Weaker and Stronger
I was trapped.
I stretched my little hands as hard as I could, trying to swat at the ants swarming all over my face.
My head was stuck on the other side of the headboard in the bed I shared with my sister Vickie. We were very young. I was a toddler, a little over two-years old. She was closer to six, wearing braces to straighten her crooked legs.
I could hear Vickie screeching in a shrill voice, yelling for help. She knew something was terribly wrong. I was her baby sister and she felt responsible for me.
She struggled to move closer, inching her body next to mine.
Was she going to help get the ants off of my face? If so, I wondered how?
I knew she was different than me – her little body unable to move like mine. I toddled all over the place. She never took a step. She struggled to speak clearly. I babbled incessantly! She was weaker. I was stronger.
She needed me.
Somehow I knew all of this – even at the tender age of two or three. I also knew, that even though we differed physically and mentally, we were bound together in a symbiotic relationship.
She needed me to be her ally, her voice, her hands and feet, to advocate for her day-to-day existence.
I needed her!!
“Keep screaming,” I thought! Maybe mom or dad will hear and come free my head. It was detaching from my body, still wedged on the other side of the headboard.
I heard footsteps, happy she came. I heard my mother’s muffled words as she knelt by the bed. “Those aren’t ants on your face, silly! It’s only tears streaming down your cheeks.”
Were her words a rebuke? Was she angry we called her out of bed in the middle of the night? I couldn’t tell.
I felt her hand touch my forehead burning with fever. Her hand was light and gentle.
Maternal concern was present at this moment, that much I cling to. This memory has sustained my child-like heart throughout my adulthood.
I’ve held onto that moment, reimagining the words as a caress for my aching heart. Those reimagined words, calm, quiet, and comforting – uttered by a mother to her toddler – are etched in my memory. They were rare, a treasure, and nearly nonexistent in my later years.
The next thing I remember I was lying on a rug in front of the kitchen sink – embarrassed to be experiencing an enema! I later learned this was a standard practice to lower dangerously high fevers back in the good-ole days! The fever passed and I was tucked into bed next to my sister.
A mother lost.
But it is the memories of a mother never fully known, of a mother lost, which still haunt my mind. A woman trapped, struggling to sort out how to endure a husband’s headship and rule over her body and mind. Memories of a young wife – my mother- mourning her own shattered dreams; a mother with little emotional energy left to pour into our lives.
Mothering one another.
Even though I was the stronger sibling and she the weaker, we needed each other. It has taken years to be at peace with this but without each other we would neither have become who we are today. Two little girls, trapped in an unhealthy family dynamic, survived emotionally, spiritually, and physically because we stepped in and mothered each other.