Re-delivering Our Mothers to Themselves

m.d. leto
Posted July 30, 2010 from United States

This is a concept I have been long-thinking about. When my mom was three-years-old she ran into a burning hot stove. She has a scar down the middle of her stomach. I was born with the same exact scar in the same location. She has always believed we share a very special bond because of this.

When I was 6 my mom left for 9 months. The story of why is different depending on which parent I speak to. My mom says she had been married for almost 10 years by that point and my father paid no attention to her. He worked and came home and drank beer. She fell for someone else, a friend of theirs. She still didn't know how to enjoy herself as herself (not as a mother or a wife, as her happiness was intricately tied to these two roles) so this new affair was an exciting get away.

My father says she was on cocaine and took off with his best friend. His version is usually a little more crass and he always reminds me of how thankful I should be that he doesn't still have the answering machine messages saved from when she was gone.

I don't know what happened. I was 6. I remember a package of purple skittles from this time and my aunt taking me to work with her on a horse ranch. I remember descending into a dark basement at the babysitter's house where her husband was, and remember nothing past the last step.

I have the same scar she does. Over the past few years, as I have grown into a stronger-minded woman, as I have become more educated about all of the violence against women in this world, I have developed this urgency of delivering my mother back to herself.

This morning I spoke to my best friend about this and she feels similar. My favorite song/poetbird/friend also experiences this urgency with her mother. I wonder where it came from. As I asked my friend this morning about her mother's history I asked her:

How old was she when she was married? How much time did she spend with herself between divorce and re-marriage? Has she ever had to rely solely upon herself to live, for comfort, for happiness? What is the history of your family?

We traced it back to the first generation of her family born in the US and spoke about the effects of that generation and immigrant parents. We talked about how different our lives are now, at 25 and 26.

My nanny, my father's mother, tells the story of how she fell in love with my papa in Brooklyn. He was a cute Italian boy playing baseball. The ball was hit too far, she picked it up - love at first throw back. My nanny has told me about her mother who came from Berlin, who wouldn't talk much about her past because it was that dark. My nanny had to raise her siblings and was taking care of the entire household at a young age, contributing financially with no time for school.

I think of how handsome my father must have looked in that NAVY peacoat when he was stationed in San Diego. He must have looked like a hot ticket out of California to my mom. They married and moved to New York.

I'm not programmed that way. I don't want to rely on anybody except myself. I never want to feel stuck in a relationship because of financial entanglement or fear of self-reliance, but I live in a different world than my mother did. Sometimes I forget the difference thirty years can make. Up until two months ago I was making a kush salary at a corporate job, paying all of my bills on my own, going to school full-time, teaching once a week, spending hours of spare time writing nonfiction and poetry curriculum, branching out into the community to help others self-express.

I have seen what lack of self-reliance has done to my mother and father. They continued to stay in a marriage that was unhealthy, to set unhealthy examples of relationships and boundaries, and made drinking and repression seem like the way to deal with everything. I have fought hard to overcome the examples that have been set for me. I have fought even harder to look realistically at the situation. It took me a long time to understand the impact of emotional and mental abuse on my mother's psyche. I even noticed it in myself when a lover called me a crazy bitch and slammed through the house. I learned that these things are forgiven by morning, instead of heeding the weight of words as direct reflections of internal behavior.

The scar leads to my heart. It is no coincidence. My friends and I who experienced this with our mothers, I feel we are mirrors for them to remember the ability to heal, choose love and passion, and instead of being gently submissive, becoming gently fierce instead.

It reconfirms my proposal to change the world too (although this is general) : men need to be more gentle, and women gently fierce. When I see women in politics in the US, sometimes I see this image that is actually quite masculine, on purpose. As though, they will not be seen or heard unless they are being seen and heard as only powerful. Can we be both gentle and fierce at the same time? Do we give up one to be seen as equal in a patriarchal playing field?

I know the world is changing. I know women are changing. If we weren't, I wouldn't have sat on the porch this morning for two hours talking to my friend about this - redelivering our mothers back to themselves. I do not come from a generation of women focusing on the domestic - but a generation of women beginning to break away from it, yet still engrained with inherited beliefs they have not shed.

Once in a poetry workshop a woman declared she would not write in the journal during exercise time. My friend said, "That's ok, we can't force you to do anything." She asked why I write, and I said, "I come from a place where my voice had been taken from me. I wasn't allowed to be unhappy. If I was anything but happy I had to be out of sight and mind. It is a hard thing to live like that, only ever sad or angry inside of yourself, instead of outside. Words have saved my life, nobody can take them away from me. Every time I write, something inside of me is healing, or breaking so that it can mend itself."

She wrote. She kept writing, every week. She was excited to share with the group too. At first, I felt discouraged. Working with her reminded me of 30 years of difference. It wasn't that she didn't want to, she had just forgotten the sound of her own voice, even when written. Often, my voice feels the loudest when it is written.

Comments 4

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  • Jade Frank
    Aug 02, 2010
    Aug 02, 2010

    Dearest Mei Li,

    Thank you for this. For sharing your personal experience - both frightening, and healing. I think that your words will speak to many women around the world, as it has to me.

    I love this line, "Can we be both gentle and fierce at the same time?" Yes - I believe we can! And I agree, that women need to emerge in leadership roles in their own way. Not replicating man's way, but tapping into both our femininity and harnessing that fierceness that's down in our bellies. Because we've experienced the world as led by man, and it's not working. I believe it must be a balance of the yin and the yang - the masculine and feminine - that working together across the gender divide, we can truly form a peaceful partnership.

    Your voice IS loud - and we're blessed to have you here among us!

    In friendship and solidarity, Jade

  • m.d. leto
    Aug 02, 2010
    Aug 02, 2010

    I appreciate all of that. I am looking at Portland State University for a possibility for graduate school. I was browsing their internship list yesterday and found Glimmer Train, Tin House, and World Pulse - all of which made me happy. I feel blessed to be heard by more people.

    The concept of being gently fierce is something I've been working on in my nonfiction for a long time. I finished a manuscript in January and think I could chalk the concept of it up to learning how to be gently fierce in a world that is severely unbalanced. Add being a woman, and queer, into the mix and the battle becomes even more intriguing, throw some gender discovery into a handful of relationships and politics, and we get even deeper into how important it is to be gently fierce.

    For some reason I just had a vision of chopping all of my hair off and suiting up in armor. I don't want to chop my hair off or put down armor, I'd rather dread it and raise my voice instead. I believe it must be a balance of yin and yang too, and that we all struggle for that sense of balance within us, as we possess both attributes. The more balanced we become as individuals, the more we can impact on larger scales.

    Thank you for reading :)

    blessings, peace and poetry

  • Jade Frank
    Aug 02, 2010
    Aug 02, 2010

    Hi Mei Li,

    I have a friend who interns at Tin House - he's an excellent writer like you. Which program at PSU are you looking at? I agree - that the yin and yang - masculine and feminine within each of us is a powerful balance as well.

    I look forward to reading your novel - it sounds fascinating!

    In friendship, Jade

  • Kim Crane
    Aug 03, 2010
    Aug 03, 2010

    your writing is amazing. I hope you do end up in Portland. You would take this city by storm!