an impossible intimacy

graffiti of blue bandaids, one crossed over the other to make an x, on a brick wallgood morning good morning. I am in the aftermath of mom time. I am in my small room and trying to make sense of this life I am just now choosing for myself. In the dream last night someone was mugged, a woman had been hurt and we were doing a fundraiser for her maybe. I woke up and told the story of the dream to myself so that I would remember but all I have now is the word mugged, some sense of aftermath, people taking care of her, a sense of threat, we weren’t safe, it could happen again.

After I drop my mother off at the airport, I go to a coffee shop in a shopping mall, I order tea and sit outside in the breezy afternoon sun, I think I’m going to pour myself into writing but I can barely breathe. Next to me, a small family, a man and a woman and a very tall girl child. She looks like a great dane puppy, all muscles and flop, surely an athlete; she drapes herself over her mother, wraps her arms around her mother’s smaller shoulders. I wonder, what is it like to be the one trying for mother’s affection, to want your body in such proximity to the body that formed you, the body that drew you up, the body that let you go. What is it like to have that feel ok, to have such closeness be a welcome thing, to not have to shutter myself off inside, away from the vulnerability that opens in me just by being in her presence?

I cannot save my mother. I can’t go back and have her make different choices. I can’t give her a different life. I can’t understand her into clarity — this morning I am coughing and the sick is worse. How could it not be worse? It lives in my throat, all the words I did not say, all the words I couldn’t find use for.

When we are together, I experience how alike we are, and that terrifies me. I want to live in delight that I am like my mother. Shouldn’t that be the way? But I feel myself in her hands, I mean, I feel her hands living at the ends of my own arms, and I am afraid of what they are capable of.

I understand that we mythologize the mother in this culture, in all the cultures, in this humanity we inhabit. I understand that Mother has very little room to move around in, that we constrain her, we tie her tight to her children and expect her to be always and only about them. We are not forgiving of her humanity, of her complexity, of her complications.

So I have wanted to understand my mother, her desires, the thwarted and stunted parts of her, the parts that got left floating in incense-scented shafts of light in concrete church buildings in the middle of the country, the parts of her lifted out of her throat when she could not find the right words to communicate with her own mother, the parts of her that looked like desire and ambition that an era and religion forced into scared into anxious forced into something so much smaller than she ought to have been. Most of our mothers were made smaller than they ought to have been. Probably our fathers, too. What would happen if our parents could have been as big as they wanted to be, if they could have lived the fullness of their desire, if they could have wanted exactly as they wanted (for adventure, for love, for investigation), if they could have trusted their instincts, if they could have learned early to be happy with exactly who they were? Would that have led them away from our bodies, would that have allowed them to trust the voice in them that wanted to protect the children they would one day have?

Understanding her doesn’t save me anymore, though. Understanding about the aftermath of childhood trauma, about the forms that battering and control can take, about the roles of men and women under patriarchy, about the hierarchy and inter-weavings of oppression, about her brilliance, about the particular and terrible ways she herself was thwarted in this lifetime, how women are trained to thwart themselves and being able to spell out how she did so in order to be acceptable and lovable and worthy — this does not help the sorrow that lives in my bones. This doesn’t alleviate the loss. This doesn’t help me to feel safe in her arms. I wanted the intellectual to save me because going through the body (I mean my body) to get to my mother is more harrowing than I can stand. I wanted the booksmarts, the conversations over coffee, the theories that we can share. We have those theories now, and I am further away from her. Understanding doesn’t tamp down the anger, and I wanted it to — so that maybe I wouldn’t have to just feel it.

Reconnecting with the past, learning my ancestry, baking the foods my grandmothers baked, bringing my mother’s recipes into my own kitchen, learning my mother’s languages, learning to listen to her as she wants to be heard — none of this can reshape our past. None of this can change our then. None of this can change her actions and inactions, and I wanted it to. I want it to. I don’t want this anger, this terror, this entangling of need and absence of need. I am all enwebbed around her, a miasma of child ache and adult foreclosure. No wonder this exhaustion in the aftermath — I am forever working to staunch the flow of need that still erupts when I am with my mother, wanting her to be other than she is, wanting her to feed this baby girl, wanting to be safe all cradled in her arms — those same arms that cradled me right into his mouth, those same arms that folded against my terror, those same arms that could not save herself and so could not save her children.

What do we do, finally, when we can’t change exactly who our parents were, when we can’t change who they are now, when we can’t change ourselves anymore to fit what we hoped they would become? What happens when we just have to sit with the facts as they stand: they left us, we were unutterably hurt, there is no possible apology, and yet we are still alive in this lifetime and trying to find words for one another, reaching for an impossible intimacy. What between us can emerge if I stop wanting her to be different, if I stop wanting me to be different? How could we love then?

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This is the only prompt I can have for today: impossible intimacy. What arises in your writing self when you read this? Don’t think too much about it, if you can help it– just copy the words to your page or a new document and start free associating. Give yourself ten minutes, try not to stop writing, just see what comes. Give yourself that spaciousness to follow the writing wherever it seems to want you to go.

Thank you for the ways you are easy with the child self/-ves that live within you, those old longings, the ways you parent in yourself and others what should have been parented for you. Thank you for you gentle and viscous words, your complicated and confused words, your good good good words.

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