BY CEARA PEREZ-MURPHY

When I was four I knew how to get myself up and ready for the day. I would get dressed in some hodge-podge outfit and make my way downstairs across the cold wooden floors to the kitchen at the opposite end of the house, out the back door and to the coop to check on the chickens. I loved those chickens. After checking on my brood I would head back inside and crawl up the thick wooden cabi- nets to the counter where I’d pull out my favorite Pop-tart and stick it in the toaster. There was one time where I didn’t pull the toaster out and I lit the bottoms of the cabinets on fire. I remember jump- ing back in terror, thinking the whole house would go up in flames, but in retrospect I can’t imagine the situation was so dire.

I knew how to take care of myself from a young age. I was instilled with a sense of ownership of my actions and my parents trusted that I would make the right decisions while they were at work. They were always at work. I never had the childhood you’d see in the movies, or often seen in our quiet suburban town,, where the loudest thing was the occasional horn blast from the fire station echoing through the mill buildings that surrounded it. My parents weren’t together, and rarely even liked each other. My dad drank so much that we played the “find daddy’s bottle game” and my mother and I would fill big rubbish bins with Jack Daniels bottles that would clink and crack as we tossed them in. My mother never showed emotion of any kind. She worked or painted or read books or spent time in the garden catching me snakes. She was never scared to grab them out of the long grass and toss them to me. She never showed any emotion.

I’m not sure when I started to lose my emotions. Was it when girls my age would pick on me and tease me about my looks, slamming me into walls with chairs and sitting on me in the snow? Was it when my dad died and my dog died in the same month? Or had it happened years earlier, slowly and sneakily over time, having seen the look on my mother’s face for all those years. When did I get so tired and start to feel so helpless? Did I learn that through all of my mother’s hard work when all she wanted was for me to have what I needed?

I saw my mother cry for the first time last year. It was so alien to me and unlike her that I actually laughed upon seeing her tears and hearing her quiet moans. I did not recognize this person. My mother was strong and seemingly made of stone. My mother showed no cracks in her foundation or weaknesses like other mortal beings.

I don’t know how to have conversations with people about my problems. I’ve always admired my moth- er for being the person that everyone else came
to when they needed help. Whether they needed money, to borrow her credit card to buy concert tickets, a place to stay, or an astrology reading, my mother was the person people could count on. My mother was the first person in her family to have any sort of credit and the first to buy a house. My mother never asked for help but she sure could provide it.

I don’t know how to ask for help. My body tells me it’s wrong. My arms grow heavy with burdens and tell me that I can make it through without raising my hand. My stomach turns and causes my tongue to twist, unable to speak the words, “I’m not okay.”

My mother works one job now. She makes her own hours and gets by on an earnest living, paying her bills every month and spending her free time in a small shed in the middle of the woods where she can be alone and read in peace. She doesn’t ask for much and she doesn’t expect anything from any- one. My mother is strong and seemingly made of stone because she has been conditioned to be that way over the years. Like compounding layers of sediment, each year another layer of new challeng- es that she is always able to conquer. My mother has her weaknesses but she is stronger than them as a whole. I often worry that I will become my mother, but the greater worry is that I never will.

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