God, I Feel Terrible About Mother

God, I Feel Terrible About Mother


“Where the concern is insight into intimate connections, outside observation is already the fundamental mistake.

– Peter Sloterdijk


“To answer her, I write poems about the cruelty of mothers. ‘What difference is there between a mother and a soldier? None.’ I underline my answer. ‘Mothers and soldiers are enemies of freedom. I am doubly occupied.’ I post the poems on the wall like freedom graffiti or tuck them in ‘her journal,’ a journal that I keep only for my mother.”1

She talks to Mom every day, mindless. What are you doing: now, at work, in the car? What did you have for breakfast and dinner and lunch? When did you, where did you, how are you, and New York, my darling, New York? 

“Boring,” she says, sliding wet off her phone screen. “I’ve got to say, Mommy, I’m excited for home.” 

A clap of quick silver. She unsteps from 1st ave and shifts into sway. Christ, she goes, Fucking Christ. Splash from the biker weighs cotton, white sock, sweatpants and heel. Dirty on clothes, fabric all sticking. 

“Don’t swear,” says Mom. “The flight is at four—” and rain chatter drowns. Double, triple strikes of water, spray and spray and spray. “What time do you want the pick up?” 

“You know I like early.” She presses the headphones to hit back of ear. She crosses the street and kicks at stray sticks. Down are the puddles, alive is the ground. 

More about airport. More about travel. Mom starts on mediation—how life is big energy and past is not real and happy is choice and trust in the universe. Lessons from Wednesday class, an alt-therapy venture. 

“I can’t take that seriously,” she says, passing under an awning. She raises a palm, knuckle side up, to cover her head. Nothing worse than loose, filthy water trickling into scalp. “Mostly the manifestation stuff—” 

“It’s true,” says Mom, words elongating to convince. “If you could just give it a chance.” 

And the irritation comes rapid: Mom whines like a child. 

“I have to go,” she says, pinching her thumb skin and twisting for sting. I’m years over Malibu. I’m done with that shit. “Love you.” 

“I love you, too,” says Mom. “Remember your alarm.” 

Ending the call—thank God—solves it. Hand in pocket, she catches key grooves, once and twice and three times and four, no longer counting for tally. She lines her shoulder perpendicular and leans into the door. Drips on tiled lobby and considers Mom’s cash. The guilty trip. The journal that, after a decade, Mom had sent back for her word of the week—“relief.” What if it had gotten stolen? The super never locks the building, he feeds packages to wolves. 

That Mom took the thing was an open secret. The small notebook, spiraled and blue and addressed, did her no favors. When asked, Mom said it was for protection. She didn’t want another episode. She didn’t want to see her hurt. She didn’t want, which meant she had read it: Dear God. 

She toes at stair edges, walking sideways to avoid trails of soaked trash-Tuesday drag. Plant of the left before lift of the right, her feet slow with danger, she imagines the fall. A slick slip to railing. A hard angled drop. 

Many people my age, they forget them. 

Warm blood in humidity. Mist leaking pink like the Latigo peaks.

Hours go by, but where is the Mom? 


“She spit—right in the direction of that stern face…Shocked, they opened the doors and ran, leaving her sitting alone contemplating the coming punishment.”2


Moments seem peaceful and often are not. Nights, laden with choice. Dinners, flush with dread. She refuses to cower and spits out the food—she’ll make it all obvious, she’ll show them what’s what. 


“Well, her father could order all he wanted to. She was not going to pick up her crayons. Nobody could make her pick up her crayons. Nobody. Not her father not her mother. Not even the principal. Not even God.”3

“In no time, I loved Alef with all my heart and also blamed him for anything I did not like or understand…When I got mad at Alef, I dreamt him on the board and left him there screaming for me to forgive him and come back.”4




Dear God,

I can never do anything right.



Dear God,

Why does everyone in this house hate me? Why are they so mean? Why do you make my life miserable? Why is my mom so mean?



Dear God,

I hate my dad. I wish he would go die in a hole then go to hell because he verbally abuses me and my mom. I want him to die. I hate him so much. He’s annoying and mean and I want to stab him.



Dear God,

I hate you. You suck and I don’t care if you hurt me or do whatever to make my life miserable. I hate you. I don’t care if that makes me another religion, I still hate you. You’re the worst thing that could’ve happened to me. I hate you, God. I hate you. 



I’m sorry God. Please make my life better. Okay?



