fate, we truly are being placed in a spotlight, asking if we are going to live like we always have—or if we are going to be brave enough to face our darkness so that we can finally come into the light.
Chiron deals with old childhood wounds and parental conditioning that play an important role in the kind of life that we lead…
While we are beginning a new cycle, this particular eclipse triggers the last one in September of 2015—anything that was going on during that time is back in our lives and in a big way.
We are unable to cover our eyes or use our same worn out defense mechanisms this time around because the fact is we aren’t the same people that we were.
We’ve grown, changed and now there is simply no going back…
It was under the eclipse last September that I cut ties with my mother.
Adienne Elise writes about the Pisces New Moon Solar Eclipse:
This Eclipse is also a Super Moon, meaning the moon is at its closest it will come to Earth during this cycle. There is powerful energy here, an opportunity to step out of the ill-fitting reality of the past age, to re-examine and re-define our past wounds, and figure out what they can do for us now. The placement of Chiron in our birth chart denotes the energy of our deepest wounds, but also the gift that comes in the healing of it. Chiron represents both our deepest wounds and greatest healing potential. In Pisces we are looking at our collective woundedness.
Chiron represents the fight and the battle that you can never win. It is time to stop wallowing and decide to get out of the victim loop of wounded dis-empowerment. The only way to win is to exit the battle and enter into communication with the Source within. Attention is attraction and so our life can change dramatically when we put our attention on our inner power and stillness rather than continuing to identify in ourselves with the false constructs around us that keep creating so much pain.
I checked my birth chart. Chiron is in Aries. That’s my mother’s sign. Coincidence? Nah. Not at all.
My partner sent me information on what it means to have Chiron in Aries.
Chiron in Aries (or the First House) represents issues with one’s vital force to be, to act, to initiate. With this placement of Chiron, your very sense of who you are may be threatened by disturbing realizations and painful memories. You may have felt belittled and put down in your formative years, rather than encouraged, by the significant adult figures in your life. Even after reaching maturity, you may encounter obstacles that prevent you from reaching your full potential… As long as these patterns operate more or less unconsciously, they are difficult to overcome, so the first step in surmounting them is to become more conscious of your own pain; acknowledging and discovering more about what exactly went on in the past to make you feel frustrated with your own abilities. At that point you begin to come out from behind your painful experiences and really show yourself.
Two nights ago I answered the call to the page. It was late. My partner was snoring next to me and my baby girl, who asked to sleep in the same room, was snoozing on the couch at my feet. I thought I was writing something for my Relentless Files series, an essay every Friday in 2016, but this morning, when I was reminded that today is International Women’s Day, it hit me: this is why I’ve been sleepless. This is why I didn’t want to teach yesterday, why I wanted to stay home to write and sit with myself and my stories.
Writing from that night:
I’m thinking about this line in Paper Towns, a movie I just saw tonight with my daughter: “What a treacherous thing to think a person is more than just a person.”
I’m thinking about Dorothy Allison’s craft talk on writing about your life, including her insistence that you be just as ruthless with yourself as you are with other people. I am thinking of my sins. Sins as defined by Pastor Greg this past Sunday at Celebration Spiritual Center; sins meaning “lack of love,” the ways that I haven’t loved myself or others.
Like other humans, many/most/whatever, I’ve been an asshole to people. I have been selfish and unkind and defensive. As a kid, I was both bully and bullied. I defended those that were the easy targets, the nerds, the soft-spoken, the weak, the easy to push over. But I tormented them too.
I’m thinking of the group of girls in first through third grade that made my life hell and I, in turn, made theirs just as hellish. Their leader was a girl named Melanie whose hair was always styled in box braids with white and black beads at the tips so they clinked every time she walked or turned her head. Her crew was made up of Kim, a honey-skinned girl with hazel eyes whose prettiness did not betray how mean she was; then there was Tracy who I remember for her afro puffs and skin shiny with Vaseline; and there was Celeste, a pale skinned girl with pencil straight, short hair who once smacked me hard because I kept pinching her during music class. In second grade, a girl named Aisha, who was trying to get in the good graces of Melanie and her crew, chased and stabbed me hard in the neck with the sharp metal tip of her umbrella.
In third grade they destroyed my Trapper Keeper when I went to the bathroom. It had taken me weeks to convince my mother to get me one because it was expensive and we were poor. When she finally did get it for me, she made me promise to take care of it. I wiped it down every day with a damp cloth and used reinforcements on the pages that ripped. It was my prize possession because it was evidence that mom did love me, that she cared…so when I came back into the room from the bathroom and saw my Trapper Keeper stomped on, sneaker marks on the strewn pages, I was horrified. When I looked around the room, Melanie stared at me with a satisfied smirk on her face. I hurled myself at her, set on wiping that grin off her face and yanking those braids from her hair like I had so many times before.
That same year I beat Cynthia up pretty badly. She was super skinny with buck teeth and bug eyes, and all she wanted was to be accepted, so she jumped on the Melanie bandwagon too. When she called me a bitch in the auditorium, I told her to meet me in the yard at three. She did, Melanie and her crew goading her on. I ragged that poor girl, leaving her with a black eye and scratches that took weeks to heal. Melanie and crew just watched.
That year, our class (3-1, the smart class) went through like four teachers. Teachers kept quitting on us. We were so wild and angry. Vicious. We were only eight and nine years old.
When I transferred to another school for fourth grade, the violence continued, but this time it was with Bionette, a pretty Puerto Rican girl who was my friend in the morning, arch enemy by lunch and BFF again by 3 o’clock.
