M O T H E R/ GIRL
A memory: I am lying on the couch in the basement of my old childhood home. All the lights are off, except the television is on, and the room is alive with flickering and jumping shadows. There is a pit in my stomach, and the pockets below my eyes are filled with tears. But for all the hours I’d been lying there, I wouldn’t allow myself to shed them. The physical expression of my worry and sadness felt like an indulgence I couldn't afford.
Everything in my body hurt. I'd been lying there all day, just like that, in the dark. I was twenty-three years old and I'd just broken up with my boyfriend.
I heard her footsteps coming down the stairs, and I tried not to feel annoyed. When my mother appeared at the door to check on me, I felt an urging toward her that was in equal measure to my want to run away. In that moment of my life, it felt too hard to be seen.
Month's before, I called my mother from the bathroom of the house I shared with my boyfriend. I was hiding, though not from him, but myself. For a good year or more, he and I had verbal fights that escalated to the physical. We were terrible for each other, and we both knew it. But I was only one of us who dared the courage to go.
The day I called my mother, needing her to support me, she told me to stay and try to work through it. After all, that's what she did. I had no idea how to tell her that I didn't want a life like hers. I didn't know how to love her and reject all that she was.
On the couch that day, the edges of where I started and who I was becoming were blurred. I had no idea what I was doing. Trusting myself was new to me, and it felt terrifying. I knew the relationship I was in needed to end, but that as far as I could take it. I had no clue what to do next. What I wanted was to rush through the part of time-giving to myself, the time of healing. What I wanted was for someone to tell me what to do. The wounded girl in me thought she needed that.
My mother knelt beside me. The look of hurt and sadness on her face is something I'll never forget. All that love, all that desire to take my pain away, knowing she couldn't because she was already saturated with her own.
Holding space was not a language we used back then. The only communication we had accessible were tears, and so we cried them. Together as girls, and as women.
To understand my mother's sadness, as well as my own, would be an attempt to understand that women's bodies inhabit entire worlds for other's. Maternity was probably the most significant marker of my mother's life—perhaps all 'women's lives. That I exist, that we children exist at all is in repayment for all the loving, for all the letting go that, as mother's, they engender, that they have taught us.
There was something I couldn't let go of on the couch that day, though I couldn't name it. But when my mother finally said the words, "Stop punishing yourself." All I couldn't do was look at her and think the words I would consider my entire life: If only I knew how.
Jocelyn M. Ulevicus has a background in Social Work, Psychology, and Public Health. Her work focuses on exploring the terrain of family violence and re-humanizing oneself after trauma, and has been published in magazines such as Mindful Matter, Entropy, and Life in Ten Minutes. Ms. Ulevicus currently resides in Amsterdam and is finalizing her first book, a memoir, titled The Birth of A Tree.
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