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Sunday Soliloquy: The Unforgiven May 9, 2010

Joan Crawford and adopted daughter, Christina. June 1944. Getty Images

On this day of all days, we as some woman’s child, cling to  an understandable pre-occupation with visual representations of women who embody the perfect mother. Smiles, candy, roses, an ornate $7 gift card that sings when the recipient opens the pink envelope.   Our mothers are all special today- whether they deserve to be or not.  Next to Christmas and Thanksgiving, I am willing to bet an FTD floral arrangement that Mother’s Day follows closely behind its autumn and winter competition when it comes to holidays in which we are inclined to turn a deaf memory towards a dysfunctional family member.

Recently, I was watching the movie The Lovely Bones. The mother in the film is portrayed by Rachel Weis. Without giving away too much of the plot, a young girl “Susie” is murdered by a serial killer (Stanley Tucci) which sends her family into an emotional black hole.  Each  family member deals with the tragedy in their own way.  The father played by Mark Walberg becomes obsessed with finding his daughter’s murderer. The mother has the opposite reaction and wants the family to move on with their lives.  Finally, the mother can no longer take the stress and abruptly moves  away…leaves…yes leaves her family- her precious children to deal with this loss all on their own.  In what sense does a “good mother” leave her own family?  Cursed was she, that awful character, for me throughout the entire film.  Good mothers don’t leave.

But I was wrong.  Why would I find it more acceptable for the father to have walked out on the family rather than the mother?  With its emphasis on the “good mother” what does Mother’s Day really communicate about the reality of motherhood?  Are we to forget the failings of the women in our lives who serve as  mammary gland in chief?

1953 photo of Actress Judy Garland with daughters Liza Minnelli and Lorna Luft

What about mother’s who experience postpartum depression? Are there any Mother’s Day cards that come with a sample of skin salve for chaffing breasts?  Any IOU cards for 3AM feedings that you pass on to your nanny?  Some mothers steal their son’s credit cards.  Does Hallmark have anything on the shelves for that? Other moms  only call when they need their daughter to send money.  What about the mothers who fail at society’s demands?  Sterling in American iconography are the June Cleavers and Carol Bradys.  Florence Henderson with six kids in a case study-esque house.  She  fawns over Marsha’s golden tresses while Alice cooks pork chops and applesauce. Dutifully waiting on the AstroTurf  lawn as husband Mike creates architectural masterpieces at work.   Those pictures of motherhood were remote for Afrocity.   What about when the realities of motherhood transform from black and white fantasy into technicolor pain?

Scene from the movie "Precious". Actress Monique protrays an abusive mother.

The first time my stepfather fondled me would be the last time.  The 1980’s was the beginning of the sexual and child abuse revolution.  ABC After School Specials relentlessly chipped away at the pressure to uphold images of the ideal family.  Secrets leaked from beyond the grave.  Mommie Dearest brought all of the skeletons out of Joan Crawford’s closet which hung by their wire hangers.  Soon stories of Judy Garland and others followed.  It is impossible to imagine that the women behind those beautiful visual representations  of motherhood were unfortunately amateur photographers when it came to child rearing.

For a moment when my stepfather rubbed his hand across by breasts which were really training bra nubs, I sat paralyzed.  He smiled his Kenyan smile of white teeth which contrasted with his dark blue black skin.  I was eleven years old at the time; old enough to know that his hands were not where they should be.  Pushing his hand away, I pretended not to care.  Whatever was playing on the television in front of us did not matter. I needed a focal point, something to forget that he was sitting next to me on the bed.  A container of Vick Vapor Rub was on the floor lying on its side.  The room smelled stagnant with cough syrup and funk from the chest cold I was getting over.  Where was my mother?  Isn’t she just in the next room being depressed or making his dinner?   Isn’t this the part where she is supposed to dash into the room, kick him in the balls and rescue me?

