Last night I started writing a Facebook status update about how I would not be on Facebook scrolling down my newsfeed endlessly or bingeing on series any more – at least until we were safely ensconced in our new pad in the UK. I know how much time these mindless activities consume, and that the opportunity cost of the time spent numbing my brain is time lost with the people I love.
Unfortunately, the app crashed. I reopened it and scrolled down for 10 minutes before guiltily looking for a source for streaming episode umpteen of Acme Series. At his desk, my husband clicked away blasting zombies. Twilight faded into evening into empty midnight, and images of strangers doing meaningless things swam in my dreams.
This morning I woke up thinking about my mother.
It was Mother’s Day last Sunday and we took Mommy, Ouma, and my brother along to a lunch at my in-laws. It was a beautiful day, poignant and precious beyond imagining. Mommy, always in eccentric apparel, careless of convention and none the wiser, had always been my Achilles heel. I sat sensitively with her presence, taking it in and pouring love silently into her – that enigma, that force of nature, that life-giver and witch’s bane.
In The Heroine’s Journey Maureen Murdoch provides an explanation for the presentation of birth mothers in faerie tales; the process that a young woman goes through when trying to form a separate identity to her mother is so complex, painful, and impossible that it is easier just to portray the mother as dead. Fathers are convenient scapegoats and are easily beguiled by the uncaring feminine represented by new, jealous queens. They may or may not be redeemed. Mothers are simply absent.
Working with this energy, this fundamental split from the mother, is an important part of a woman’s journey and it will never be complete. A father’s daughter is a woman who has discarded her mother and disavowed the feminine out of a need for survival. To become whole, the mother needs to be gathered into the woman’s Being, the Mother-Complex disambiguated from the human woman. Seeing the human woman requires piercing the heart and deconstructing the formal institution of feminine denial, returning to the mud and muck of the body and acknowledging its magnificent power, and its frailty – a woman’s own body, and her mother’s.
In The Blind Assassin, Margaret Atwood wrote the following words:
“What fabrications they are, mothers. Scarecrows, wax dolls for us to stick pins into, crude diagrams. We deny them an existence of their own, we make them up to suit ourselves – our own hungers, our own wishes, our own deficiencies.”
These words haunt me.
As a child, on account of deficiency, I wished for the cupcake-baking, blonde-highlighted, Gucci-donning, chartered accountant variety of mother. I had a mother whose wild gaze peered into another dimension, whose paintings contained ancient Sumerian and Babylonian encryptions that once decoded could probably save mankind. She was a mother who drove to my affluent, suburban Catholic primary school in a beat-up, white Audi with its paint chipping and the rust of old age showing through. The pleather seats were cracking, the carpets fraying, the dashboard stuck full of feathers and the back window full of pine cones that baked in the sun, giving the car a distinctive and unforgettable smell. She did not wear Gucci jeans like the other mothers and her paint-stained fingernails had never seen a set of gel tips. She came to fetch me wearing a wizard outfit with a lampshade as a hat.
The other children eviscerated me, and I killed something inside myself just for good measure.
Slow, painstaking gathering of bones in the desert of my psyche and singing over them has brought it back to life piece by piece. It has taken me more than 20 years to see my human mother, and not to feel that my Mother-Complex was sitting across from me drinking tea, not to see her as a dismembering archetypal force against which I needed to fight tooth and nail in order to have my own identity. All it took was the certainty that I am leaving South Africa and will miss her more than I know how to process – this mortal woman who gave me life and loves me in her fierce, unparalleled way. That irreplaceable woman, the witch’s ultimate healing salve who is the Goddess’s greatest gift to me. Those Gucci moms can fuck right off. I want my dragon-unicorn lady.
On Sunday, I watched her as she sat across the table picking at her salad in her careful, gentle way. My Being, in the desert with hers, crumbling away one grain of sand at a time.
All around each of us are such ephemeral gifts, irreplaceable loved ones being displaced by Facebook and Game of Thrones.
Just remember that the people you love are mortal – you are mortal.
From the 16 Meditations for Deranged Workaholics series.