Mother Mirror

I used to love watching her get dressed in the mornings.

She'd slip on, one leg at a time, a pair of black or nude silk stockings and pull them up, all the way up her thigh and then her hips, the elastic band snapping at her waist. Or at least it did in my mind.

Afterward, she'd put on her clothes and then all the make-up: eyeliner, mascara, foundation, rouge, and lipstick. I never thought she needed it because, man, my mother was beautiful. But each day she'd put it on and I'd stand beside her, watching it all happen, thinking someday, I'd do it too.

And also, maybe someday, I'd be beautiful.

When I was a girl, I wanted to be just like her. The medium of her body moved with a rhythm that existed entirely in and of itself. Electric. Uprooting and rearranging the world around her with the melody of her feet to the earth. How I wanted to be like that. But it was hard work, to be like my mama. The things I had to do.

I studied her for a long time. She used to stand in front of the mirror a lot. I remember how it seemed that she both did and didn't like what she saw all that much. I started doing that thing too. I'd stand in front of the mirror and look at my belly, my hips, and my thighs. For a good while, I wasn't sure how I felt about the sight of my nude flesh. But later, I was convinced: I hated it.

I was too young to know that a problem cannot be solved at the level it was created. I began, instead, to walk with my legs pressed together to be thin like hers. I also played with the make-up I'd find in my mother's purse while trying to uncover the woman-secrets she hid in there, dusting the contents with pink or coral blush. When she wasn't home, I would read her diet books and secretly, I began counting calories too. And in this way, I felt closer to my mother. In turn, my mother always asked me how she looked and if I liked the things she bought for me, both of us circling our tails around the need for the other’s approval.

What if self-possession derived from what is not there?

When my parents started fighting, I admit, it felt more difficult to want to be like my mother. Listening to her sooth my father was tiring and painful; as was listening to her scream at the top of her lungs. Though, none of this was as painful as feeling the need to get into the middle of them to make them stop.

The chaos zipping around my body = the environment is an extension of the animal.

I would reproduce my mother's behavior every time I got into trouble. I threw large fits, crying, screaming, and neither of my parents knew what to do with me. I had no idea how to soothe myself.

I felt consumed by the dynamic interplay between her and me: both of our bodies as containers, not knowing how to make the body home. Both of us unconsciously provoking in the other the need to fill the vessels of our bodies with hidden hopes and desires and longing. Neither of us able to acknowledge the danger of naming one another an idol.

Our interdependence was unsatisfying and dysfunctional. It was in this way that I learned that it was possible to love and resent a person. I started projecting my feelings of worthlessness and need onto her; the kind of wrong thing a pained and wounded daughter does, insisting my mother spend the rest of her life making up for it. And she did. I know this because after my mother died, I'd read her diary. In it, she recorded how both awful I was and how sorry she was for it, blaming herself. And in other passages, she wrote about how she missed her own mother too, and all the things she was sorry for.

Suppose the starting point of beauty is the re-sensitizing of the self, of the belly, the heart. From the horizon of female flesh, rises meaning, love. Isn't it funny how we expect our mothers to be everything, to be at our service at all times: the carer, the nurturer, the protector; the food, home, and shelter? And how we punish her for the slightest transgression! As children, and we hardly notice it, but we participate in the very form that shapes her into mother and nothing else, while shaming her for trying to be herself. Still, and somehow, she survives our mixed messages. And what a grace it is for her to do so: this is where she mines her strength to endure.

A mother's touch is a mode of attention, signaling the warm bath of the womb. All children seek this reminder, as do, all adults. A memory: I am maybe three years old and in my mother's arms. Her dark hair is permed, curly, framing the beautiful stage of her face. My chubby little fingers are playing with her hair. She is smiling at me, and I am laughing at her. The environment is an extension of the animal. A mirror. Joy.

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 which was recently short-listed for the Santa Fe Writer's Program 2019 Literary Award. If you'd like to get in touch with her, send her an email at: heart@ardentheart.me. She'll probably write you a love note or two.

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