For me, life began when I was in my twenties.
I remember it clearly, the moment the membrane cracked and I pushed my finger out. The kitchen table, mother’s hands pressing it down like it was just about to take off and start floating around us, complicating things even more. Every shadow on the walls, every speck of dust in the air, every word. I stood up, half expecting everything around me, chairs, pots, kitchen appliances, to open mouths I never knew they had, and bite at me.
Nothing happened really. No earth trembling, no tentacles reaching out from under the counters to tie my ankles down in a million sticky knots. I took one step, then another. She was still yelling by the time I reached the door. I didn’t slam it, but it felt like I did. It felt like I punched and kicked it and smashed it to bits, and the violence of the thought scared me. Perhaps there really was something wrong with me, I thought, but that possibility frightened me even more, so I quickly blinked it away, checked my watch again, and left. 14:06, a Sunday. Life begins.
My mother is a wonderful woman. Funny, well read, a brilliant doctor. She grows roses and has a beautiful singing voice. She cooks the best lasagnas and bakes the best ginger bread cookies. She has friends who love her and colleagues who admire her. She’s survived several life threatening episodes, a difficult marriage, and my teen years. I love her. I love her in a complicated way, and that’s fine, because I’m told all families are complicated, and all loves are complicated, and I’ve never pretended to be special in any way.
I’ve never written anything about her. I’ve rarely talked about her, in fact, so even my closest friends know very little about what growing up was like. Does that make me dishonest? I suppose so. But in all honesty now, though I have a million hopes and dreams and want countless new things from my life every day, there’s nothing I want more than being friends with my mother, and that makes me sad.
For the longest time, I didn’t want to have children. I’d launch myself head first into arguments on the subject, I’d serve my female friends and various boyfriends the speeches I’d rehearsed countless times before, I’d be relentless and perfectly convinced of the validity of my reasoning. It took me years to realize it wasn’t that I didn’t want, like, need children, but that I was terrified, obsessed, certain that I wouldn’t be a good mother.
I had no idea what being a good mother meant, of course. I’d only known one mother and I knew I didn’t want to be like her.
Seeing these words typed in a line here sure makes me feel like a horrible human being. Ungrateful. Guilty.
I mean, my mother was an amazing mother in so many ways. She never left my side. She watched over me during my many convalescences, she kept me clothed and fed, she bought me toys and books. She put me through my studies, she sent me on holidays. She taught me how to tie my laces, walk in high heels, cook, use a map. She taught me I wasn’t anything special. I wasn’t pretty. I wasn’t funny. Hardworking enough, smart enough. Anything enough, really. I’d never have friends, success, a lover. I’d end up alone. Homeless. Begging for her help.
My mother taught me not to smile too much. My teeth were not my best feature. Not to talk too much. Girls like me would better know their place. Not to wear what I thought looked good on me. My “good” was everybody else’s “slutty”. Not to trust anybody. No reason why anyone would like me, surely they had some hidden agenda if they wanted to hang out with me. Not to hope, dare, try, want. They were for other people, these things. For prettier, bubblier, wife material girls who never slouched and never frowned and always listened to their mothers. All I could do was work hard in school. Get a job. Be grateful for her guidance.
I’m almost 30.
I no longer spend every waking moment wondering about everything. Second guessing every other decision, imagining hidden scenarios, looming dangers everywhere. I can look at myself in the mirror and be OK with not just the face, but the person looking back at me, and that’s a little miracle in itself. I’ve learned how to talk to people, how to say what I want, how to not burst into tears every time someone tells me I’ve done a good job. I’ve tried everything I’ve wanted to try. I say everything I want to say. I’ve turned into someone. An imperfect someone, of course. A someone my mother would have to knead into the right, perfect shape, if I was to make anything of myself in this world.
I took away her last chance to mold me into perfection when I moved to London.
Months later, she’d still be calling me in the middle of the night, crying. I’ll die, she’d say. I’ll die if you don’t come back right now. They’ll find me dead on the kitchen floor and you’ll learn of it over the phone, from a stranger. You’ll be happy then, won’t you. You’ll finally have killed me.
I’d hardly ever say anything. My cheek would sweat against the screen of the phone. When we’d hang up, I’d just sit there for a while. Sometimes V. would come and hold me, though it would be late, and we’d both be really tired and he’d have thought she’d have stopped calling a long time before anyway, but she hadn’t. I wouldn’t cry, I wouldn’t even blink. Maybe something really was wrong with me, I’d think, afraid I didn’t know how to even begin to live this life.