I called you last week. You’re doing well now. I’m twenty-one going on fifty-five and you’re still the perpetual twenty but it’s different. Your words are choked with melancholy and I don’t remember this.
“How is your new place?”
“It’s nice! I love it. But I don’t even have a ricecooker!”
“Why not?” We both laugh.
“I don’t know, they’re expensive and I live alone! I don’t like making rice just for me.”
“What’s your address? I’ll send you one.”
The point is that there won’t be a ricecooker. The point is that I don’t send you my address–so that whenever it comes up I can say it was my fault, and not yours. The point is that in these conversations, you’re the mother I’ve always wanted and you’re the mother you always thought you were. The point is, that, now, twenty-one years later I understand that these conversations are as much for me as they are for you.
I don’t know when I started to forgive you; or how I finished forgiving you. I think it may have been inbetween the daydreams of having my own daughter and the nightmares of being yours, but you’re still all I can talk about. The difference is that it’s now with a smile and I can’t remember when it started.
I don’t know if you thought I was pretty when I was born, but I know you did not think I was when I was grown. My vanity became your obsession. I had my first wax at thirteen and my thirtieth by fourteen. I knew brand names before timetables and actresses by their predominant features instead of their movies.
I remember the look on your face when other women would talk about their beautiful daughters–the way you would shift the conversation to my brothers’ achievements or my father’s successes. I remember asking the boys why you did not love me very much.
Because you’re ugly, Jenny. Mom doesn’t like fatties.
I was nine when you first grabbed at my cheeks. I was sixteen when you first pulled at the skin and fat on my stomach.
I was seventeen when you wondered why I could not stop crying trying on prom dresses. I was eighteen when I ran away from home and too afraid to tell you I had fallen in love.
If ugly was a state of mind–you had built me a continent.
I was twenty when I realized I was born of you. My bones and face were carved from yours; my skin and heart were constructed of your star matter.
I am twenty-one, now: realizing if these were the thoughts that leaked from you and into me–I would never be able to imagine the kind of pain you must be holding inside of you.
You had four boys before me, and I joke that they were all mistakes, because I was the only one you really wanted. But I am my father’s daughter and my mother’s biggest fear.
You loved me more than I understood; the nights you spent terrified that we were still stuck in the old world where my worth would be determined by my beauty which I had none of. The nights you spent upset at allowing yourself to bring a daughter in this world who would repeat your life. The nights you told me that I must learn to be smart (because I would have nothing else). The nights you laid in bed with nightmares of me with a man who did not love me, or surrounded by people who would never care for me.
You raised me to understand that this world is cruel; because you believed that daughters will always carry their mother’s plight. You raised me forgetting that I was born of half your charm and of half my father’s wit. You raised me frightened and ready for a war.
I am twenty-one, now: and there’s nothing for you to be frightened for.
I am twenty-one, now: and I became everything you were not–with everything beyond you had ever hoped.
I am twenty-one, now: and you don’t know how to love me because you weren’t prepared for me to survive.