Deep inside a wound seeps the inner child’s longing to heal, to be loved and cherished. Some of us grew up wrapped in the safe haven of a mother’s protection. Some of us needed protection from the very woman who grew us inside her womb. I was one of those. Fed on the breast of rage, fear and manipulation that bred a fated wallow of despair I could not shake. I was ripped to shreds by a wound that didn’t belong to me. Inevitably, that wound became my own. I carried it inside a cradle of hollow, a slow drip filling with grief that would promise to swallow me whole.
I couldn’t breathe.
My mother was a flaming beast of anger that twisted me into knots. If someone told me I looked like her, I cringed. I wanted to strangle the life out of every one of my mannerisms that echoed her, and deny that my cells were made up of her cells.
Her legacy of torment ran through my veins.
My inner child was encaged inside the woman I was becoming. I wrote my anger onto a thousand pages with my left hand, my right hand; I wrote until my hands cramped into a fist and the pages ripped. I wrote until my words went up in flames.
I had to break this chain.
My mother’s only way out was to take her life. And there I was. Left with mine. Every breath a gulp and gasp for air. I had to find my way home.
One day I asked my grandmother to send me photos of my mother when she was young. I knew that if I could access her innocence, I’d be able to forgive her. We all start out innocent, until something comes along and twists our souls into torment, like it did with my mother. Her way out was to take her life. My way out was to go in, to become the woman that my mother was meant to be, had she been strong enough to be it.
I found a box of old letters, scrawls of random thoughts, poetry that could compile into a thousand-page book. At the bottom was a photograph. At first I thought it was me, but as I looked closer, I saw it was my mother as a young, budding woman in a black and white capture of her innocence. I sat under a window and let the light stream in to magnify her face: the face of the womb in which I grew before I was even a thought in her world, long before an injection of insane corrupted her radiant youth. So young and ivory-skinned, light, rich eyes I could see right through. And even though the picture was black and white, I could see the rosy tint of freshness on her face. She was beautiful.
To the core of my holding, soft before the world she inhaled turned her bitter to a pucker, her hands mirrored mine. The shape of her brow, the shine on her lips long before they dried out from all the salted cries she swallowed. I looked deeper in, aching to understand. Then I understood.
That somewhere along that paved line of her life, her heart caved and shattered into too many pieces to put back together. She had to pretend to be unbroken. Pretend to love the man she married and bore three daughters with, that she pretended to know what to do with. All she could do was raise them in the shattered chamber she held together for the sake of their survival, praying they’d thrive in spite of her.
And I did. I took what was good in her, sane and whole in her, and I found my way with what she did give me: life, courage and fire. And eyes so deep they blink off the stillness of a photograph and shed a tear so fertile, it grows life; mends and heals and breathes into my whole life. Within and without her, my life in honor of her.
Leslie Caplan has found her way whole through the alchemy of writing. An editor, writing coach and internationally published writer, Leslie brings an unwavering passion for authenticity. You can reach her at www.courageousheartinmotion.com. This essay previously appeared on the Rebelle Society website at www.rebellesociety.com.