OPEN LETTER TO MY MOTHER –
When I turned sixteen you told me of the years you spent bleeding for a textbook romance. You said your first boyfriend was large and crass and belligerent and spent his time chewing tobacco and voting Republican and cursing minorities. You told me his penis was the same way – large and crass and belligerent – and left you gravid with swollen ankles and dilated pupils. Rather than lying and saying my father is the love of your life, you told me he was the one.
You told me he was the one. You told me the nights he spent between the thighs of women unburdened with the thoughts of child were the nights you got your best sleep. You told me the diapers and onesies you had bought preemptively earned you side-eyes and forced smiles at K-mart. Your belly hadn’t even begun to swell but the butterflies inside it were fluttering around, musing around, making room in their habitat for your first child: Michael if it were a boy, Emily if it were a girl, although you told me you would’ve been happy either way. You told me you just wished it would be healthy. You told me you were going to turn twenty during your eighth month.
Your first boyfriend was named Christopher, and you told me that during the first two months of your pregnancy he had given you an ultimatum and your own mother only advised you to “follow your heart” but didn’t she know your heart was infested with thousands of tiny butterflies migrating north from your stomach? and then you told me of the way your friends wouldn’t invite you out drinking anymore and you told me of the way the women you worked with complained about not having enough money for school supplies and not having enough money for gym shoes and not having enough money to buy name brand bread for breakfast and lunches and not having enough money for the donation baskets at church and you told me that the pile of gender neutral baby clothes and baby binkies and baby bottles loomed over your twin-sized bed as you slept in your parents’ house and threatened to morph into a snarling mass of condemnatory glares as soon as you turned the lights off.
You told me you spent too long bleeding for that textbook romance and that you’re still bleeding thirty years later. The butterflies migrated into your cerebral cortex and every now and then I catch you starting to call me Em— rather than my own. I’m the same age you were when you gave up your first child and I’m afraid of my heart fluttering away and leaving me empty the same way your unborn fetus did all those years ago.
I used to think that staying was the most important thing you could do for a person. When I turned seventeen you taught me about love and how I could express it without hurting myself and without hurting others but you didn’t teach me about loving myself or how I could end up hurting you. I spent two weeks alone in a bed drinking charcoal and vomiting and plugging my bloody nose with single-ply toilet paper and then I spent another week with six other people who had done just the same. You would visit and we would play cards and dice games and you would tell me what I'd missed around the house and how my teachers and classmates and coworkers pitied me and how you didn't pity me.
You hadn’t looked me in the eyes until the third time you visited. You told me you were afraid of God’s will. You said that your womb was left toxic and that my actions stood as repent for your wrongdoings and then you told me that you suffered the same for six months afterwards – postpartum depression without the partum. Your mother brought flowers and candies and magazines to your bedside, but you said you had quoted Plath of all people in return and said you didn’t want any flowers, you only wanted to lie with your hands turned up and be utterly empty, but you also said you got over it.
You taught me more during my hospitalization than you had during my entire adolescence. You taught me the power of words and the potency they carry, even ten and twenty and thirty years after they’re spoken. You taught me to not feel shame for myself and instead gratitude at my many opportunities for revival. But you didn't stay. Your visits became short and hasty and I imagined you retracting into the earth and molding your body around flower bulbs and roots so they wouldn't bloom and so they wouldn't change and grow and prosper, just like Emily and just like me and just like Sylvia.