Seeing her mother dote over her husband in the hospital, who was constantly readmitted for chronic liver failure due to his years of drinking, Estrella couldn’t understand the kind of love her mother felt for him. She’d never felt that kind of love from her mother. She never saw her take that much care toward her. And it angered her. She wondered why this man was more deserving of that kind of love than she was. What was so special about him that wasn’t special about her? Why was he more significant than her? Those were questions she could not answer. All she could understand was the pain the little girl inside of her was feeling as she watched her mother’s adoration for her husband.
Estrella thought she had forgiven her mother. She thought she had overcome the sense of abandonment she had experienced growing up. In reality, she was still that wounded little girl sneaking behind the door to her mom’s room hoping to catch her mom alone to get a little bit of the attention she gave to her boyfriend. To be able to sit on her lap, maybe cuddle in bed for a few moments, or even a pat on the head. Watching her mother stand so attentively next to her husband, constantly probing to make sure he was comfortable, massaging his legs, repositioning his pillows, and caressing his face evoked a surge of pain she had buried very deeply within her. Her mother had never learned to love a man and love her simultaneously. She didn’t know how to open her heart to that much love, so instead, she focused her concentrated love to whom she felt would give her the most significance in life, her alcoholic husband.
Estrella couldn’t understand why feeling loved and accepted by a man was more important to a woman than being loved by her own daughter. Juvenile Hall was full of young ladies whose mothers had preferred their boyfriends over their daughters. Mothers who made excuses for their boyfriend’s screaming and beating. Mother’s who looked the other way in the middle of night when the innocent were devoured by the secrets of darkness. Why was the yearning for a man’s touch more powerful than the vulnerability and purity of a child?
She had seen so many women in her family relinquish their dreams for a few moments of deceptive romantic love. Her aunt Martha dedicated her whole life to loving a man in secret; a man who left her to marry another woman and create a whole new family. After he married, he looked for Martha again and she became “the other woman.” For over 35 years, she saw him in secret, settling for left over kisses and caresses a few days out of the year. His pictures were all over her house and she spoke of him as if he was the patriarch of the family. She created a fictional character and brought him to life through the script she created for her life. She’d wait for his ever-illusive phone calls the way the desert anticipates the monsoon season, hoping the next phone call would summon her to his side. Martha’s daughter grew up in the shadows of her mother’s fantasies, and like Estrella, became runner-up to the love her mother felt for a man.
Estrella struggled with the anger she felt toward her mother. A mother herself, Estrella dedicated her life to loving and caring for her daughter, and couldn’t imagine how a man’s love could be more exceptional than the spiritual connection that existed between her and her daughter, and yet she understood the circumstances that led her mother to find shelter in the arm’s of men. The same circumstances that led her mother’s mother to two very abusive marriages. Her mom’s love for herself was so lacking, so depleted that only the intimate kisses of a man could fill some of that emptiness.
While the role of motherhood can be a very fulfilling aspect of a woman’s life, it’s also a very wearing and overwhelming experience. It comes with many rewards, but many times to the sacrifice of other desires. Estrella imagined that dirty diapers, crying children, piling bills, and a complete neglect to self-care did nothing for a woman who was already lacking so much self-love. The less romanticized aspects of being a mother, like the loneliness that sets in in the middle of the night when a mother feels so incompetent, or the insecurity of a woman’s worth that creeps in in the morning as she looks at the dark circles beneath her eyes and the premature wrinkles that are starting to frame parts of her face, Estrella would learn, are dangerous side-effects when a woman can’t see her self worth. That becomes exponentially true for single-mothers.
When a lonely woman feels a man’s hands through her hair, that masculine tenderness brings out a vulnerability in her that opens her up into a Calla Lily pulsing at the verge of spring. Estrella had been previewed to that type of sensuality. She had found a man who she could be herself around. In their moments of intimacy, his fingers whispered the truth of her body and glided over the topography of her landscapes. She had felt her hair sift through his fingers like the Saharan sand. She had opened herself to someone she could be unapologetically herself with; someone who had felt the softness of her belly in his hands, and ran them over her cambers, and slopes, and dips; someone who accepted the sacred lands she had to offer. Estrella had been lonely once, and understood the yearning for that kind of love, so the rationale of a woman choosing a man over her children was not so impossible for her to understand.
Estrella’s mother had six children by the time she had turned twenty-three. Each child represented a desperate attempt to fulfill the love she was supposed to have gotten from her mother, who also struggled with her own sense of worthiness. Ironically, with each child, the emptiness and loneliness grew, leaving her more desperate for the kind of love she came to desire from a man.
Estrella wanted to, needed to, forgive her mother. Cognitively, she knew her mother was a victim of abandonment and neglect, and could see her mother’s own struggles to liberate herself from cycles of abuse, violence, and co-dependency. But emotionally, Estrella did not know how to stop the pain and resentment she felt toward her mother. The wounded little girl inside of her still wanted to feel significant enough, important enough, for her mother’s love.