Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Scorned by family, by friends, and by lover(s), she eventually became the one who scorned others. This particular woman happens to be my mother. I grew up primarily in a single parent household, my father’s presence was inconsistent but nonetheless he had his moments in my life. I am the eldest, first generation American born daughter to a Jamaican family. We’ll get to why I’m so specific in this description in a bit because they play an integral role here as well.
My youth was a true dichotomy of ups and downs—I have fond memories of spending all my time with my mom. She attended the community college and I went to the preschool they had on location. Sometimes, she would visit me at lunch or save me cookies from the cafeteria to have as a treat after school. I had been naturally curious and asked endless questions; it was adorable to her then. All of her friends knew that if she was there, I was right with her. Regardless of that though, I possessed an independence early on which was often encouraged. That is, until it challenged her role as the authority. There were some instances where I wasn’t aware that she perceived it as a threat but either way, the result was the same: anger.
There’s no denying the cultural differences between Black Americans and Black West Indians especially in matters of parent-child relationships. As the child sitting on the cusp of these two ideologies, I found myself conflicted most of the time. However, there are some glaring similarities as well; the room for emotional expression almost hadn’t existed and the inconsistency of my father’s presence placed undue burden on my upbringing. This isn’t to say that all Black American families suffer from absentee fathers either but it possesses a very major presence.
I witnessed the turbulence of a verbally, emotionally and physically abuse relationship between my parents. I hid in the bathroom when arguments escalated and I prayed to God that my mom woke to see another day when I heard her screams. This chaotic environment left me with one option, internalization. At the time, I couldn’t extrapolate that both of my parents carried the pain and turmoil of their own childhoods and inadvertently passed it on to me. The times when their relationship dissolved were better but that still left me with a lack of emotional space.
My sister was born seven years after me; she brought my mom and me a new outlook on life while still dealing with the frequent disappearance of my dad. Now raising two children on her own, my role of big sister morphed into surrogate mother. I learned quickly how to feed, bathe and clothe my beautiful, bumbling baby sister. Not only that, but I felt compelled to shower her in the love and positivity that I, myself hadn’t felt prior to her birth. As I got older, started puberty and became a tightly wound ball of teen angst, our relationship grew more in tension.
My emotions held no value in comparison to the stressors of adult life and acclimating to a new state. We often fell into screaming matches, both wanting to be heard. We both wanted our pain to stop. By this time, we moved to Florida out of my mother’s fear for our safety and a rightful fear that was. Yet, I attended a private school in North Palm Beach and experienced major culture shock. I made friends but still struggled with bullying and low self-esteem. I began self-harming because I knew bringing this issue to my mother left me feeling ignored. Here is where my life for writing, music and graphic design flourished. I escaped into these endeavors to protect myself but still never learned to acknowledge and deal with my emotions.
All the while, I still assisted her raising my sister. I aided in making sure she had dinner, made sure she went to bed on time and her clothes were ready for the next day. I tried running away and I tried killing myself, both unsuccessfully. For that, I am grateful because I wouldn’t be able to share this experience. In both of these instances though, I received punishment for going to such extremes. How selfish I was to make my mother appear unfit and unprepared to deal with me. Her insecurities of wanting to maintain appearances regardless of the reality added salt and vinegar to my wounds. For most of her life, family, friends and my father counted her out. They kicked her when she was down and judged her actions. While I commend her for using this as motivation to do and be better for her and our little family, she won’t allow herself to recover and find a fresher source of motivation.
In Black American and Black West Indian households, mental health awareness is intentionally ignored or co-opted to “the Devil at work” and drug use. The silence on this authentic and tangible obstacle is deafening. I believe this noise rings indefinitely through my mother’s being that she isn’t capable of acknowledging mine or my sister’s, adequately.
Now at 25, I’ve established healthier coping mechanisms and do my best to practice them every day. My sister, now 17 and diagnosed with major depressive disorder (MDD) which happened when she was 12, continues to grow positively. I’ve grown more confrontational in the sense of addressing problems when they occur. I still do internalize much of what I feel for the sake of keeping the peace with her, but I recognize what I feel now. It pains me that I can’t say the same for my mother though I want nothing more for her. The major lesson I gleaned through these experiences is, I cannot do the work for her. It’s not my burden to bear her inability to address the trauma she’s experienced before me. I understand the work I must do to become the sound woman and future mother I see in myself and I will thank her for showing me that.
Written by Ashley Raymond
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