Dear God,

I want both my parents to die in a car crash and when they do I’ll go to their funeral wearing yellow and pink and I’ll dance on their graves. In fact, I’ll take them out of their graves and shred them to pieces.


Dear God,

I defend my mom in every argument, but she never defends me. I’m miserable. What is my purpose on this horrible earth? You always get me in trouble. I always get yelled at. I don’t see the point in living when I have no purpose. Why was I born? 



“‘I saw your mama last night.’ ‘I hate her.’ ‘I bet you do. Hated mine too. Miss her like hell now. All I’m gonna say about that.’”5


If I die, I would like mountains of 7/11 cinnamon twist donuts. I would like to eat them one during the other, so that in my mouth are two donuts, always, and I would like to lick their sweet off my fingers and rub the leftover spitty stick over my cheeks. I would like to be absolved of everything. I would like a big heaven house on a big heaven cloud—a big heaven flatscreen, which I sit in front of on my big heaven couch, eating my piggy heaven food—Cheetos, Kit-Kats, Twinkies—and I would like for every alive person to know that it was Mom who did it, Mom who killed me to death. 


 “‘Let’s see your hair, Satsuki. You’re sure it isn’t a little too short? […] Your hair will never cooperate, it’s exactly like my hair when I was your age…You and I are a lot alike, Satsuki.’”6

“‘Granny, what will we do if she dies? Maybe she’s dead already.’”7 


“I’ll kill myself when you die.” 

“Don’t say that,” Mom says, pulling hair tighter. “I don’t want that.” 

“You won’t be in heaven three seconds without me.” Hand brushes ear and she twitches—her head does not heed Mom. “The rest of the family will follow.” 

In front and behind, Mom snaps rubber bands. She sections with comb, restarts the French braids: “I’m making a rule that you have to shut up about death.”

“And I’m making a rule that you can’t die without me.” 

The bathroom sink turns on and pours out. Mom, haphazard, runs water over her newly slack hair, and she recoils, pajama collar collecting the dribble. 

Her smile, fragile; her eyes, girlish—Mom in the mirror, young and anemic and pretty and fun. 

She thinks, That is a child, and stays down. She thinks, I do not want a child-mother to touch me, and ignores. She is in no mood to ruin. She is in no mood to bring it back up and make it go bad. 

“Old Orchard tomorrow?” Mom says, and digs with fingers. “I can leave work early.”

“You leave work early every day,” she says, which means yes. 

The great equalizer. Malls are their place—Cincinnati, Wilmette, Malibu—they are one with the browsing, one during shop. For them, that is what’s wrong about New York. They want accessible sprawl. They want acres of Nordstroms and floors worth of Macy’s and wall-to-wall food courts and parking in lots. They do not want niche SoHo. They do not want condensed.

Summer before college, daily, she and Mom would walk through and prowl. A turning point. She liked spending money with the thick metal card, liked the sunshine-y air and the draw stringing bags, liked the way, no matter how heavy, Mom volunteered her arm to carry. Their commercial oasis, it transplanted the pain. Rinsed them of kitchen. Rinsed them pure clean.  

The wedding ring hooks on elastic and, dislodging, tugs her neck right. 

Can you not?” 


“Depressed or stressed mothers are ‘away’ even when they are present. It is hard for you to make your child feel secure and able to relate to things and people if you are stressed out or depressed. This is a destructive situation. It is best to avoid conditions that lead to depression.”8


“I’m not mad at the things you did,” she says, and slants her mouth from the phone, goes, the usual, to her barista. “I’m mad at the things you didn’t do. The things you didn’t give.” 


“I crawl into bed with Malachy and the twins. I look out at Mam at the kitchen table, smoking a cigarette, drinking tea, and crying. I want to get up and tell her I’ll be a man soon and I’ll get a job in the place with the big gate and I’ll come home every Friday night with money for eggs and toast and home and she can sing again Anyone can see why I wanted your kiss.”9

“I pretend I do not see the tears in her eyes.”10


She slinks down the staircase with carpeted chin and hides in the dark of his hallway. 

There are two marble counters. One wraps the kitchen’s full length, hugging wall, holding sink, one floats in the middle, an island. It bends at the end, creates space for hiding, and on four, she crouches to find it.

The game is called “Coffin”; the point is to wait. She does dead-pretend and feels safe that Mom needs her. 

