I know you worked hard to be the kind of woman, the kind of mother, you thought you should be. What you accomplished under grueling circumstances is truly amazing, and I daily use many of the skills I learned from you.
I have no desire to pain you by dredging up previous difficulties in our relationship or by making accusations or asking for apologies. However, I can now admit that when we visit I often feel nervous, fearful of offending you or of being punished. I feel obligated to accommodate your expectations and guilty if I cannot. I do not feel this way around anyone else. In recent years, this stress has even manifested as physical pain which not only takes a toll on myself but negatively impacts other relationships that are important to me.
I know our history is complicated. Over the last months, I have attempted to preserve a cordial, if limited, relationship. Frankly, I do not want you in my personal space. I do not trust you. I am not comfortable sharing my emotions with you. I feel I have to be a buffer to shield my children from being hurt by you. When I get a note from you, I have to wait until I am relaxed enough to open it. Maybe someday I will be strong enough to hear from you without having a panic attack, but for now intimacy is not worth the psychological trauma it creates. Even reading the words “I love you” in your handwriting makes my stomach drop. My brain instantly recalls the things you did because you loved us, and it scares the hell out of me.
In the future, if you want to show kindness to me, I beg you to pay for my sisters’ college educations, no strings attached. No conditions about whom they date, where they live, what they wear, what they study, where they work. They are all bright and motivated women, these sisters whose cries I heard often from behind closed doors, punctuated with thwacks from a wooden rod pounding their soft flesh to drive out foolishness and break their self-will. The girls whose dresses I sewed, whose diapers I changed, whose hair I washed and brushed and braided. I pureed their baby food, checked their schoolwork, kissed their bumps and scrapes, and tucked them in at night. I saw their bruised bottoms when I helped them in the damp, mildew-laden bathroom. I hung out their laundry in the yard rank with the smell of the cattle next door; I dressed them in snowsuits and fished their thumbs into mittens; I entertained them while doing my chores. I read to them, sang to them, fed them, took their photographs, saved their drawings, and tried to set them a good example.
Twice I cared for your children for a week so you and Dad could get counseling help. You went to people who claimed to have answers but could only point you to the same concepts that created the problems. While you were gone, we fixed the faucet so there would be two showers available to the eleven people in the house. I worried that you would be angry with us when you returned, for changing things. I worried that you might not return at all, but you did, all smiles because God had shown Dad that he was proud and because you had a new necklace.
I am safe now. I am secure, well-cared for, loved and supported, as independent as I choose to be. I am overcoming the hurdles in my way and creating a safe space for my children to grow into independent adults. Won’t you equip the rest of your daughters with the financial resources to educate themselves, and then step aside and let them achieve their goals? You can still give them a chance at the autonomy you never got to experience.
You used to pray that we would be “mighty in spirit”. You should be proud of all your children: we have your determination. We are passionate. We love what is beautiful and true. We fight against abuse and speak out against beliefs or practices that hurt people. We love to learn and to teach and we work hard to take care of ourselves and contribute to our communities.
While you and I have never been close, I need even more physical and emotional distance between us for now. One day I hope to be strong enough to again maintain my equilibrium when we have contact, to gracefully manage the emotional flashbacks or not to have them at all. Until then, I hope you will be kind to all my sisters and treat them with the gentleness and respect they deserve.