A feeling slams into me every now and again. Usually when I am walking home from the office on a Friday evening, my arms and shoulders heavy with bags toting the week’s detritus of rinsed lunch containers, shoes, damp yoga clothes. notebooks. “Forever schlepping”, I think. No different than my grandmother and her sisters, who carried bundles down steep paths to the village wash basin and bales up even steeper paths to the grazing pastures. “How did I inherit this,” I wonder as the handles of one bag begin to roll down my arm.
Because despite my best efforts, I am still not all-that-far from the women who came before me.
It was my mother who taught me, from a very young age, to be nice, to compromise and to please. To put the needs of others first, always. My mother, aunts, cousins, grandmothers and every woman before that were given that same message. After all, the responsibility was all on them to make a home and to raise children, to save money and keep nosy neighbours at bay. There was no room for inconvenient personal desires. The last to sit down to dinner, only once the rest of the family had been served, her plate a composition of what everyone else didn’t want. Eating the over-ripe fruit, so that we could eat the fresh fruit. Waking up before everyone else to get the laundry folded and staying up late to make pasta, the reh-reh-reh of the roller ushering the rest of us into sleep.
While they kept husbands happy and fed, the children clean and obedient, they desperately craved love and affection — of course they did — but it would have been selfish to ask for it, indulgent to expect it. Husbands were not taught to be attentive, they were trained to provide. With no perceived separation between their bodies and the bodies of their children, our mothers tried to levy that affection from us, smothering us with the attention they craved, wailing when we begged for air. They learned to live on crumbs, to suffocate need with more work, and there was always more work to be had.
Even though my genes were carried to another continent, this legacy could not be broken.
Currently, I am 45 years old and although I never married, never had children, my nervous system is also attuned to the pleasure of others, sparking yellow spherics when someone else’s burden is…