I’ve looked back at this time in my life, first to fourth grade, and cringed. We were just little kids exhibiting such violence; violence we saw at home and in our neighborhoods. We were just mimicking what was around us, what we saw as normal; what was happening to us and people we knew. We were acting out our pain and taking it out on one another.
I didn’t fight in fifth grade though it wasn’t for lack of trying. My teacher was this obese, blonde woman named Ms. McEntee whose feet oozed out of her low heels and face got beet red when she yelled at us, which was at least two or three times a day.
One Parent-Teacher Conference, she told my mother I was a tomboy and needed to become more of a girl. Mom pinched me hard under the desk, out of sight of Ms. McEntee’s red-rimmed blue eyes. That bruise stayed on my leg for weeks.
In sixth grade I changed schools. I didn’t fight that year either, but in seventh grade I had a fight with an eighth grader that would change the trajectory of my life. The eighth-grader, her name was Sybil, was notorious for getting in trouble. It was lunch time. One of the first warm days of the spring, and we were all just excited to be outside. Sybil pushed past me. I pushed back. And it was on. I knocked down two teachers to get to that girl—Ms. Rafael, who broke two of her long red nails trying to stop us, and Mr. Roth, my Social Studies teacher. It was Mr. Roth who saw potential in me, a girl with exemplary grades but serious behavioral issues. He became my mentor and the following year introduced me to the ABC Program, which got me out of Bushwick and out of my mother’s house.
I was bullied my first year of boarding school by a girl with braids like Melanie’s. She had a crush on a boy who crushed on me, a senior who was a football player and track star. I didn’t fight back this time though I knew I could have pummeled her easily. I was more terrified of being sent back to my mother’s house than being bullied.
Last night I read an essay by Gina Frangello, “Risky Writing: The Story I Always Tell and Never Tell.” She wrote “…I left the environment of my youth not for a bigger house or even an advanced degree, but because I wanted to be able to live without violence.”
I thought about the violence I experienced as a kid, both that I inflicted and was inflicted on me. And I thought about how I continued to court violence into adulthood. This violence was different, more sinister and dark in ways because it was emotional violence I inflicted on myself…and I sought out people who would inflict that violence on me. That’s what I thought I was worth. That’s what I thought I deserved.
3.7 writing on the train:
When I told my therapist about my brother (“he was superman,” I said), he looked off into the corner, toward the lamp to my left, and back at me, “He mothered you, in a way.” I nodded. “Yes, I guess he did. No one loved me like he did,” I said. I choked up for like the twelfth time. “He encouraged me and believed in me like no one else did.”
I’ve never used the word “mother” to describe Carlos’s love for me though that makes sense now that I look at it. I guessed I gendered “mother” to be woman but my brother, not coincidentally, was a gay man, and he very much did mother me both when we were kids and into adulthood. And that’s why his death messed me up so bad, why it had the potential of breaking me, because once he was gone there was no one to be that or do that. Not like him.
Carlos and I were partners in mischief from when I had the strength to walk and keep up with him. I don’t have many memories of him from childhood but those I do have are of us running amok, protecting each other, being daring and bad ass.
Like the memory of us playing house and watching him put on mom’s clothes and a pair of her pantyhose for hair. When he flicked his neck so the hose cascaded over his shoulder, I knew. I didn’t have the language for it yet but I knew my brother was different.
And the memory of that time Wandy, the six foot tall bully from the block, tried to mess with us as we walked home from the supermarket, El Faro, bags of groceries in tow. I ignored her when she said something to me but when she teased my brother, I jumped on her so fast, she didn’t have time to defend herself. Just before my brother died, we talked about that day. He said, “That was the day I knew I didn’t have to worry about you.”
Shit, I sure do miss him.
On this International Women’s Day, I want to shout out and hold those unmothered among us who had to come into womanhood alone, through trial and error. Who had to learn to love ourselves in resistance of what we learned from our mothers, and then had to teach ourselves that because that one woman couldn’t love us doesn’t mean all women are treacherous and disloyal. To the unmothered who feel the pinch of the mother myth dig into us when we see a mother and child…when we had to learn to mother our own. You’re not alone, sisters. So much of why I write is for you, for us, you exquisite womyn! Your bravery astounds me. Look at how you survived despite being told and made to believe that you are worthless. Today I honor you in all your rawness. Thank you for deciding to keep going and trying and striving. Thank you for you.
This morning when I saw all the postings about International Mother’s Day, I thought about my mother, about how I had to walk away from her and how though I know she’s not safe, a part of me will always wish she could love me. I realized that this day, International Mother’s Day, and this month, National Women’s Month, has triggered the unmothered girl in me. When I wrote this down, I suddenly grew so tired. Soul tired. I’d been up since 3:30am and it was 7:30. My body/heart said, “Shit, you finally get it? Good. Now sleep.” I was so exhausted I had to close my computer. I pulled out my journal and was only able to write this paragraph before one eye began to close.
So on this International Women’s Day, I want to honor us, the unmothered, who are doing the soul work so we can show up in the world and do the work we do with our whole selves. This work is hard. Digging into our lives to find the root of our pain and expel it (or at least ebb its sting) is hard. Sometimes we have to relive that pain. We have to stare at it under a microscope, inspect it and dissect it, to understand it and free ourselves of its grip, but it’s the only way and we know it. Kudos to us and our bravery. Que viva la mujer atrevida!