This is an essay about my mother, part of an assignment for a creative writing class
Duster, mop, parquet-cloth. Washing clothes, hanging and ironing them. Cooking, serving, washing dishes. Bath, clean underwear, clean sheets. Bad temper, scolding, occasional beating. Bitter, disapproving words, words that hurt and underestimate you. A feeling of a lack of hugs and kisses. No actual recollection of sweet moments, of story- telling, of sharing. I search for them in old family pictures. Excursions, holidays, parties, trips, always on someone else’s arms, never in hers. There must have been happy moments, obviously it’s my memory that fails me. After all I was a happy child. That’s how I remember my childhood years. Joyful and happy, in a large family. Lots of love, lots of laughter and caring, lots of attention from many people. You can see a happy child in those pictures, a child with a wide, warm smile.
Can a child who does not receive the love she needs from her mother be truly happy? Maybe, if everybody else around her loves her. Maybe, up to a point, this love is enough. Up to a point. Because then memory interferes, you don’t have just a vague feeling anymore, you have concrete memories and pictures. You remember the constant tension, the permanent δυσαρέσκεια, worn like a mask on her face, the chasing so that you won’t step with your shoes inside the house, so that you take them off as soon as you get in, so that you walk around with parquet – clothes and keep the floor clean and shining, after all she just mopped it, she broke her back washing, sweeping, cleaning, have you no pity at all?
You remember her ceaseless fights with him, the yelling, the complaining, the bitter words, the anger, this dull, frightening anger, that could burst anytime, almost without cause. You remember how you begged, in vain, that at least you had a quiet Christmas, or New Years Eve, or Easter, without fights and the unavoidable sulkiness. You remember how excelling at school could never enthuse her, that whatever you did was never enough to enthuse her, to make her forget, even for a while where he was and what he was doing. You might were first in your class, but you were always second in her heart.
You remember how your smile started to pale, that you felt you hated her for everything that she deprived you of, everything that all the other kids, except you, had. You remember that you started to distance yourself, to dream of escaping, of a life without anger, bitterness and frustration. You remember that you became alienated.
You remember how you found out about the other women in your father’s life, about her abandonment and underestimation. And you remember how you blamed her, because she put up with it, because she didn’t leave him, because she did not choose dignity over family.
And then you remember the financial wreckage, your father’s heart attack, his near death, the absolute poverty. You remember how she stood like a rock by his side, how she took care of him in the house, better than any hospital could take care if him, how she saw that he was all right again, standing on his own two feet, starting from the beginning. How, at the same time, she had to look after her own father, who was at the hospital with prostate cancer, how she had to look after her own mother, who couldn’t walk from arthritis, waiting everything from her. You remember how she started losing her hair, how there were holes in her head. How, amidst all these, she fought ceaselessly for her children so that they will not go without everything they needed, they will not realize the hardships they were facing. How she sold her jewelry and her silk carpets, so that they will not have to quit the private school they were attending. How she shared with you her one and only formal dress, when you, at fifteen, went out on your first dates. How she borrowed money so she could buy you your school uniform. How she washed it in the evening and walk up early in the morning to iron it, so that it will be ready for you to wear at school. How she saved every penny, for a time of need. And how this time of need was your senior years trip to Krete and the long, white dress for your graduation. You remember how she cleaned, before your wedding, your house, with those hateful dusters and mops, how she made it all shining and beautiful, the most beautiful house in the world.
And you realize that sometimes you can find love hiding inside a duster. If you have the patience to look for it.