Nicole Kidman as a distraught mother in "The Others"

No Afrocity, you are in the wrong tele-drama.  I could not verbalize my protests to my stepfather who put his hands on my breasts again.  Somehow, I managed to find the courage to rise from the edge of the bed and leave the room.  For some time I stood in the railroad hallway of the apartment.  This was my fault. I was not wearing enough clothes and this is why this happened.  How inappropriate of me to wear only a tank top and some panties in front of a grown man.  Having dug through a closet of black trash bags, I found a thick sweater that was stored away for the season. It was May but I did not care.  I had to cover my breasts.   I am so sorry, so sorry. I am such a stupid girl.  What a dummy.   For the next several days, I stayed away from my stepfather and rarely spoke to my mother.  I should tell her, I thought. She always told me to tell her if a man was bothering me.  Did this only apply to strangers?    One morning as I prepared my pet rabbits’ meal of shredded carrots, I stupidly felt I could trust her.  So I told her what had happened in the bedroom.   She did not react with any emotion.  Why was she starring at me as if I was some child she did not know?  It was awkward.  She promised me that she would confront him about the matter.  This not what I wanted to hear because I wanted her to throw his clothes  and smelly cheap Pierre Cardin aftershave out on the streets of Oak Park, Illinois.

"Rabbit" by Wayne Thiebaud

But being a reasonable child, of course I knew that Rome was not built in a day and families probably were not torn apart in a day either.  He would be kicked out later, after their confrontation I thought.   Later that evening he came home and mother cooked dinner as usual.  During the meal she motioned for me to go into the kitchen with her head.  This is it, I thought.  Eagerly, I jumped off my stool and went into the kitchen. My rabbits’ large green wire cage was in the corner by the back door.  I looked at the gray and white  bunnies hopping around; one was  drinking water from the silver ball dispenser.

Did they know how I felt?  Why couldn’t my life be simple like theirs?  I would always feed them and make certain they were never hurt.  They would always have shelter and be warm.  My thoughts were interrupted by what should have been yelling and anger but was instead laughter. Loud mocking laughter.  I remained crouched by the rabbit cage.  What the hell was so funny?   They should not be having a good time.   Hearing their footsteps approach the kitchen,  I went to the refrigerator and grabbed a carrot.  Appearing to do something besides wait was my best defense in case my stepfather said I was lying.  I did not want to look him in the eyes even though I was telling the truth.   Now, there they both were standing in the kitchen doorway.

“Afrocity,” he said with a huge smile.  I will never forget his face or the deceitful smirk.  Mother was just standing there like some mannequin.  “I was only playing with you when I touched you.”

Silence was all I could give them.

“You know that I was only messin’ with you,” he went on. “You crazy girls nowadays think everyone is out to rape you. Crazy American tee-vee poots too much crazy thought in girls.  In Kenya, a girl would never think such things.”

He turned to my mother who was not looking at me.  This almost never happened.  Her being silent. A dummy with his words coming from her mouth “You are too sensitive,” she accused. “You have no breasts anyway- just little nubs.”

They both began to laugh.  After that moment, I had no subsequent reason to ever believe that her only duty in life was to protect me.  I hated her and in a very non-Afrocity moment, I threw the carrot in my hand at her.  They both ducked.

“Bitch!” she yelled.

“You see how American kidz are?  Ungrateful…In Kenya we would hang them upside down by their feet-“

I ran past them into the bedroom, closed the door behind me.  Why don’t these apartments ever have locks on doors like they do on TV when Jan Brady locks herself in the bedroom?  Soon they were in the bedroom.  Mother grabbed me and started shaking me as I screamed and kicked.  “I do not know what is your damn problem, ” she said throwing me on the floor. I don’t know if it is those Stouffer’s meals with MSG that make you hyperactive but you have a problem.”

