The Hope Chest
If only for a minute or two
I want to see what it feels like to be without you
I want to know the touch of my own skin
Against the sun, against the wind
Lucinda Williams, "The Side of the Road"
Around the time of my parents' final separation in the late eighties, my mother and I spent a wonderful night together in Ottawa. I was nineteen, and living in Toronto. She had come up to the capital from Newfoundland on business. We marched on Parliament Hill together ("What do we want? Choice!"), we visited the new national museum, we drank scotch on the rocks in the lounge of a posh hotel, we went out for dinner and I ate sushi for the first time. And we talked and talked and talked.
My mother, who remained close to my father right up until his death, opened up to me about their 24-year marriage in a new way: woman to woman. It was very healing for me, and as I listened, I was aware that for the first time, I was glimpsing my mother as her own person. As someone apart from my father, my sister and me.
That night, she shared with me that there had been a moment, when my sister and I were still young, when she fleetingly entertained a plan of escape that didn't include us.
To understand how shocking this was for me to hear, you'd have to know my mother. In the dictionary, under "maternal," there's a picture of my mother. As far as I ever knew, she was the most nurturing, tender, devoted mother in the world. It was impossible to imagine her with her back turned.
When and where I was a teenager, some girls and mothers still assembled "hope chests." It was a wooden chest in which they tucked china, linens and other household wares, in anticipation of married lifethe fullfillment of said "hope." Needless to say, the woman who stuck a pro-choice sign in my hand and marched me up Parliament Hill, did not give me a hope chest.
She gave me much more. That night, not for the last time, she stepped down off the altar of sainted motherhood, and let me see her as a real person. A woman who could adore her husband and children with every breath in her body, and at the same time be conscious of the part of her soul that could not be domesticated. She gave me permission to acknowledge that wild place in me, to accept it alongside my fierce love for my family. To not feel the need to reconcile or cure it, but just let it be. The deepest truth resides in paradox. Our humanity is too vast for either/or.
Instead of porcelain and monogrammed pillowslips, this is what I have in my chest.
I need it far more often.
Labels: soul and spirit