I talk about my mother a lot. Because it’s the only way I know to miss her. And the only chance I have to know her. It’s a different type of hurt, to miss this person I do not know. When you have a brain that would rather you live with missing pockets of memory than recollection that brought hurt with it. And so I find a way to fit her into everything. Her generic name is part of the name I use on Twitter. Àpínkè omo Abèbí. My mother’s child. A reminder that I am my mother’s. An anchor to this place when the other is calling me.
When people talk about my mother, it irks me. And I know. Sounds funny right? But it does. Because they don’t speak about her as a person. But how do you pick fragments of a gone person you’re trying to know from stories when all they tell are whitewashed versions? When all they do is give you a saint, a helper, a savior? I think they fail to realize that her death doesn’t make her the things she had done to them, for them. It didn’t absorb her being even if gone from here. And perhaps they think that’s what I need to hear. How good of a person she was, all the great things she did, all the way she took everything head bowed, neck bent forward, silent.
“And when the teeth choke you and take your breath away and your heart gives up on you, they throw a party in your honor. They lay pretty flowers on your wooden place before it goes into the earth and they talk about themselves. Nobody says anything about you. Nobody remembers your cheeks creased when you smiled. They only see your back bent. They see your compliance. They see silence and freedom to get away with anything because all they ever praised you for was the silence. And now when your heart has given up on you, they do not remember they killed you. That they took the life and snuffed it out of you. Your funeral is not in your honor. It is a place to boast about their hands in your death.”
Because what did large families appreciate more than the chance to act out the anguish they’d been storing? To put on a performance for the people to see how deep their grief ran? Especially when the person’s name was met with sympathy, faces softening, and condolences.
I wrote that a while ago. And perhaps I was thinking about my mother when I was writing it. I’m always thinking about her. And she finds her way into everything I write. Some piece of her, no matter how little I know, always does. Because I’ve found that good women are women who forget themselves. And I don’t want to remember her as the things everyone said she did. But it’s all I have. It’s all I have.
We, women, are socialized into forgetting ourselves. For our families, for our husbands, for our children. We’re grown into thinking that we don’t matter like that. That what we want can wait, can take a turn at the end of the queue and still, make way for people who come after us to get in front of the line. And it’s passed down across generations. So what we get is a long line of women with bowed heads. Women who come second always. Women who are always-aching-always-pushing-out-clumps of themselves till all they have left to give is almost nothing. And even if I am my mother’s daughter, it ends with me.
Toju and Agbon’s story feels like mine. Like home. But there’s a dialogue they have that was like an awakening.
“After all,” when Toju asked, “So, what if I leave?” Agbon had responded with a crushing indifference: “Then you leave.”
“You won’t cry? That’s it?”
“I probably would, but the universe is expansive, you know? We never run out of possible loves. Everything is about choice, then. I’m here now, you’re here now. This is good. It’s enough.”
From Vagabonds! by Eloghosa Osunde.
The universe is expansive. And unending. And ever-growing. And yet, inside all of this chaos we have the liberty to choose. We never run out of choices. Every turn, every step, there are choices to make. Choices branching out in hands so expansive the size of it all is overwhelming. And the story showed me how everything eventually ended. And how even that too, unprepared for it as we may be, was a choice on its own.
But it also pointed out that choices, freeing as they are, are also exhausting. And people sometimes take a step back from having to choose, choose, choose.
And how that too was okay.
When I choose to be everything my mother wasn’t, agnostic, unruly, untethered. When I decided that my neck will not bend over forever cramped but stand straight. When I choose to put myself in front of the line instead of at the back, always shifting backward, it was hard.
Here I was, learning who my mother was from stories told to me. How her faith in God was unwavering. How her devotion to the people who hurt her was strong. How I needed to do her proud by being all the things she couldn’t be. By doing all the things she did for them. Here’s a thing about death; you’re to become the person you lost. And I didn’t know how to be anything but this. But myself. And here’s another thing; you are to be ashamed of the self you are. You are to let shame push you into becoming the things you’re not so that the people around you live in comfort. Another thing I don’t know how to be. In the end, I decided that the best version of this thing I embodied that would do the greatest honor to her memory was to be the one I wanted to be. Tell me, what greater honor to a bent thing than to be a straight back for them?
Grief is never-ending. It gives and it takes. It carries a lot of burdens. A lot of wishes. A lot of what-ifs. A lot of dreams of what could have been. The ache of what death snatched away. But it also carries hope. And it carries change inside it. It inspires rebellion to choose oneself, to stay on the side of things that felt right, not the one you were moulded into. Not the one they wanted you to choose. To linger on the path that was home to grief because all things feelings were good and all things deserved space to be. It broke open but it also mended back gently.
Grief, most importantly, carried freedom inside it. There is a certain thing you become when death has brushed shoulders with you. You learnt how to be all the things you were afraid of being. You understood how the desire to be free was not demonic. That it was your life and it was yours to yould. And my heart breaks at all the things we could have been. All the dreams of walking down streets hand and hand. Whispers that dug up giggles. Maybe I could have learnt how to talk. Or perhaps she could have soothed me when I was anxious. Offered her laps a resting place for my tears. All the possibilities stretching out then are cut away by grief. And how that too was a type of freedom, dreaming.
I’m all the things I am today because, in some way, it feels like a chance to offer my mother a chance to be all the things she didn’t know how to be through me.
I’ll forever miss you. Abèbí mi. And I’ll always hold you inside one of those pockets-even if I have to force them open and stuff you inside. I am learning how to be happy. And I have put around me those who make being alive easier. Those who reduce the urge to want to see if some part of you lingers on whatever is on the other side. I regret that I did not get to know you. But it’s why I’ll learn about you through myself. All the parts of me my father is not.