Silence was all I could give her.  My chest was heaving from the fight. My  hair had freed itself from the Goody barrettes and now stood on my head.  Stepfather was in the doorway smiling.  He liked it when mother and I argued.  We were friends until he came along. That was when everything changed.

"Mother and Daughter at Penn Station, New York City, 1947 " By photographer Ruth Orkin

“Do you want to move back to Chicago?” she yelled. “You should be thankful that you are here in a nice suburb. Now we are around these white kids and you are acting ungrateful just like them. Cursing at their mothers.  I won’t have it.  Now you stay in here and think about your homework which you never want to do lately.”

With that, they left me in the room alone.  My tears dried, my knee was skinned from hitting the hardwood floor. It was getting dark outside, still I did not move from to turn on the lights. The rabbits were probably hungry. She would not feed them.  Soon I would have to swallow my humiliation and face the grown-ups.  Maybe in a few moments, I could move again but for the time being I  sat there in the dark.  Perhaps an hour passed by before mother opened the door.  She had some ice cream in a Parkay Margarine container.  We used them for bowls when they were empty.  Handing me the ice cream,  she said nothing and we did not look at each other.  What occurred was unspoken of.  Slowly I stood up and sat on the edge of the bed.  The same edge where my nubs where violated, tasting the sweet ice Neapolitan cream mixed with dried salty tears.  This was to some degree, her way of apologizing, this eloquent mother ,her daughter forsaken for a man’s love.  She went back out into the living room closing the door behind her on her little brown rabbit in a cage.

Still loved. Still mother. Still unforgiven. Still, silence is all I can give her

Autographed Letter Signed,



21 Responses to “Sunday Soliloquy: The Unforgiven”

  1. Holly Says:

    I’m sorry.

    Neither of you spoke of the incident again?

  2. IslandLibertarian Says:

    One early morning around 3:00 am, a mother brought her eight year old son along with her to a L.A. Police Station to bail her alcoholic husband out of jail. She stood with her son in front of her, right in front of the door the husband would come through after being processed out, to make sure that bastard-alcoholic would see his son’s frightened face and feel even more shame and guilt for his behavior.
    There were other even worse dysfunctional moments in that son’s life, but this seemed to cut the deepest. He’d never forget what his mother had done to him that morning.
    As a grown man that son finally made peace with both his parents.
    With his father it was easy, the son had inherited his father’s alcoholism, and part of his own recovery was making peace with ALL that had ever harmed him.
    But with his mother, the one person that was supposed to protect him no matter what, forgiveness wasn’t easy. Not until the son realized that his mother did truly love him and had her own demons left over from a traumatic childhood, and she was was really just doing the best she could with what she had, only then was he able to let it go and forgive her.
    He was lucky to get about 15 more years with them before they both passed on.
    Today he misses his mom. She was a real piece of work for sure, but she was the only mom he’d ever have.

    • afrocity Says:

      Who is the boy you speak of? I am sure that he is a wonderful man today.

      • IslandLibertarian Says:

        I’m not sure his three ex-wives would agree with you.
        I do know that he tries to do the best he can with what he has.

  3. Deb Says:

    Oh Afrocity! You tell it like it is. I’ve been there too. It was my grandfathers, one time my own father and , of course all the other men who thought it was their ‘god given” right to sexually do what they wanted to with me . Actually, they were right! It was their “patriarchal-god given’ right to do it and get away with it. I was messed up for many years because of these violations and all the protecting of “the man”. Fortunately, I was able to crawl out of that hole, confront some of the people involved and move on with my life. I hate this patriarchal world we live in and wish it was different, but it’s not. So like you, I keep talking out loud about the abuses of the patriarchal system with hope for future generations. I guess that’s the best we can do. Love you Woman!

    • afrocity Says:

      God Bless you Deb. Thank you for sharing that story. I think this happens to more people than we care to admit. And let’s not forget that boys are sexually abused as well. That is something that is even less spoken of.

