By Sarita Amoros Ferguson (‘23)
Growing up I experienced many traumatizing events as a result of my mother’s mental and physical health. They all end up blending together. I can never really separate these events in my mind. This changed the night that I awoke to the sound of my mother’s panicked voice. It seemed to be bouncing off of the walls. The same walls that words have ricocheted off since the day we moved in, and that day that we disturbed the peace. They’ve witnessed everything, taking in all that we say, yet staying silent. I don’t know how these walls do it; I don’t know how they have not collapsed from the weight we throw at them. I stared at the ceiling for a moment and thanked it because I related to its suffering structure.
My mother was in the next room spitting on about the Lyme Disease that was shooting pain through her body. It’s been a few years that she’s been cancer free, but that didn’t mean that she was free. It often seemed like pain and disease were addicted to her blood and flesh. Finally, she fell silent and I tried not to toss and turn as cramps crawled up my legs and waist, it was that time of the month. As I turned to my side to relieve some of the pain in my lower back, the bed squeaked, and mama let out a cry about wanting to die. “I don’t want to live anymore. I just want to die, please, I just want to die,” she cried out. Pushing my index finger to my temple I tried to put everything together. All of these things are normal, every family goes through things like this, but the thought didn’t feel very convincing. I attempted to convince the jury of my mind that years of childhood sacrifices were normal. I even told the judge sitting in my soul, about the criminal that was tearing at my heart. But they had not reached a verdict in years. This night her sobs were so loud that all the melatonin seemed to disappear from my body.
Knowing that school started in a few hours I arose and let my aching feet carry me to the kitchen. I took a little bit of my Puerto Rican traditions, and brewed some coffee, not to drink but to brew a memory as my eyes shut and I took a seat on the kitchen floor. I imagined that it was 2006. I imagined it was 12 AM. I imagined my tios and tias in the next room as they laughed about the good old days. I imagined the safety of my cousins’ bodies brought as we each sank into nighttime’s arms. This I understood. My childhood had been bearable because of nights like those. Where mama was with loved ones, where I was with loved ones, and was free to be a child. When I was with these members of my family, there was no worrying about whether or not my mother would be getting rushed to the ER in the middle of the night, I didn’t have to watch what I said out of fear that it would trigger something within her mental illnesses. In the mornings, one of my tios would pick me up and sit me at the table. Another would put one of my favorite white square bowls in front of me, then fill it to the brim with Lucky Charms. My tias would ready stools around the kitchen for me so I’d be able to reach the counters to help with dinner. My cousins would build forts out of entire rooms for us to sleep under.
Even now I see the lack of motivation within her. It’s almost as if her mind doesn’t remember how to be whole on its own. Mama was unable to be a proper mother for years, but it was not all her fault. She had experienced parts of her body literally being removed from her, and when that happens, a piece of your soul is taken with it.
One of the hardest things as a child is learning to be a caregiver when you’re supposed to be learning how to be cared for. Now that I find myself in college, the experiences from my childhood are still affecting the way I interact with others and how I accept their empathy. Giving has never been a challenge for me, but I struggle with guilt when receiving attention. It’s something that I fear in every conversation, and something that I hold close in and every relationship I form. I don’t know when or even if that fear will go away. That fear is so normal now that I often think that I don’t want it to change because that means letting my guard down. I don’t want to end up like my mother, constantly building up walls and hiding. So, I’ll force myself to trust when I shouldn’t. Force myself to accept compassion when I don’t want to. I will force myself to stop burning perfectly sturdy bridges.
I watched my mother go to war with her own mind, then tried to do the same to my own. Impressionable. That’s what I was. I have been a mini-reflection of her, running from anxiety, seeking approval, surfing the waves of depression, and running from everything I do not understand. I want to understand and get out of the dark. I am learning self-love. I am learning that a mind like mine should not be in bed with the shades down. A mind like mine needs to speak for those who collapsed at the void and never had the courage to speak for themselves.
I opened my eyes and walked back to my bed. I caved back into my pain killer, my Puerto Rican traditions, my coffee, and I whisper to myself, your mother’s whimpers are family laughter. The smell of coffee is welcoming its way through the room and your cousins are filling in the empty spaces around you.