It starts out so simple and the first face you see you can't really see, you more sense them. And they usually weep at the joy and miracle that is a child. But for you, they cry because they know that this is just not what they want. And you know, you sense that too. And you can't help but feel responsible.
And you feel responsible, all of a few moments old. It attaches to you and you see it in the expectant eyes of the family that's all giddy with the idea of a baby. But that's just it. It's an idea, and it fades as it becomes clear you can't fix what's wrong and this family isn't a family anymore.
And you feel responsible all of 2 years old as you tell the house you'll never forget. But you do because you're told to and they make sure by ripping up the pictures and she gets into your brain and tears apart the memories. And you call him dad, but he's not your dad and you can't decide who's lying because there are so many lies and you just don't care anymore.
All of ten years old and you feel responsible because maybe he wouldn't hit you if you were quieter, thinner, prettier, smarter, invisible, more alive. But he doesn't stop hitting anyone and the magic combination to unlock his kindness never comes to you and you wait in bed in the dark and cry silently. You watch her as she slowly kills herself every day in such small ways no one knows that's what she's doing. And even though you do, you don't know what to do about it.
All of thirteen years old and you feel responsible as you watch the last breath leave her body. And your dad, the dad of that expectant family takes you in. But it feels like a take-in, not a family. As your grandmother tells you over and over, you're not really part of this family. You're not really part of anything so you sit in your room with headphones on feeling responsible. This death and destruction that swirls around are palpable and you just learned this word and you like it because it sounds like your pounding heart. You try too hard to please but it never comes out quite right.
All of twenty years old and you decide you're responsible. And if you can just make something perfect you'll stop feeling so wrong. You leave to your own place with the balcony on the third floor and for once feeling responsible feels freeing. Until you start making choices you can't take back, nothing makes sense. And this perfection thing isn't working out as planned.
All of twenty-four and you're just so fucking tired of feeling responsible. And you never felt like children were a good idea until you're having your own but in your true fashion, you've made a mess of that too. But it's too late to go back and going forward means doing something you were never taught how to do. It means being stable after a life that made you adapt to instability in order to stay alive. And you try so hard, maybe too hard. Nothing adds up right when you do the math and meanwhile, your tub is sparkling but your daughter's crying because she just wants you to sit down with her. And you look into her eyes.
All of twenty-six years old and you feel responsible. You just can't decide what you're really responsible for and what just happened and would have happened had you never existed. And you can't change your life as much as you want to. You hold contempt for those with the happy childhood, those who grow up with the same parents their whole life. But that contempt just makes you angry at yourself. Because you don't know where the pain of it all belongs but you know it doesn't belong to them.
So you decide you're responsible for this one moment and realize you don't have to decide who's responsible for all the rest right now. And so you sit down with her and you read her favorite story and she smiles and maybe it's not perfect and you get overwhelmed and nothing's like you planned it to be. But at least she knows that is not her responsibility.
This piece was performed at the O'Shaughnessy Theatre for St. Catherine University as part of The Katie Monologues, their take on The Vagina Monologues, which was very popular at the time. I wish I remembered the name of the actress who performed it exceptionally.
I wrote it a couple of years after the birth of my first child and I met my biological mother. My biological mother attended a performance with me and my best friend. It was almost a full circle moment as both mothers shaped the feelings expressed here.
It was one of the hardest experiences and one of the best. I am so far away from that woman I was and yet she's so close I feel her breath.
Life loves a paradox.