You know it too

The familial familiar

I was fifteen and sitting in the black SUV I learned to drive in. We were in a parking lot near my neighborhood, and I think, waiting for my dad or my sister to come out of El Pollo Loco with dinner. I was controlling the music because fifteen-year-olds are selfish assholes who need to control things like that, because parents just don’t understand.

My mom and I have always been close. We’re similar people. Strangers seek us out for directions. The hurting confide in us. We both pretend we don’t need help. We’re both under five feet tall.

A song I’d heard a thousand times was playing, a song that my mom liked. She asked me if I knew what the song was about, and I said I did because I thought I did. I thought the song was about heartache and loss and your boyfriend not calling you back, because that’s the kind of pain I had experienced at that point in my life. She kept looking straight ahead, not in a scary way, but in the way like she was trying to figure out how to explain something.

She talked about how sadness and emptiness can consume you, how depression can lick your ears and whisper with hot breath, enticing you in a way that makes it feel okay to say, “I’ll follow you down there.” She didn’t say it in those terms, but in her own language. She told me how our family was real sad folk.

It was the first time I recognized my mother as a human being, with secrets and complicated, complex pain. It was as though she was a fortune teller, looking into my future and explaining that one day I would wake up and feel the sticky hot sweat of sadness, and that though it may feel unending, you can make it out. Because most of us make it out, because she made it out and continues to make it out.

I saw that she was herself, a whole self.

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