My Mother, The Wolf
By Oriana Koren
Content warning: sexual violence
May 18, 2011
There is a place, a room inside of my head where there is a strange and debilitating darkness. The darkness is consuming. It leaves me feeling lonely and sullen, separate from everyone else. Why does it exist? And what exactly is in there?
By the time I am three, I have already mastered dissociation. It’s easy as long as I can find an interesting spot on the ceiling to focus my eyes on, then as if by magic, I slip out of my body through the top of my head and watch how the sunlight makes the pink bathroom tiles glitter a bit. I see only what I want to see and in that moment, what I want to see is the sunlight dancing on the tiles, not my mother carefully studying, opening, and peeling through that part of my body I don’t have a word for yet.
By the time I am five, I get used to being on my back, in that way we talk about being on our backs as women — exploring sexuality, discovering pleasure — but I only vaguely understand what sex or “touching” is or that I have a say in who has access to my vagina. I understand clearly that what is happening makes me uncomfortable and confused. When I am on my back, half here, half floating away, I learn to believe that when a mommy is worried that someone has “touched” her daughter in a bad way, mommy needs to carefully examine her daughter’s vagina to make certain that daughter is telling the truth. I never figure out that it’s the mommy I should be worried about — not the strangers, not the uncles or grandfathers.
By the time I am 14, I tell myself that I somehow know how to astral project after doing some research online, trying to figure out these hazy dreams I have so often that leave me feeling out of body and panicked. It’s the only explanation for the moments I remember in between bites of sausage pizza at lunch or in the middle of spacing out in math class. I remember seeing two of me; one is tethered from a thin fiber arising from my head, surveying my cocoon, and the other is lying in bed, my body hiding in a swath of heavy sheets. I always see a shadowy figure sitting in the corner of my room closest to my desk or worse, at the foot of my bed; there are limbs moving toward my body. It sends a stabbing sensation into my stomach that’s so sharp, I gasp.
By the time I am 25, I carry a feeling in my blood that something is very wrong; something has been done to me, but the words never seem to find my consciousness. All I have as confirmation is a deep, dark terror I try to slough off, but can never quite shake it.
March 8th, 2011
Add to the list of strange dreams: my mother and I sharing a bed, but my mother masturbating, even though I am in the bed with her. Then, she forces my head between her legs. In the dream, this seemed normal — I didn’t hesitate, I did what I was forced to do. The room was familiar, a place we once lived: Woodland Meadows. I wake up so sick to my stomach, I retch and nothing comes.
I wake up constantly in cold sweats after what feels like a struggle with a heavy thing on my body, pushing me down; panic is clogging my throat while in my mind I am screaming, frantic for help, begging for help. Where is God when you need him to come through and save you, where is God when you need a mother to be smitten down, where is God when I am seeing myself in a dark room where no one can reach me? Where is God when the wrong person is reaching into me, where is God when my terror weaponizes my body against me for the rest of my life, where is this God my mother tells me loves me presumably the way she loves me, where is God when you really need her? Is God somewhere in the margins, like my salvation is somewhere in the margins?
Is she in the fog that hasn’t lifted yet?
When I am in my partner’s arms and I feel the warmth of his kind, there is a moment where my body feels as though it is both mine and perfect. I can see an opening in the veil where I might find deliverance from what I can remember — it’s just within my grasp. I am close to being free, until I see my mother’s face. I dissolve into my mind where it is safe to love him from a distance, where the shame can’t reach me. The memory whispers into my body, interrupting my pleasure and I’m floating again. Far and away. My body tells me, “It happened. It was real. You didn’t imagine this, no one would imagine this.”
When I come, I find I still don’t have a voice; not even a howl, not even a whimper, not even a syllable. I have nothing.
Everything has been taken from me — even me, even this.
In Haitian folk lore, the Lougarou is a mythical creature that flies at night, taking to the skies to prey on children and kill them. The lougarou is a woman who becomes wolf-like as a punishment for displeasing a hougan, a vodou priest. My grandmother would often threaten to call a lougarou on me if I misbehaved, but I didn’t know how to tell her there was already one living in my house. Somehow, I think she knew — she had been a wolf, too. I wanted to know: What had I done to deserve that sort of punishment? What had I done so wrong to have to live with a wolf disguised as a mother?
How do you explain a loss of speech? I don’t know how to believe myself, or how to gather evidence. When my body speaks, it hurts to hear what it has to say to me, the truths I have to reckon with. As a small child, I used to read the dictionary to learn as many words as I could so I would never be without words, but abuse, incest — these words are far away from me. In my own personal dictionary, I’ve forgotten an entire language. I used to be bilingual: I could think, speak, dream in kreyol and English. I could translate from one language to the next, speak on behalf of my grandparents who knew no English, but even with two languages I couldn’t speak for myself.
May 13th, 2012
I sent my mom a mother’s day card because I had to, not because I wanted to. And I didn’t mean a word of what I said. I am going to try to ignore the holiday today because I had a very difficult breakthrough in therapy last Friday and I am too angry to pretend as though I like either of my parents very much right now.
Over the years, my mother manipulated me into becoming a person whose primary occupation was pleasing her even at the cost of wrapping myself in tattered cloths to hide in the crypt of my mind, buried alive. Any deviation from that person was met with a contempt so rich, it grew inside me, encased whoever I was hiding in that crypt, and made it impossible to see myself without also seeing my mother in me too. My mother told me there was no one who understood her, no one who listened to her, that she had no one but me to listen and understand. She expected me to fully shoulder the burdens of her self-hate and the secrets that I never asked to share in.
My mother told me about God and salvation and I thought I could find a way through religion to free myself, but at every chance she had, she took that salvation from me. My mother hurled her shame for herself at me and I thought I deserved it. Most days, I still can’t shake the feeling of being inadequate, of being filthy. My mother told me to never talk about “what happens in our family,” to never write about the things that happened in our home, to never speak truth to the evil alive and real in her. My mother stole my life from me and thought herself righteous in the process, but I am here despite her abuse and I have my words despite her attempts to silence me.
I refuse to be silent any longer. I resolve to set myself free.
I dream I give birth to baby girl who my partner names Chrysanthemum, after the flower. Chrysanthemum’s are symbolic of optimism and joy and the unfolding of their petals represents perfection. My mother appears and attempts to nurse the baby first. I tell her I am capable of doing it myself. She respects my autonomy and leaves. The chill in my body leaves with her. I feel lighter. I am bursting with milk. I nurse my daughter for the first time and when she latches, all hesitation about my capability to be a parent and mother fade into joy when she looks up at me happily, at peace and safe. I feel immense joy and freedom, an easing of anxieties.
I think the baby was my own inner child, full of joy and potential.
Lead Image: flickr/Alvaro Tapia