  4. Liz Says:

    I can’t even imagine what that must have been like, knowing that somethings were more important to your mother than protecting you. I know you will love your mother for the rest of your life, but some things are beyond the pale.

  5. Janelle Humbert Says:

    How long was that horror of a male around, Afrocity?

    • afrocity Says:

      1978-1981, then briefly in 1983.

      • Janelle Says:

        To you and Deb and all the others……I know as a Christian, I am supposed to forgive. But there is something about predatory males and females that makes me want to grab a nail gun and use it on them.

  6. manbearpig68 Says:

    Have you ever thought about finding the guy and having somebody accidentally hit him with a tree limb or a bat? He might not be in the country anymore.

  7. yttik Says:

    It’s nice to find a blog that does not do Mother’s Day as if it were a day of sainthood. No mother wants to have to try and live up to that and no child should have to try and measure their own mother by that ideal. I hate what Mother’s Day has become. The original intent of Mother’s Day was a proclamation for peace.

    Mother’s Day for me has become a day of guilt, LOL, not my guilt, I did my best for my kids and I’m way past guilt. But it’s their guilt towards their own kids or guilt about forgetting to call their own mother. Guilt about not being perfect. It’s about all the shame and inability to live our lives like a Hallmark card.

    • afrocity Says:

      Yttik you are dead on. Yesterday I went out for dinner with a friend. While I was waiting in front of the restaurant, 2 men passed me separately and said “If you are a mom then Happy Mother’s Day”

      I said “I am not a mom,”

      One guy laughed bur the other said “Damn, every time I say that to a woman today, she is never a mother.”

      And didn’t women used to wear a flower on their lapel, red if mom was living, white if she was dead? I recall boys selling carnations on the street just for the occasion.
      Also during the dinner, the restaurant was filled with moms and kids. Many of the mother’s looked frustrated. Here is a idea why not send mom someplace alone with her girlfriends and not screaming babies in booster chairs? Get her a pedicure or day at the spa. Most of the mom’s I saw looked more belabored on their so called special day then the other 364 days of the year.

  8. gs Says:

    Again I saw all the oppressions that are done under the sun. And behold, the tears of the oppressed, and they had no one to comfort them! On the side of their oppressors there was power, and there was no one to comfort them.

  9. Kelly Says:

    wow. very powerful. you are a talented writer. i’m sorry for the hurts of your childhood – i wish i could snag that little 11 year old girl up and hug her and protect her 😦

  10. Tara Says:

    “Some mothers steal their son’s credit cards. Does Hallmark have anything on the shelves for that?”

    My boyfriend deals with this with his ex-wife. Slovenly hooker that she is…

    As for your own story, I cannot ever figure out why “mother’s” put up with abuse against their children (lonely or NOT)

    I pray & hope for sex-offenderd & their affiliates awakening to eliminate these atrociticies forever…

    I’m SO sorry you had to endure this bullshit AC! You deserve(d) so much better, for that I am sure…

  11. Amy Says:

    Very hard to read (emotionally…writing -wise, it was amazing), and very moving. Thank you for sharing this.

  12. liontooth Says:

    Everything Amy said.

  13. ymarsakar Says:

    It is a co-dependent relationship.

    It is similar to cults and what not. They actively go out looking for a particular person with a typical weakness.

    Btw, I’ve been reading your posts on the main page, led here from the Weasel Council link, and I was wondering if you knew the origin of the catchphrase “Kool Aid drinker” is because of Jim Jones (full wiki and google account available)?

    Jim Jones told his followers that the CIA were out to get them. That the rest of the world was out to get them. That only, only HE could produce salvation.

    And people followed. Or they were killed or beaten down. That’s how a real leader controls the masses. A real leader as viewed by the Left. They admire the Pol Pots, Stalins, Lenins, and Chavez’s of the world. The only reason why they hate Hitler and fascism is because the Communist party told them to, after the little deal between Commie and Fascists fell apart.

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