My mother turns 60 today. My mother turns 60!? That woman who I used to chase after whenever she left for the airport? That woman whose suitcase I so desperately tried to squeeze into whenever she wasn't looking? That woman whose lap I demanded to sit on during every car ride to Sosúa, to La Vega, to Jarabacoa, to Santo Domingo? That woman whose favorite color is burgundy, so naturally mine is too? She turns 60 today.
I cried whenever she left.
For all of those who don't know, the first eight years of us living in the Dominican Republic were hard on my parents. Mostly my mother. She had to constantly go back for weeks--sometimes months--at a time to run our clothing factories in New York City. Then the garment industry tanked and everything was sent to china (but that's a story for another day). Back then, I didn't understand it was all business and that mother goose had to take care of her little duckling. Back then, it was my mother deliberately carving my seven-year-old heart out of my chest and driving over it as she went back to the airport for New York. I cried so much that I could barely catch my breath. There was snot rolling down my upper lip and into my mouth, onto my shirt, drying up and turning into a weird yellow crust all over my cheeks. And I had one of these episodes every couple of weeks. They had to stop taking me to the airport so as to not cause a scene. They had to start sneaking out when I wasn't looking. It was bad.
Then somewhere down the road all of that changed. My mother and I didn't have that relationship anymore. Somewhere down the road I started to hate her. For reasons that my present adult self cannot even explain, I couldn't be in the same room with her without being on edge, without wanting to scream. We didn't see eye to eye. I did not want to be like her. I did not miss her. I wanted to disappear.
My mom turns 60 today and I want to thank her and tell her how much I love and appreciate her.
An open letter to my mother on her 60th birthday: Mami,
You are beautiful. I don't just say this because you are my mother. I don't know if you will ever be able to comprehend the joyous and proud feeling I get hearing stories about your youth. Everyone that knew you then, sees so much of you in me. There have been times we are sitting in a room with all of your now middle-aged friends from back in the day and I catch them staring at me with this look. Then they snap out of it and say, "My God. You look just like your mother." There are times when they tell me stories about you. About how you would catch the eye of everyone who passed you. About how you were loved by everyone. About how unbelievably beautiful you were. And you still are. Mother, I am so proud to be your daughter and your spitting image. Thank you.
I wish I could tell you how sorry I am for my teenage years. I wish we could make up that lost time where I was too young to understand how rare and wonderful you truly are. I wish I had the depth to comprehend the reasons you did the things you did and said the things you said. But I am my father's daughter. I don't like confrontation. I don't face my fears, my problems, the people I have wronged. I don't like to cry in front of people. I live so carefree and just hope to be loved by everyone, but I'm missing that key ingredient that you have. The ability to look into someone else's heart and empathize with them. To feel what they are feeling. To know when I have done something to utterly break someone else. But I am slowly honing the ability to do so.
A very special person in my life recently told me something interesting about vulnerability. He is truly becoming an important part of my growing up and becoming the woman that I need to be. I will paraphrase what I gathered from what he told me. He said that a lot of people mistake vulnerability for weakness. But on the contrary, the ability to make yourself vulnerable takes a lot of courage. When a warrior enters an arena, he is making himself vulnerable. If he stays outside of the arena, he doesn't expose himself to that danger and therefore isn't vulnerable. But he will never be a champion if he never enters that arena. Mother, I remember the days that were hard on you. I remember your tears. I remember you fighting with all of us, asking for answers, for explanations. I remember that overused "Tu crees que eso es justo? (Do you think that's fair?)" And I remember shutting the door in your face and asking for you to leave me alone. I remember leaving you standing alone in the arena, vulnerable. But you always entered the arena. You were always a warrior. And you, mother, are a fucking champion. Thank you.
I turned twenty five this year. At this age, you walked down the aisle of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral, so I have taken some time to reflect. My motherly instincts are starting to kick in! And I can't help but to think of all the ways that I could really ruin a child that I bring into this world. And then I think of you and the formula is right there. My only hope is to someday be half the mother you are. Remember when we moved to Connecticut? It was late august and school was almost beginning. Who the hell knows how to get around Waterbury on foot? When the hell was the last time you took your kids to public school? In less than a week, you managed to somehow figure out which school we would go to, get all of our vaccines ready (you took us all the way back to Dr. Almonte in the Bronx for those), enroll us in both schools, buy us clothes, get our bus schedule, and make sure our asses were on time for the first day of school. All on CT Transit. Thank you. Mother, I don't know when I stopped chasing after you or why. I don't know when I stopped trying to emulate you, when my favorite color became blue instead of burgundy, and when I stopped putting on your favorite shoes. I don't know when I started being so mean to you, but I'm glad those days are over. I'm thrilled to love that beautiful reddish brown hue again. I am thrilled to hear your voice over the phone to talk about nothing. I am so thrilled to snuggle between you and dad, feeling your warm embrace. I am proud to understand and appreciate the times when you said "eso se ve feo." And that you were right. Now I know that the child in me was right all along. That this woman, this beautiful and phenomenal woman, is someone I should always look up to. And I do. You are my warrior. You are my champion. And I am working on being that champion someday, too.
All of my love,