He yells about nothing. He yells about food. He yells bitch and cunt and more bitch and fuck you. 

Later, when she thinks on the night—and she will think about it, at movies and therapy, at instants with rattle just right, volume just so—she remembers nothing but her curl on the floor, the way Mom was silent when she saw her stand up, the way she was an animal lashing up those stairs. 

Mom did not even tell her to go. Mom did not even hit him or anything and she screamed, “I hate you,” and he screamed back, and Mom did not even hit him or tell her all sweet to go upstairs. 

She thinks in the corner of her room, I am your daughter. She grabs left pointer finger, pushes, tries to touch hand’s back. She lets go. She pummels ground with heel and wall with head and breathes tilting mouth pants and, forehead on floor, slobs saliva down cheeks and coughs wet hurt noises. 


“The thought of living with her was so terrible that your brain would throw it out as soon as it came in. Well, Byron’s brain had better get used to it, we all knew by the way…Momma’s voice sounded that they meant it this time.”11

“She drummed her heels a few more times to prove that her spirit was not broken. Then she lay on her bed and thought wild fierce thoughts until her mother came and silently helped her undress and get into bed.”12


“Malibu?” she says, kicking the back of the seat. “Are you fucking kidding me?” 

Fists thrust against window. Feet push to escape. Mom reaches for seatbelt, catches an elbow on chin. For the third time, a flight attendant passes, and she frantics, uncaring about the violent display. 

She will bring this plane down, has been screaming it in variations since the drive from the hospital: Malibu. Fucking Malibu. You’ve got to be fucking crazy if you think for one fucking second I’m going to fucking Malibu. 

“I hate you,” and she hits herself. Knuckles over and over on the temple, Mom grabs the hand and tries: It’s happening. I’m sorry. We’re helping. 

Fucking Malibu,” she says, each word percussive. Shaved fuzz from the carpet denses air, refrigerant taste. “Because of you—because of things you did.” 

Treatment in Malibu. She laughs at the joke and forces hips up and jerks at the restraint. 

Mom holds harder: “If you really wanted it, we would’ve already stopped.” Polished turbulence slants wing tips up. “The plane would be grounded.” 

“I hate you,” she says, ripping her arm back. She cries and soft rocks, coughing when the inhale’s too quick. “I really do. I really hate you.” 


“Freddie pushes me and everything turns dark in my head and I run at him with fists and knees and feet till he yells, Hey, stop, stop, and I won’t because I can’t, I don’t know how…”13


She thinks post-treatment. She thinks about tiny, beautiful Mom. She thinks about them standing near the gas-powered stove, how she thought she would die out of anger, how she thought the world wasn’t big enough for big her, and how nothing could help it, she just had to. She thinks how she put both hands to Mom’s shoulders, how she honest to God pushed, how, with the screaming and the TV and the oil from the pan, she was worse than her father, the worst person in the house. 


“‘You ain’t got to love me, but you gonna know that I love you.’”14 

“Often, however, I write good words in her journal, hoping that when she sees them she will know that I care about her and be gentler with me. ‘God, I feel terrible for Mother…Please make her happy. Take from my happiness if that’s the only way to help.’ ‘Liar,’ she pencils next to my words, then erases it.”15

I stab in the off-limits zone. Cheekcheekchin, semi-automatic scissor up shoulder, blade pulping my nose, I breathe through the tongue and I bite on the iron. This is how I love you.

  1. Ibtisam Barakat, Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016), 12.
  2. bell hooks, Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (Henry Holt, 2007), 15.
  3. Beverly Cleary, Ramona the Pest (AVON, 1992), 174.
  4. Barakat, Tasting the Sky, 56.
  5. Barry Jenkins, Moonlight, A24, 2016, 32:46.
  6. Hayao Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro, 50th Street Films, 1988, 24:11.
  7. Miyazaki, My Neighbor Totoro, 1:09:40.
  8. James P. Comer and Alvin F. Poussaint, Raising Black Children: Questions and Answers for Parents and Teachers (Plume, 1992), 25.
  9. Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (Scribner, 2009), 28.
  10. hooks, Bone Black, 2.
  11. Christopher Paul Curtis, The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 (A Yearling Book, 2013), 120.
  12. Cleary, Ramona, 179.
  13. Frank McCourt, Angela’s Ashes (Scribner, 2009), 31.
  14. Moonlight, 1:19:34.
  15. Bakarat, Tasting the Sky, 12.
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