mother and daughter: a death wish

“Dear Mummy, I hate you for multiple reasons, the most recent one being because you went on and on about my teeth at Easter in front of all your gross friends. You want me to be like your perfect junior league girl, and grow up to do charity balls and be the concubine for some banker, like you. But the truth of it is I am addicted to you like chocolate. I always want to be around you. I’m some like stupid little puppy and you keep like kicking my teeth in with your words and your tone. Sometimes, I wish you were dead.” –Tori to her mother in Lost and Delirious

A death wish: the walls that contain the misery are brought down: the moment of revolution is a new form of reproduction, a reproduction of another kind of life form.[1] A death wish: she sits alone with her mother’s headstone. It’s monsoon season and the afternoon skies are thick with rain clouds cast across the Greater Phoenix Valley. Streaks of sun light beam through like God herself reaching down onto the deforested Sonoran desert.

No one else is at the graveyard. She sits alone. She wants her mother to know everything.

She sits alone with her mother’s headstone. She tries to breathe, recalling words like freak, like recluse, or, to be more precise—freak of nature, recluse with a thick curled “r” looping upside down into the phonetic lull of the “l” like a beachside rollercoaster ride: recluse. She still hears her mother screaming these words from the hallway, through the precariously locked bedroom door. Simply a bobby pin would pick it open, but she locks it anyway.

What does a mother do with such a daughter? Unusual yet disarming. Queer might work. Recluse, solitude: the daughter holds a love for quietness with words and thoughts alongside her hand-me-down Acer laptop and pocketsize rhyming dictionary. What does a mother do when her daughter spends money on books, not shoes? This might seem simplistic, cliché almost. But this was her reality. A troublemaker for reading books and writing poems and feeding her ravenous imagination. She refuses to be placed. Everyday her mother keeps kicking her teeth in with her words and her tone. Freak. Recluse. Blood curdling spews against the cacophony of an amusement park landscape parading in her head. A circus, a freak show. Come one, come all! Bear witness before your very eyes to that which you are not. There is so much that her own mother can’t recognize about her. She cannot recognize her own daughter even when she’s standing right there begging her to stop saying those words in that way. Begging, on her knees, she says please mother please, leave me alone. There’s blood on her knees and the tears they feel good on her cheeks. Please, mother, please.

She wants her mother to recognize her. She wants it but she can never have it in this life-world. A death wish: she writes a poem for her mother, it’s a never-ending story in medias res and in it she creates a fantastical, complicated, beautifully twisted life-world where they both co-reside, co-exist and recognize all that is so defamiliarized: a mother seeing her own daughter for the first time.

Oh and back in real-life there’s tattoos and things, body piercings, In-N-Out milkshakes and other devilish wastings.

Her mother sobbed through the gulps of wine. She had never seen her drink like that. She stood right there, showing her mother the tattoo, and her mother couldn’t see it right in front of her face. Do you do this just to be different? To make a point? As the deviant who attempts to expose the conditions that make her a supposed deviant to her own mother in the first place, this very attempt to expose is used against her by her mother and thus the daughter becomes the origin of emotional and social violence, the cause of unhappiness—rather than acknowledging the historical systematic origins of violence that make her appear deviant in such a way; the daughter being the cause of unhappiness stops any recognition of her daughter’s weirdness as a misperceived production—which prevents the possibility of alternative possibility from seeming possible at all. Possibilities have to be recognized as possibilities to become possible. And yet the disbelief in the possibility of a different world can function as a psychic defense against suffering. The daughter knows of her mother’s suffering, for she inherits it.

Her mother would say: summer is coming up and you are going to have to start wearing shorts, soon. Why don’t you wear shorts anymore, daughter? Is it because you don’t fit into them anymore? Are your legs too fat? How much do you weigh these days?

She would tell her mother to leave her alone. She told her mother over and over again: leave me alone.

Her mother would say: don’t you have any respect for yourself? Don’t you care what other people think? This is where it starts. You gain five pounds this year, ten pounds the next year, and before you know it you are obese and have no self-confidence. Don’t you have any self-confidence? You are barely fitting into the size fives anymore. You are bulging out of your pants. What did you have to eat today for lunch? Any fruits and vegetables? Whatever happened to that cute shirt I bought you? I have never seen you wear it. That’s it, I am sick of doing nice things for you and constantly buying you things. The world doesn’t revolve around you, daughter.

The world doesn’t revolve around you, daughter. The world doesn’t revolve around you.

She tried to tell her mother, to tell her, but she never listened.

Her mother would say: you are so unappreciative and selfish. Those long hippie skirts you buy are like circus tents, trying to hide your fat self underneath them. I never see girls your age wearing those.

Her mother nagged and picked and prodded. She hated her for it. She started to learn to ignore her. The mother’s voice abuzz in the background cackling amidst kitchen sounds while the daughter stares down the hallway, at the front door, wondering when she would, when she could, leave.

She sits alone with her mother’s headstone. She wants her mother to know everything. She hopes it’s not too late.

The grass is yellow and hard and is irritating her skin. But she has nowhere else to sit— besides, the pre-monsoon sky comforts her and she is finally relaxed, she can finally breathe, and she feels like her mother is finally listening to her. She breathes. She lets the moist desert oxygen wallow in her alveoli. She reduces speed: direction over time. Her eyes roll up into the back of her skull and she sees her own thoughts. And she lets the pounding, screaming thoughts breathe. Just lets them breathe and lets the neurons rest and maybe cry a little bit because she can feel those tears coming on through the face. They are boiling and breaking and baking and deep-frying and steaming beneath the surface begging to get out. So she is going to let them out and let the storm free free free.

