By Gabrielle Zemsky

CN: Mothers, feeling low


Somewhere in our house, there’s an old picture of me and my mom. In it we’re lying on the floor, wearing matching outfits which turn our bodies into an amorphous blob. We’re looking at each other with so much love, a chubby baby with a goofy smile and a young mother with flushed cheeks. Now when I stop to look at it I need to convince myself it’s really real, that we are those same two people.

I can’t remember the feeling of pure connection, but I can remember its absence. There are no pictures of that.



When I was 8, 10, 12 years old there were countless hospital visits and doctor’s appointments for my frail and lopsided little body. It was always a long drive and I often had to miss school, but I didn’t mind. I liked being away from mean teachers, and meaner friends. I liked being able to stare out the window, safe and contained, away from everything. Just me and mom.
I was a quiet kid. To fill the silence or maybe because she just wants someone to talk to, she tells me about her day, about how annoying my dad is, whatever’s on her mind, and I listen. It’s what we do. I feel older than I am.



At 18, I come home from university and start to feel myself slip away. I can’t sleep, I think I’m dying. I try to keep it to myself. One day my mom comes home and I burst into big crocodile tears, sobbing like a baby. She hugs me, she tries to soothe me. “There, there,” she says. It helps. She can’t understand what’s wrong. She thought I was her happy girl, what happened to her happy girl?
I don’t know where to start. I try to explain, I try to tell her, but nothing comes out right.



When I turn 20, we stand together in the kitchen. We’ve been here many times over the years, talking, yelling, crying, and it always felt like my job was to listen and understand. Anything else would be selfish. But this time I don’t want to hide, I don’t want to try containing everything until I burst.

So I’m talking.

Talking and standing.

Then, talking and sitting.

She’s tired, but she wants to listen, so she sits with me.
And if we can do it once, we can probably do it again.



Some things I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say. They seem too dramatic, too childish, too harsh.
But I can write them down:
“You weren’t there when I needed you. I felt crushed by you. You made me feel like I had to be small. You didn’t see me and you were supposed to see me, the real me. You’re my mother.”


Header image by Basheer Tome

Other images by Zack McCarthy, Christine H., Danielle deLeon, Christine McIntosh

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