The Theory of Freedom
I am surrounded by Black femmes who have nonexistent relationships with their mothers. I find myself asking the question of why?
Are we not deserving of a mother’s touch?
My mother is 5’2 and her skin is a shade or two lighter than mine. Her mother didn’t love her and I’ve carried that burden. My great-grandmother, Zora, was one of my mother’s primary caretakers. They often visited Sandersville, a small town in Georgia where my family resides. Zora was a Christian woman, one who took her God seriously and she raised my mother with conviction. She was surrounded by love, but no matter what, nothing could fill the hole in her heart that her mother had left.
My mother has always been in my life but— she was never present. As a child I caught myself playing in her shoes, but they were too big to fit my feet and too wide to stand in. The few times I did feel acknowledged, I fell victim to my biggest bully.
There was a point in my life when I wanted to be my mother’s best friend. I always wanted to have a relationship that went deeper than;
“Did you do your homework?”
“Watch your brother, I’ll be right back.”
One day, my mom bought a notebook. She sat me down and explained that it would be our notebook, so when I felt as if I could not speak my mind aloud, I would be able to write anything, it would be our secret world where we could talk to each other and tell each other everything. My heart exploded into a billion tiny stars; our notebook. I had accepted that this would be the closest thing I would get to a friendship with my mother. I was used to getting scraps from her so this felt like everything all at once.
She would write me letters, stories, and jokes, pass me the notebook and I’d do the same with a man-eating grin on my face. When I couldn’t speak to her in person, which was all the time because I was an anxious child that always expected the worst, I spoke to her in our notebook. I believed it would last forever and the new home we made on lined paper would shield us from the world and its problems, our problems.
My mother eventually began dating after the divorce. The first boyfriend could easily be marked up as a rebound relationship, as it lasted roughly 3 long dramatic months. I wasn’t a fan of him because he watched me the same way he would watch the janky TV in our living room. He never stared at my mother that way.
I didn’t like the second boyfriend she brought around either, it was because he was mysterious and older. I believed he was the reason my mother got tattoos and smoked cigarettes, why she stayed out late at night with stained eyelids from her cheap eyeshadow, and why she felt as if she was 16 again. I wanted back a mother that didn’t belong to me.
Our utopia had a rat infestation and I wanted to handle it— but the shoes were too big.
So, I did what I knew best. I wrote her a letter. The details of the letter are locked away in my memory but I vaguely remember saying I did not like her boyfriend, and that her lack of presence hurt.
I watched her throw my letter and scream until she couldn’t find any more words. I gave her back her notebook with tears in my eyes and quietly sobbed in my bed, afraid she would hear me. It was at this moment that the harsh reality I tried so hard to run away from, met me face to face. I accepted that there was nothing I could do to feel loved by my mother or make her love me. She is a person with free will that cannot be manipulated by me and whatever power I thought I had, she had all along.
As I cried under my covers, I grew angry with hot tears running down my chubby cheeks. I no longer wanted to chase after my mother. If she wanted to be 16 again and experience the world without me, I could as easily experience the world without her. I am my mother’s child after all, and the stubbornness that runs through her veins– i’ve inherited it.
MOMMY, WHY WON’T YOU LOVE YOUR LITTLE GIRL?
YOU BIRTHED ME IN AGONY AND HELD ME WHILE I WAS COVERED IN YOU BECAUSE YOU DIDN’T WANT TO LET ME GO.
YOU. YOU. YOU. YOU.
I’VE ALWAYS BEEN A PART OF YOU, BUT LOVE IS WHERE YOU DRAW THE LINE?
The older I got, the more my emotions grew out of control. I held a lot of resentment towards my mother and for a period of my life, my only goal was to escape her clutches. In my earlier years, I had assumed that my relationship with my mother could not be salvaged and honestly, I was too lazy and unbothered to pick up the pieces.
It was the morning of my senior graduation. My graduation dress didn’t get delivered in time so the previous day, my stepmother took me to get something else to wear. We went to Burlington and none of the clothes fit me. Because I was bleeding out of my vagina, I was more emotional and sensitive than usual. I cried in aisle 8 as my stepmother showed me my unflattering options. I ended up settling for a black jumpsuit. I thought it was too mature, and not in a good way.
As I sat at my desk doing my makeup and occasionally eyeing the ugly jumpsuit that laid across my bed, my mother knocked on my door. She made small conversation with me, asking how I felt and if I was excited, I gave her one-word answers hoping she would take the hint that I wasn’t interested in conversing with her. It was silent between us for five minutes, the only sounds heard being my AC and occasionally a car passing down the street. My mother broke the silence first.
“My baby is all grown up now,” She cried.
I stared at her as she sobbed, slightly annoyed.
“Mommy– don’t cry. I’m not leaving you or anything.”
“I know but you are so grown up now. I want you to know that I love you, and I always have. You are my first born and it feels weird looking up at you while I speak now.”
I began to tear up.
“I want to be a better mother and I’m sorry if you feel as if I haven’t been so far. I am trying Aiyanna. I only had you at 18 and I didn’t know what I was doing, I was by myself. I don’t want to be the old lady that doesn’t talk to her daughter, I want you in my future so tell me what I have to do to keep you in my life.”
