I couldn’t stop thinking about Cat at the arcade park. The way she watched us and the things she said. I truly did want her to be happy—with herself and a partner. It’s moments like these that I reflect on the good times growing up with her. After all, despite our arduous relationship, I’ve never thought of her as a villain.
Honestly, my mother was the best part of my childhood. During the summer, she’d take us to Rainbow Beach and the drive-in movie theater. A few of us would hide in the backseat of her truck. She’d pack sandwiches, chips, candy, and pop, and we’d sit on the hood and have a ball. During the winter, she’d take us downtown on Michigan Avenue to see the Christmas lights at Marshall Field’s. One year they had a Harry Potter theme, and we geeked out. My best memory by far is her singing, or shrieking by some standards, Mary J. Blige’s “Reminisce” to win me tickets to her No More Drama tour for my thirteenth birthday. The radio personality told her they were hers if she stopped singing. At the time, I only knew a couple of MJB songs, so I couldn’t really jam as the show went on. Cat, however, had the time of her life. She sang along to songs from her diaphragm that brought tears to her eyes, raised her hands to the sky, and reciprocated the energy of a woman letting her know that she wasn’t alone. As I looked around the sea of women who mirrored my mother, I pondered what could’ve possibly happened that made them feel such pain. I wouldn’t understand until years later, when I was broken and tears fell from my eyes while listening to MJB’s My Life album. The catch-22 of it all is that while these women were in pain, there was also a sense of resiliency in the air. These women laughed, danced, embraced each other, and cried tears of joy.
Over the years, I watched Cat remain resilient but exhausted. Trudging through the trenches of whatever came her way. No doubt a generational cycle passed along to her from her mama, which she passed on to me. I come from a long line of strong Black women. We didn’t want to be, but we had to. I think it’s rooted in us from my Granny’s mother, Dorothy, or Dot as she was called. I’d heard plenty of stories about how my great-grandmother had worked hard as a maid to provide for her children. As legend goes, she fled New Orleans after slapping a white woman for disrespecting her. Not long after she arrived in Chicago, she met, fell in love with, and married my great-granddaddy Willie. A tall, charming man, as Granny always described her father. With his flare and Dot’s alluring sophistication, they produced children and made a home for them all. Granted, it wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. It was no secret that Granddaddy Willie had a whole other family that lived across the tracks. I can’t fathom the way Dot must have felt about that. I often pondered whether she had ever been out and saw the other woman. If so, did she make a scene? Did she have to affirm herself constantly? Had she ever seen her husband’s face in a child while they were out? When he either came home late or didn’t come home at all, did she lie in bed wondering if he was loving that woman the same way he did her?
When I was young, sometimes I thought my Granny was mean to my grandfather. I’d only known him as a man doing whatever it took to ensure his woman was happy. It wasn’t until I was older, after I heard the whispers about infidelity and drunken nights that sucked the air out of my lungs, that I understood my grandmother had a right to feel whatever she felt. I don’t know what that man put her through, but it was enough to make him work daily to regain and rebuild her trust, respect, and love. I’ve always wanted to ask my Granny: Why did she stay? Was she content, or did she yearn for more? How did she keep it together after all that heartache? Did she have to be still to keep the blazing embers in her belly from spreading throughout her body? And if she was engulfed in a full blaze, did she find her core again after sifting through the embers?
It has been a long journey to forgiving my mother, although the process sped up considerably once I stopped taking things so personally. She is a human being. She is nuanced and multifaceted. She has had experiences, like us all, that have shaped her. Memories that may never see the light of day and secrets that will never reach another’s ear. I understand how the hardships of life can drive someone to substance abuse. Couple that with the arduous hardships of dealing with other low-vibrating people, and you’ll find that everyone has some sort of vice to get through overcast days. As human beings that is what we do to survive. And it is my mother’s human nature that has made me the resilient woman I am today. Just like her mother’s did for her and so on and so forth.
The world has stripped Black women of our humanity. And we’ve conditioned ourselves to strip ourselves even further by allowing so many to continuously mistreat and harm us without consequence. All the while, we continue to extend grace. We continue to pour our energy into people and jobs that aren’t even quenching our thirst. We continue to protect people who won’t even say our name. We continue to wear masks that we forget to take off because it’s easier to appear happy than face the maddening reality of not knowing how to get there. The weight of it all takes a toll, causing knees to buckle. We fall to the floor, and some people never get back up. But there’s so much power in it. While it may be the most difficult thing you ever do, imagine the requited love you so desperately desire waiting for you on the other side.
We are human, which means we don’t always have it together. So I’m giving my mother some motherfucking grace. She did the best she could. For that, I am grateful.
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