We were alone, my mother and I; my father was never present, and clearly, I idolized her, placed her high atop the throne I’d built just for her. But unfortunately, I did not bring her down to wonderful but flawed human being as I grew to and through adolescence. For me, she thundered down, crashing and burning. I watched helplessly as my mother turned her life, my definition of her, over to a man who was far from worthy of her. Forty had come, and I was growing up, and in her view, away. Insecurity trapped her into thinking she had reached the end of possibility. She gained too much weight, chain smoked, stopped caring for herself. She had alienated everyone, including me, for him. I listened one night, devastated, as he yelled at her, calling her dumb, calling this goddess “bitch.” The devastating part was the tearful, sobbing apology that served as her reply. This man brought out the very worst in her, and she turned her anguish inward and fell into herself.
I was twelve when my mother turned forty and started to disappoint me. There is nothing more painful in this life than disillusionment, but it happens to everyone and usually starts with parents. Up until I was twelve, though, my mother was everything. I can still feel her tender kisses on my cheeks, the press of her hand as she led me through traffic, the feel of her fingers drop curling my hair with a fine tooth comb and a bowl of ice water. She was strength and softness, tempered by intelligence and independence.
In my pre-twelve little girl eyes, my mother was everything I wanted to be. My memory paints pictures of my mother in swimming watercolor, like the paintings she’d made when she was a girl. Paintings that had been hung in Jamaica’s Devon House, a prominent government building where she had worked in the gift shop long before I entered her imagination. When I picture her in the early days of my childhood, I see a hard-working, determined student and superb mathematician studying by the singular circle of light thrown on the dining table from the lamp above. (Photo: my mother the Jamaican Beauty)
When I was twenty eight, I got my first tattoo. I had spent months thinking about how I wanted to celebrate my new understanding of my life. I was recently separated from my husband and finally enrolled in a college that I would graduate from. This was a completely selfish goal, one that I had brought into my marriage but had failed to meet. Married to a Marine, I had moved from New York to Florida to California and back to Florida, leaving myself with a resume of three attempts at earning a degree at three different colleges. It was as a student at the college from which I finally graduated that I came to understand that literature and writing were my only true passions, the only ones I would ever be able to pursue.
I designed the tattoo myself. It was one word in my own handwriting, with blooming vines wrapping and climbing among the letters. Beloved. This was the title of the book that had ten years earlier planted the seed of desire to study literature and to do what that author, Toni Morrison, had done and was continuing to do. Touch other spirits with words. Incense, incite, inspire. (Photo: Tricia’s butterfly tattoo) Continue reading On Loving Regret
As a child I imagined the age of forty would find me holding a PhD and having four sons loving me from every corner of my world. Oddly enough, I never imagined a husband to make and raise those sons with me; when I was young and dreaming those dreams, the taboo of having children while single hadn’t registered with me yet, and marriage as I saw it from my experience didn’t seem like a necessary or good thing. In reality, I did marry and have two sons (one of whom is currently aiming his considerable rage directly at me from his corner) and an adopted daughter. I am only now writing my master’s thesis, twenty years after my first day of college. It is most certainly good enough—what I have, whom I love and care for, and what I’ve managed to accomplish. I had roadblocks aplenty and high hurdles to jump and still do. I suppose I’m finding out that turning forty is no panacea, no final exorcism of every internal demon.