My thumb fans recklessly through all these years until I find her—blank-faced, the tears a silent delight, the stoniness the only thing that can keep the rough barbs of a thirteen-year-old at bay.
There she is. My mother.
And there I am, small and stupid, because what else would you call a reckless mouth and a self-centered heart? I am young and growing beautiful like a rose rooted in poisoned soil.
I don’t know any better, and isn’t that the sweetest gift a person can receive?
But one day, I do know better. I’m in my late thirties like my mother used to be. I hit the gym, and listen to other parents wax on about parenting. I take my dog for a walk and try not to stumble on loose pebbles. I’m reaching the age of “she used to be,” while I’m still firmly footed in the “she is.” What can you say when your biggest adversary sprung from your womb?
I shuffle back there again, my finger holding the page to look at my mother’s face. I’ve hurt her again, but to hear me tell it, I’ve never hurt her at all. I love her, that I know, but I must be going now because sixth, and seventh, and eighth grade, onward and upward, offer all the things a mother can’t. And she knows this too. Maybe that’s why her suffering is basking behind her steely resolve. What hope is there in hoping for everything you’ll never be able to change?
I think of my mother’s prayers, each one braided like flowers in my hair. Each one anchoring me in the ground as the angels watched me drink my life away. I wonder about their eyes, round orbs, watching my next move, waiting on God’s. What will happen to this girl who thought she knew everything, hoarding nothing at all in the back of her mind?
But I didn’t die, and I suppose it was my mother’s reckless heart, breaking through any bit of stoniness, her steeliness, her frank understanding that nothing can be done, so nothing she did.
And now here I stand, heart for God as if I’ve cut it out and offered it in my trembling hand. How powerful those prayers were. I shuffle through the pages, gathering all of them, hoarding them in my empty mind for my own daughter, her face not close enough to touch.
© 2023 by Ericka Clay
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