She throws away her old pants. They don’t fit her anymore, her mother would be proud. She almost squeezes into a size two now. She burns them. The pants. She burns them in the desert. It is a huge fire. She jumps into that fire. She rolls out the side into the dirt and stares at the flames that are ignited on her shirt and she watches it go through the cotton onto her skin. She feels the burning against her body and she smells the rancid smell of burning flesh. Finally she puts out the fire on her arm. The doctors say it will scar forever. It is beautiful and the new layer of skin starting to grow over it is chunky and pink.

Her mom is gone. She dedicates the scar to her. A reminder, maniacal memories: freak, fatty, recluse, disappointment. Her mother’s voice buzzes and the words blend together and she slams her door against the boils of her rage, her unhappiness. But the buzzes they crawl through the opening at the bottom of her bedroom door and she could still hear her mother. She could always hear her mother. It didn’t matter how hard she tried not to she could always hear her.

Her mother would say: obviously he doesn’t want you as a girlfriend because you barely even take care of yourself! Why would he want a girlfriend like that? Maybe if you put on some mascara and eye shadow once in awhile he would notice you in a different way! Maybe if you didn’t tip the goddam scale! Then he would want you and want to show you off to the world. But look at you!

She tries so hard to un-remember, to un-hear all that is living and ever-present.

She shouts back: shut the fuck up! She yells back at her through her locked bedroom door. She is hiding in the corner on the other side of her bed ripping out the carpet with her fingers. She digs her fingers into the carpet with her chewed nails—she rips so hard at the carpet her damaged fingernails start to bleed. Stain the carpet. She continues to rip at the carpet. She says, leave me alone. Leave me alone.

She sees red. She snaps in a fury screaming at her mother: why would you say that? Why! H o w  c o u l d  y o u ? She hates her and she can’t stop yelling and pulling out the carpet. The screams they turn into desperate cries and light up the house and she barely hears herself screaming because her ears go numb from the verbal abuse. She hated her mother for making her snap, for making her say irrational, horrible things to her own mother. She hates her for it. What does not get noticed is the violence that makes her act in the way she does, as the violence of provocation hovers in the background.[2] She hates her mother for it because she feels like her anger has nowhere to go. She can only direct so much of the anger at her mother because not all of it is for her. The violence of provocation that hovers in the background is the production of her mother’s misery, the mother’s long childhood history of fatness and being bullied. How can she blame her mother when she knows of such pain and suffering?

She sits alone with her mother’s headstone. She wants her to know everything. She hopes it isn’t too late. She says, I’m sorry. She says, Mom, I don’t think I can stop.

She holds her breath and picks at a hangnail, pulling a piece of skin down her finger alongside it. Her mother: consisting of bones, varicose veins, and sagging skin. Her entire body, withered and gauntly. She still hears her mother at night, vomiting into the toilet. There are bloodied bile stains on the tile, the stench so vile with chunks of crackers and frosted cookies.  She wants to wipe them away but she can’t. She could smell her mother’s looming end. She could smell it. It’s everywhere. She wanted her mother to stop but she never listened to her. She loves her so much and she is so sorry that she never told her enough. She is so sorry that she never told her mother that she is lovely, she is kind. She is sorry that she never told her mother that she knew she sacrificed it all to raise her daughters. She knows she sacrificed it all: dreams of art-making, designing, creative ventures. Her mother’s house, like a museum of hints at that which she could have had. Hand crafted ornaments, homemade sofa pillows, decorated picture frames, painted strokes of gold and red and purple covering the shelves she created and installed herself. She hopes it’s not too late.

She chews on her fingernails alone next to her mother’s headstone down to the bone down to the crescent of the moon. The nail biting is compulsory, automatic, obsessive. She digs into her fingernails, ripping away skin and cuticles and flesh and nail. She becomes vicious in her pursuit: nails and flesh locked against teeth and jaw. And she sobs. Her hands are preoccupied, clenched against teeth, and she tastes the salty salty tears that pour into her open mouth like sweet raindrops. The tears stream down her hot cheeks and slide over her lips, curving into her slightly open mouth. Salty and sweet. Red-hot cheeks moist and shiny in the bittersweetness; forehead and eyebrows braced in distorted expressions. Freak. Recluse. Do you do this just to be different? To make a point? Soon she tastes blood as well. She tastes the sweet, salty tears and the odd taste that is blood. She wants her to know everything. She doesn’t think she can stop. She destroys her nails and cuticles enough to the point that blood is oozing and seeping through the tips of her fingers. She rips one last cuticle out from the side of her middle fingernail. The pain is so sharp the pain is so deep the pain is so excruciating from ripping out a thick, rooted cuticle and a long piece of skin that for a brief moment her sobs pause and she breathes calmly through her mouth as she watches the fresh hot blood throb in fiery pain where her cuticle and skin were just attached. Enthralled, she tears back pieces of skin surrounding the wound to make the crevice wider and deeper.

She wipes her tear-stained face with her tender swollen fingers. She sits alone next to her mother’s headstone often. She is quiet and she sits there and watches the sun as it sets. She says, the sunsets are incredible here mom, even with the monsoon clouds—they’re all the more brilliant. Bright orange, pink, fuchsia.

She pushes herself off of the ground and shuffles down the small hillside. A death wish: the walls that contain suffering are brought down, and she might be recognizable to her through all that is defamiliarized. Her mother is alive and ever-present.

[1] Sara Ahmed, The Promise of Happiness.

[2] Ahmed.