You were 12, Mom, as the story goes, when you showed your first signs of not being right. You were 12. They say your father left that day because he couldn’t live with you. Your fault. You were 12, Mom, and you held up a kitchen chair, threatening to hit him with it. You stood up to your father and he left, but that’s not the story. The story was whispered by your mother, my grandmother; you have never told it. Grandma said you caused your father to leave. He couldn’t live with a child who threatened him with a kitchen chair. You destroyed your family, she says. You were 12.
There are other whispers of your break-downs, though the word crazy is only implied, never used. Grandma would do anything to be sure you never got any mental health treatment; were never labeled crazy. Yet she blamed you, your outbursts, your anger, for all the losses.
You were 12 that day you threatened your father with a kitchen chair and he left forever. You never saw him again. When he died, he left you his taxi cab. I, your oldest daughter, was 9 then. Only then did Grandma say she saw him all those years, and so did your brother. It was you he left, but years later he would come and watch you and us, your children, in the park. Grandma said he saw us right before he died. Your children are beautiful, he said, as the story goes.
Five years ago, Mom, you slit your throat with a plastic butter knife, sawing back and forth, back and forth. I was having your furniture replaced and your apartment, in the public housing unit for people with mental disabilities, fumigated. Bed bugs. I was trying to take care of you, as I always did, but you didn’t understand that. I told you, but you didn’t remember. You thought they were stealing everything and you wanted to die. It was only then, when you were taken to St Joe’s psych unit and kept inpatient for four and a half months, that the words mental illness were used. Dementia and a long standing mental illness. Words like personality disorder, psychosis, depression.
I see you Mom. I bear witness. I know what he did to you. It was done to me, too, and my sister, my cousins, by others. I know Mom, even if you never let yourself know. He destroyed you. She would not protect you. You never had a chance.
I bear witness. I see you, Mom. I hold you accountable for all you did to us, for blaming me when I was 12 and you slit your wrists, covering me with your blood. I hold you accountable for leaving us for days, for the predatory men you brought home. But I do not believe you were responsible. The responsibility lies in the violations in the dark, the secrets held tight, the chair held above your head as you fought to stop him, the fact that no one believed you. The responsibility lies in the systematic destruction of a little girl that happened long before I was ever born. I see you, Mom. I believe you, even if you never believed yourself.
Joy Wright is a social justice, anti-violence activist, poet, storyteller and single queer Mom to two beautiful teenagers, a dog, a cat and two guinea pigs. She works as a non-profit fundraiser by day, and spends her weekends playing in an all mom garage band called the Hot Mamas and driving around Chicagoland not-so-cleverly disguised as a soccer mom. You can see Joy storytelling or reading poetry around Chicago, including at Louder Than a Mom, Do Not Submit and SHE Gallery events. Publications include Voice of Eve, sinister wisdom, ESME and a regular dating piece in Rebellious Magazine http://rebelliousmagazine.com/.
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