When I was a teenager, my mother and I had a rocky relationship. She was a conservative, religious force in my life, and I was a rebel, breaking rules and acting out. I rejected the idea of God at the time, and my moods were volatile, unstable. She called me out for being a moody teenager. I called her a zealot and a martyr. We didn’t mince words. Our fights were intense. Often we would end up screaming at one another, and we would say vile, nasty things to one another out of anger. I’d usually end up in my bedroom blaring alternative rock music and crying. I remember after one fight, she commented, “I never see you cry.”
There was a reason for that. I never wanted her to see me cry. I wanted to be tough. To me, that was the ultimate goal. To be tough. Strong. I saw my emotions, out of control and radical as they were, as a weakness. I hated our fighting, but I couldn’t agree with her stance on religion, on politics, on my friends, the way I looked, the guys I dated. We disagreed about everything.
I hated how she would flaunt her sacrifices, drag us to Church, and remind us how much she did for us and how her actions proved how much she loved us. She seemed like a goody-goody to me. Perfect and holy. I relished in my imperfections. As much as I hated my unpredictable moods, they defined me when I was a teenager.
Fast forward to when I was 25, I started dating the fire boy. It was intense and ugly. Fast. I remember the first night we were together, he told me I had to promise myself to him. His possessiveness was sweet at first, endearing, but then turned into control. When he pushed me down the stairs during our first fight, maybe I misremembered and simply fell backwards. The dent in the drywall was there for months. I wasn’t allowed to see my friends. I lost track of the bruises and the phones he snapped in half. I lost contact with loved ones. He lied, manipulated me, and physically, sexually, mentally, and verbally abused me. I was so warped into believing we were happy, we were stable.
And soon, we were to be a family. I knew we couldn’t financially afford a family. I was the only one with a steady job. He got fired from his job when he got into a shouting fight with his manager over excessive absenteeism. I tallied up the cost of diapers, of formula, of baby food, cribs, a bassinet. I wondered how we could take the baby home from the hospital if we didn’t have a car seat. I worried his sports car wouldn’t be good enough for the baby since the a.c. and heat wouldn’t work. In the summer when I was pregnant, my legs would stick to the back of the seat. It was over 100, and I would walk to work, then work an eight or nine hour shift. I threw up all the time. I was dehydrated and hospitalized. They would give me IVs full of saline to rehydrate me.
No one saw the bump in the back of the head from where he punched me on a regular basis. No one thought to ask why my throat was sore and my eyes were red and puffy when I went into work. I cried silently at my desk and wiped the tears away whenever my boss came nearer. How do you tell your boss that you blacked out the night before because the fire boy choked you? Because his arms that used to wrap around you in an embrace were attached to the hands that strangled you? How do you explain that you only stopped screaming because you blacked out on the bed, and the friend who heard the whole thing called the police?
I just remembered coming to with sirens blaring and red-and-blue lights flashing in my bedroom window. His footsteps pounding down the stairs. I didn’t know if he was arrested that night or ran away. That’s why I went to work with a sore throat and red and puffy eyes.
I remember the bruises on my belly after getting hit by a car because he “told me not to leave home” and he “said I shouldn’t leave him”. He punched my stomach so hard, there was a perfect outline of his knuckles in bluish green purple.
Sometimes, mothers make sacrifices for their children. Sometimes, they just want their children to be happy. To be safe. To have a backyard and fresh cookies. To not wake up to the sound of their mother sobbing.
We all make sacrifices. Now I know my mother taught me if you love someone, truly love someone, you will sacrifice everything just to see them happy. She taught me that love is equal to sacrifice. She made so many sacrifices for us growing up and I finally learned that the measure of your love can also be taught and passed on to those you love. Because sometimes the biggest sacrifice can also be someone’s greatest gift.
Now I also know there is strength even in the tears, even in the moods, even in the times when I’m sensitive. There’s no reason to be ashamed of my tears. They are valid. My emotions are real and have every reason to be displayed. I am no longer ashamed for crying or screaming or telling someone exactly how I feel. I no longer feel like I have to wear a mask to be strong.
I am strong, and the sacrifices I made I would make a thousand times again if it meant the children I birthed were happy and safe.