As I looked down at her, not only did I see my mother— I saw a woman ready to be martyred.
I cried as we hugged and in silence, my mother helped me get into my outfit. She took one last look at me and called me beautiful before she retreated back into her room. I caught an Uber to my graduation and I never celebrated my accomplishment with her.
CRY INTO MY ARMS AND BEG FOR MERCY.
I LOVE YOU SO MUCH BUT YOU BRING ME SO MUCH PAIN,
I AM NOT A WOUND HEALER MOMMA, I CAN’T FIGHT FOR US NO MORE.
It wasn’t until I moved out last October that my mother and I realized how desperate we are for one another. I forced myself to sit down and reflect on our relationship in March and I let my mind wander from our relationship and its flaws to my mother’s dreams and aspirations, how much she’s sacrificed to survive in a place she no longer wanted to be.
I realize that my mother has her own trauma. She was a young black girl navigating the world on her own. She’s told me about all the dreams she’s had, how she wanted to be a doctor and travel the world. Her dream fell through due to a lack of support and eventually a child. She fought till she couldn’t anymore and while it is important for me to hold my mother accountable for things she has done to me, I cannot help but sympathize with her, not as her daughter, but as a daughter.
She is just like me, a daughter who wants to feel their mother’s love. She wants to be able to call upon her mother and not have to beg for acceptance or time, to hug her mother without the strange glares, for she has given her mother everything only to receive nothing in return.
I am now 19 and I still cannot fill my mother’s shoes, I am a size 9 and she wears a size 7. I cannot shrink myself down and cradle her and protect her from all of the fears in the world. I am not her mother. No matter how much time passes she still lives in fear, scared that she will repeat the same mistakes her mother made. She is afraid that her child won’t be able to lean on her hollow frame and cry into her shoulders, the same way she wished she could cry into hers.
A conversation between my mother and I. (June 2022)
Black mothers are unhealed black daughters. They’ve been neglected in their own homes and families, and a majority of them have never had the privilege of knowing what “generational trauma” is. I find myself being thankful for the language and tools of my generation, to be able to be aware of my manipulative and toxic traits and have the power of changing them. My mother (and others from her generation and so on), who I viewed as pathetic and embarrassing, did not have those privileges. She only accepted what she thought she deserved, a lesson my absent grandmother taught her. My heart aches for her.
I went to visit her last month (or maybe it was two months ago). I had been having a hard time adjusting to the loneliness that comes with living on my own and my natural instinct was to crawl into my mother’s arms, and that is exactly what I did. We greeted each other and exchanged a few jokes before embracing one another.
She held me like I was delicate, afraid that if she made one wrong move I would fall apart. She joked that she hasn’t held me like that since she gave birth to me and then there is silence, and eventually tears.
We stood there in the middle of the kitchen my stepfather paid for, surrounded by sports memorabilia and the tension leftover from household arguments, drowning ourselves in our sadness falling into each other’s arms. I had never cried in my mother’s arms before and vice versa. As someone who prides themself on their strength, I’ve never felt so weak and vulnerable before. I am my mother’s baby– her prized possession even. No matter how many times she yells at me, or belittles me, or tries to convince herself she hates me, when she looks in the mirror she will see me and only me. She has learned to love me with all her might because she realizes I am every dream she has ever wanted.
If I had a daughter I would cry to her the same way my mother did to me, I would belittle her and crush her dreams. I would tell her to lose weight and to fix her face. I would embarrass her in front of family and friends every moment I got and say it is love.
And when I feel like the world has given up on me, I will crawl back to her and beg for mercy. Tell her how much I love her and how sorry I am. If I had a daughter I would feel sorry for her, sorry that I did not love her enough to break the generational curse of not having a loving mother.
This is how my mother loved me and how your mother loved you. And while she texts me an apology once a week, and no matter how many times I tell her it’s okay, nothing will free me from the cycle of constantly being upset and holding my mother accountable whilst also being her biggest fan. The progress we’ve made towards our relationship isn’t linear but our tears no longer defy gravity and like her daughter, she wants to be free.
So if I had a daughter, I would love her the way I wished my mother loved me. I would be her best friend and her teacher, I would put her above any man or woman. We would use the big lips that God blessed us with to scream about our love for each other from the highest mountains. I would teach her the lesson of giving up; to never chase after anything or anyone that doesn’t serve a good purpose.
I do not want kids, but if I had a daughter I would grab her head and make her look at me, I would tell her that she will always have me, that she isn’t alone in this world. I would tell her how strong she is and joke about how she inherits it from me because I birthed her from a uterus that could hold a man. I would look her in her brown eyes that she inherited from me, who inherited them from my mother, and tell her she doesn’t owe anyone, even me, her own mother, anything. She does not have to force herself into my shoes that will never fit her. I’ll birth my daughter with two blessed feet, so when she gets older and decides not to stay with her mother, she can use them and walk from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.
And when she decides she needs her mother again, I’ll wait with open arms, ready to carry her the way the Nile carries Lake Victoria. I will show her what it is like to be free.