Days like this break my heart. Shatter is a more appropriate word, because for days afterwards I have to look for pieces of my heart, of myself in far flung places to which my soul is too weary to travel.
“Nne, when did you say my daughter is coming?. It’s already past 4pm.”
I know my left eye is twitching. It has always been the weaker one; the first one to let tears out, the more myopic one, the one with the tic. I need to break something, I need to dislodge the lump in my throat. I need a lot of things.
“Are you sure I don’t need to go to the school to see if there’s a problem?”
I want to scream at this woman, remind her that I’m her daughter. Can she not see her nose on my face? The nose she always regretted passing to me. The one she said sat proudly and unapologetically, even if it knew it was not very attractive. And how is it that she who knew my voice better than I know it and even before I knew what it was cannot now recognize it’s cadence? But I don’t scream. Instead I say “Mama, she’s fine, don’t worry. She’s staying at her father’s today”. Her brows furrow for a minute and then she says “Are you sure? My baby doesn’t like to be away from me”. She smiles and continues.
“Sit with me. I’m rather lonely. Sit with me and I’ll tell you about my little girl”
My left eye has started its dance again, but I sit with her and I listen. I watch more than I listen. I see the crinkles at the place where her eyelids meet and the lines that make their way from the side of her nose to the edge of her mouth. My mother’s eyes never shine more than they do when she talks about her little girl. I used to be her, this little girl, until I lost my mother to dementia. She’s here, but she’s not here. She’s right before me and yet I cannot tell her that I am probably never going to be a doctor, like we always planned because things changed. I cannot tell her that I turned down the best man I’ll ever know yesterday because I feel tainted, dirty. I cannot tell her that my own father tainted me with the smell of his skin and crushed me with the weight of his body. I cannot tell her that I don’t remember what my voice sounds like and how much I need her to remind me, teach my vocal cords what notes to play. Teach me how to ‘untaint’ my flesh.
The weakling has begun to give way to tears. Weakling. My left eye reminds me of myself. It is me. Weak, broken. My right eye is so stoic, she bears it all until the weight of her neighbor becomes too much for her and she unwillingly gives in, only letting trickles out. My right eye is my mother.
“Nne, why are you crying?”
“I… I… miss my mother”
“Ohh, come here. Where is she? Is she alive?”
Her eyes are so sincere I do not want to confuse her with tales of how her little girl is now grown but more lost and little than she remembers. And so, I say “She died when I was twelve, it’s been twelve years”.
For the next ten minutes, it’s like my mother is here again as she cradles and soothes me. She tells me I’m not alone and I have her and I can always visit her and that she’d love for me to meet her daughter. She tells me how afraid for her child she is and how her little girl needs me to take care of her and protect her. She shushes me almost aggressively and says
“Look at me! You have everything you need! You are everything you need! No one can break you unless you hand them the weapon and show them where to use it. Look at me, nne. You’re such a good girl, your mother would be so proud”
Of course, when I go back two days later, she doesn’t recognize me. Neither as her child, nor her friend. She sits in a chair, rocking herself back and forth anxiously. I want to hold her and soothe her pain and confusion, but the nurses warn me that she has been aggressive since I left two days before. She’s my mother, I say, she needs me. My mother has never been a weakling and even at fifty, my twenty four year old bones are no match for her. She fights me off and is terrified of me.
“I WANT MY CHILD!!”
Its almost as if she gave me her calm, her peace just so I could find mine, be happy. Be her little girl again. Honestly, I will never again be that little girl, but I will try to use her strength well. I will try to be my own right eye, even as I will not despise the weakling. I take steps backward and I hear myself whisper “you have everything you need, you are everything you need”. When I’m outside, it’s such a normal day, I’m stunned. The wind isn’t in my hair and the sun isn’t anything poetic but scorching as usual. But everything I need is here, with me and I’m ready to live.