A tita messaged me months ago and she said she’d been looking at my Facebook profile photos and this one photo of mine was what struck her the most because, she says, this is where you look like your mama the most.
And even though this wasn’t my favorite photo of myself then, it fast became just that.
And I’ve often looked at it. Hard.
The way I looked at the few photos of mama that I had as a child. In the summers when days stretched forever, I would sit myself down by the window of our old house, the beautiful house where she once held court and would look and look and look. And I would see her stare back at me. And often I would trace my fingers on my mother’s image– her eyes, her nose, her mouth, her chin, her hair.
I remember trying hard to remember things I had already forgotten about her–her voice and the half remembered songs that I woke up to in the middle of the night with a hunger I could not name.
And I almost found it startling that I once had a mother (Wow, really?? I had a mom?) because I was so used to being the “motherless one”, the different one. The one who went to school with messed up, incomplete uniforms, hair all over the place, undone homework, school projects that were barely started, never finished. While my classmates had neatly ponytailed hair, crisply starched uniforms that I bet could stand on their own and projects turned in not just on time but completely and excellently done as well.
And it was all I knew–how to get by one day after another without a mother to prop me up. And you know little kids—they have this maddening need to be propped up by their mothers. So I was a most unpropped up child. And I got by with a little help from my classmates who furtively passed pad papers, pencils, ballpens, recitation answers to me as needed.
So on those long summer days when I was free of the dizzying spin of school, I would sit down and for what seemed like interminable hours, hold a photo of my mother in the sun and I would gaze into it. For hours.
Like I was willing her back to life and to talk to me and tell me again the little stories she used to tell me and to sing to me again the million and one achy breaky love songs she used to sing to me (how she loved to sing, my mother.). And to touch me again the way she used to. And tell me again why it was she loved me and to beg her to come back because it was just awful being without her. How monsters had descended into my life and how there was nothing I could do to stop them from hurting me.
How papa was never around so these monsters could very well do as they pleased with me.
And why is it the sadness never leaves me even as I have grown strong enough to fight those monsters on my own so they no longer hold me in any significant way?
I feel the ache of all those years I walked the earth without Agnes Badoy. (48 years!)And I wonder~~~
would she have had a gentler gaze, I want to know? The resolute gaze of someone who had lived long and deep enough to have known her own strength, the width and breadth of her heart?
What would my mother have learned, had she lived longer than the 29 years she was, instead, given?
Would this obedient daughter to such demanding parents, dutiful wife to such an unfaithful/undeserving husband, unquestioning Catholic to such a treacherous religion—well would she have unshackled herself at some point and would she have finally learned not to give half a shit what others thought of her and put far more weight on how she regarded herself and the demands of her soul?
Would my mother have come into her own had she lived longer?
I stare at this photo of me that my tita says looks the most like my mother that it gave her the chills because it was as if my mother were staring back at her. And see if there are any answers there.
And find that all I can do is sit in the sadness and mystery of my mother’s profoundly brief life.
I think maybe someday I will gaze into this photo of mine and maybe I will search my heart and find that the sadness no longer lives there.
But today, I looked and saw that the sadness has remained.