Mothers Without Mothers
We are the mothers who have no mothers. Death and depression turned them into ghosts.
You can find us on the fringes and hinges of places, a tribe of motherless mothers. We stay in the shadows, under the trees, the ones wearing hats and dark glasses at the school functions. We come into the light only when we have to: because our children are smart, because our children are dumb, because one needs a staple in his head, 13 stitches on her chin, because they have burst wildly into cold anger, because one is student of the month, because you are trying to squash their spirits with your thumb, because our child scored the highest on some test you think is important, higher than all the other children who have mothers who have mothers. Somehow we know the ghosts of our mothers have made our children smart. We don’t know why though.
With no mothers, we grew up wild, without corsets or cotillion, girdles or panty-house. Nobody taught us the secret ways of womanhood: how to be coy, how to bat our eyelashes, how to walk elegantly in high heels, how to French braid our hair, how to keep a white floor clean, how to find through cooking the way to a man’s heart. Nobody reminded us to act like a lady and keep our legs crossed. We initiated ourselves into the tribe: nicked our legs with our father’s razors, fumbled with the tampons, put the flowers behind the wrong ear, found the clitoris.
Perhaps because we have no mothers, we have no husbands either. This wasn’t necessarily the plan, but maybe it was. We know this is not what Freud would say, but we think Freud did too much cocaine. Every once in awhile, we see the fathers without fathers. We think, perhaps, we would get along, but maybe not. Maybe they are too much like us: fanged and suspicious.
We have compensated for our motherlessness in different ways. Some of us have made it into a shiny, dark stone around our hearts. Some of us spread our legs every time, eat the orgasm out of your body. Other can’t stop moving, from city to city, lover to lover, job to job. We love men and women, both too old for us and too young. We fuck like we’re feral.
We keep to ourselves, and through slitted eyes, watch you. We can smell your fear of us, how beautiful and mangled we are, how we have learned to survive without the rituals and rules. We know how to fix bikes and throw punches, how to have abortions and roll cigarettes. We have developed an immunity to stepmother’s slaps and poisoned apples. We open bottles of beer with lighters, start fires, install tongue and grove floors and then dance on them, mow lawns, fix flat tires, jump start cars, grow vegetables in our gardens. We walk away quietly, rolls joints, have multiple orgasms. We like the smell of our own pussies. We gave birth squatting and howling sorrow like our grandmothers, like Eve who also had no mother.
It is only around each other that we remove our masks, undo our bras, laugh like hyenas. We smoke in front of the children. We tell them the truth when they ask about Santa Claus, about marijuana, about sex, about their non- fathers, about the word fuck. We let them burn their names with sticks of fire onto the blackness of the sky while we drink daiquiris. We let them burn their notebooks. We teach them to cut with knives, weld an axe, to cook their own food. We let them walk to the corner store alone, showing them how to hide money in their fists. We say, when we leave them in the car, if somebody tries to kidnap you, stab them with this pen in their eyes and neck. We let them have soda and french fries, and when they beg us for collard salad and brussel sprouts, we say yes.
We are the mothers who have no mothers. They left for reasons we understand now that we are mothers: how needy the children are, how selfish, how they have no appreciation for the wholeness of us. Every once in awhile we would like to fall completely apart, but instead we hold ourselves together with needles and duct tape, cigarettes and wine, smoke and mirrors. If we didn’t know what it was like to grow up without a mother, we too might leave, consume pills and vodka, ask for electric shock therapy, drool on the bed, place our child quietly in a basket to be carried by the river to another, better mother.
And our children...what will they say about us?
About the Author: Andrea Boll lives in New Orleans where she teaches writing and literature to reluctant teenagers. Her novella, The Parade Goes on Without You, was published by NolaFugees Press in 2009. Her work has also been featured in New Orleans Review, Eye Rhyme, Rio Grande Review, and most recently in Please Forward: How Blogging Reconnected New Orleans After Katrina.