I’m looking for a picture. My mother is a teenager sitting at a dinner table and everything about her is defiant. From the straight line of her forearm, elbow propped on the table, chin cradled in hand, to the look of disdain in her eyes, eyes that stare right through the picture at me. Eyes that burn with such intensity that even in her slouch, she is determined, assertive. It is the slouch of a woman who needs to tend to her wounds while she plots your inevitable demise. The first time I saw that picture, I could not love my mother any more than I did at that moment, not only for who she was to me, but also for who she was when she was a sullen teenager. I loved her then because she was real; flawed, stubborn and beautiful. It was a different love to that I felt as a young girl; then I loved my mother with ferocious fragility, I had never known someone so beautiful or perfect. I loved her like the heart shaped, glass jewellery box on her dresser. It was the kind of love that tempted permanence, for such delicate things are not meant for the hands of a child. To hold onto that love, that idea of perfection, was to grasp it too tightly. It was to break it. And break it I did, because it was the kind of love to be broken, broken into cold, sharp pieces that could never be made whole again. Broken so that the broken mess no longer resembled what I thought love to be. Broken so that in its place, could grow something fierce and unyielding.
I am looking for a memory. The rain came suddenly; heavy drops diving towards the ground with great ceremony. It was the kind of rain that did not bother to darken the sky, it would have never been that inconsiderate. Instead, this joyous rain chose to frolic alongside the sunshine, making the most out of a Summer afternoon, stealing kisses with the gentle rays. I found my mother sitting outside on a low, red bricked wall, her face to the heavens. Her back faced me and even though the rain absorbed the sound of her laughter, you could not mistake the sound of her joy. “What are you doing?” I admonished, testing out my new found adultness. I wonder if I had frowned and smiled at the same time. Undeterred, she kicked out her feet in front of her and said to me “Haven’t you ever just sat in the rain?” She laughed at my foolishness, as if there was nothing more natural than enjoying the rain. I wanted to join her, but there was such a simple elegance to the picture of her in the rain that I knew that the heavens had opened just for her on that day. I would have my day in the rain, it would be years later, but in that moment, it was enough to watch my mother stripped bare of every hardship she’s ever had to endure. In that moment, it was enough for me learn a lesson in strength, resilience and happiness. In that moment, it was enough for me to stand back and long to be the kind of woman my mother was.
I am looking for a chain. It is an ordinary chain, made of gold; the small links are heavy and cool on my skin. The weight of the chain anchors me, lest I float off to the nightmares circling above my bed. It is my secret talisman that binds me to my mother and to the safety that I need. A nightmare stops mid circle and decides to test the power of the talisman, it leans over me to whisper that tomorrow I shall awake with no mother, that I was never good enough for her, that I was always naughty and getting into trouble. My hand clasps the chain and I shut my eyes, I make it so if my mother where to come back for the chain, she would have to wake me to take it off. I knew that if she woke me, I would convince her to take me wherever she was going, she couldn’t leave if I was awake and if I had her favourite chain around my neck. In my childish mind, full of the great desires of eating two helpings of ice cream instead of one, my plan was fool proof. Even as a child I knew I was too lucky, that she was too good, that no child could have had a better mother. As an adult, I know it to be true that I’ll always be striving to be worthy of her love, of the sacrifices she made for me and I know that I’ll never come close enough.
I am looking for my mother. And I find her in me, I find her in everything good, and in some of the bad, in me. I find her in my laughter, in my strength and in every achievement, I ever had or ever will have. I find her in awe and wonder, I find her in the parts of me that will never be her. I find her in the weird and often random people she mothers apart from the children she bore. I find her in everything I do, I find her in my drive to be more than I am today. I find her in herself, a woman who has grown more beautiful with age and who has taught me time and again what the meaning of strength really is.