Becoming a daughter

- Gretchen Edelweiss Filart Dublin () - December 26, 2010 - 12:00am

This week’s winner

MANILA, Philippines –  Gretchen Edelweiss Filart Dublin, 27, is a freelance writer who volunteers at a local hospital as a nurse. She studied BS Biology and BS Nursing and is continuously trying to re-learn the arts. She is a writing and cooking enthusiast, a chocolate addict, a wife, a mother to two bonker shih-tzus and a stoic cat, and a crucible of many aspirations.

As I leafed through my journals, one thing was evidently familiar throughout the pages: the struggles enveloping my relationship with my parents, most often my mother. It is in these brief journeys back to a series of rooms that I was once again compelled to revisit the book White Oleander, which I first found during my turbulent adolescent years and which has since been a biblical reference. And somehow I find light amid the toil.

White Oleander chronicles the journey of Astrid Magnussen, the artist daughter of single-parent Ingrid  a cunning, brilliant poetess who gets a life sentence for poisoning her boyfriend, Barry, with DMSO and white oleander when he left her for another woman. It takes us to the harsh, cold universe of foster homes that Astrid struggles in since she was 12 as she comes to terms with herself and her manipulative mother, albeit behind bars.

Being a writing enthusiast, what initially attracted me to the book was the beautiful, extensively metaphorical language that dwells in it as it forwards self-discovery along other mantras of the self. From the opening line, one finds that turning every page is like humming to a melody of a poignant song. The book helped me find my way through my own identity as a writer and encouraged me to pen words passionately without fail.

As Ingrid puts it, “Always learn poems by heart. They have to become the marrow in your bones. Like fluoride in the water, they’ll make your soul impervious to the world’s soft decay.”

But more than anything, what engaged me most in it was its bold approach to presenting the relationship between a self-centered maternal figure and a daughter struggling to uncuff the chains. It was as though I was seeing through its eyes, oddly assimilating into Astrid’s life. Both of us have wounds that are deep enough to mar our souls, scars we need to survive.

Astrid writes, “Without my wounds, who was I? My scars were my face, my past was my life.” They define who we are and who we had become. They are the membranes that pull our lives together and make us more resilient. But, above all, both of us battle with a love-hate relationship with our mothers.

My relationship with my mother has always been, for the most part, civil. Perhaps it’s because we are both diseased to a damaging extent. Both badly broken, both suffering from dysfunction from each of our families and the experiences we grew up in. We aren’t one of those mother-daughter tandems who talk about what transpired within the day over dinner. It is more convenient for us to shut ourselves from each other.

Through the years, the distance inched farther. Our love and hate for each other became intertwined so that it became difficult for us to see who each other was. She, like Ingrid, was imprisoned in her notions, and I was the daughter who was trying to break free from them. In the process, we ended up damaging each other. In one of those depressing periods I wound up writing publicly in a blog about my frustrations of not being able to take up the creative writing course I had always wanted to give way to my parents’ persistent whims of me becoming a doctor.

Inevitably, that note reached my mother’s knowledge, shocked her and sent her down to an emotional breakdown. I would offer to take down the entire entry itself to compensate for my carelessness, but I know better. I know that what has been done cannot be erased, and that my words had already created a ghost that not even an alteration can cause to cease. I know that it would be hypocrisy for me to erase that particular memory because at the exact time it was written, those words were an honest expression of a feeling that sat silent in a pit for years, and nobody  not even me  could negate what I felt.

However, what most people misconstrue about writers is that the nature behind their writings is omnipresent, and as such, holds a steady, unchanging state. Our thoughts have their own feet, the hand simply follows. If there is anything relatively constant in writers, it would be thoughts  and they are always subject to change.

For instance, one may have written a painful charade of verses about a boy she met five years ago, with all the excesses, the big adjectives. Even if the poem still lives five years after, it doesn’t mean the same feeling still exists. Everything simply becomes memory. Our poems, our prose, and journal entries are but a container of each life we live, and we live many, many lives.

We rely heavily on memories to attain an age of molting. To neglect memories would be a violation of a personal obligation, it would mean forgetting who we once were, it would be like abandoning a child. Thoughts are imperative to our survival. They are the pulse in our veins, the marrow in our bones. Most people would contest that these aren’t the most rational thing to depend on, but it is through them that we learn of the world and of ourselves.

Writing has been my home for as far as I can remember. It has been my therapy, my adaptation mechanism. That’s not to say, though, that I can use it as an excuse to get away with careless behavior. To nurture anger, put it in written language then use it as a mode of retaliation is distasteful, because something that was given for a good purpose must not be abused.

But I plead guilty of doing just that to my mother. At the height of her disappointment and hatred of me, I lashed back. All those years of hiding laid down in one big blow. This woman, whom I called a horrible mother and one to whom I owe no favors, made sure that I finished homework on time, ate breakfast and had my clothes ironed out before I went to school. She sat me in front of my favorite cartoons when I had my first tooth pulled out and took me to the doctor at midnight when I suffered agonizing pain from shingles.

She made it certain that my stepdad was ever so enthused about sending me to school even if it meant that she needed to lie about me flunking subjects every semester. We barely talked, my mother and I, but when she noticed me getting drunk every afternoon, she knocked on my door to ask if I needed help. My mother was never perfect  nor was I. But she raised me the best way she knew how. After all, there is not a single book out there that can teach anyone how to be a great parent. Being a parent, I suppose, is much like growing up. You learn everything raw, firsthand, based on instinct alone. Everyone grew up in a different universe, each of it with a different set of laws and experiences. The mechanics of one’s home does not apply to another.

I guess it just didn’t occur to me that I should be looking at my mother in that light. Every parent just wishes for what they think is best for their kids  although this may not always be in conjunction with what we want  and for us to return back the gratitude the way they perceived it to be. When you transfer all your hopes on something that big, it’s inevitable to expect. Maybe sometimes it gets too consuming that they try to relive their youth in their children and correct their frustrations through them.

Meanwhile, all of us daughters struggle to separate ourselves from the mold that our mothers had carved for us. We all have the desire to be a better composite, an improved version of our parents, to morph ourselves according to our own world views. Nobody ever wants to be the exact replica of another living entity. Because between the stars and here, we all clamor for greatness that’s more than anyone  our parents, above all  could shape for us. The mother-daughter friction just comes with the territory, I suppose.

I don’t expect my mom to forgive me entirely or at the very least understand. Forgiveness is overrated. Behind her wry smile, I know somewhere in her resides pain, tearing her up in seams at the mere sight of me. I did say a mouthful  and she deserved better. 

I wish things could have turned out different for us, one where we didn’t need to hurt each other to get our point past the other side of the bridge. I know not even an apology can rectify the insults hurled. But, my fervent hope is that she at least learns that I don’t regret the life I’ve had and that she’s not to be blamed for it. I’ve had a pretty trying one and had I not been raised in the environment that I was in, I would have not survived half of it. And that most importantly, my thoughts are simply thoughts. They shouldn’t be a measure of anybody’s self-worth. Any mother who went through all the trouble of raising a kid who can contribute to society can’t be that terrible.

Every book has a story. And this book’s was ominously ours  mine, a friend’s, an acquaintance’s colleague’s. At one point or another, we all had our share of mothers zealously making all menacing means possible to keep us: daughters and sons  an obsession, a possession they once had. And at one point or another we try to let go of that leash. But it transmits to us, in quite a peculiar, subliminal way the possibility that no matter how grotesque the experience, at the end of the day, the bond between mothers and daughters is inseparable. That we on our own have the capability to outgrow ourselves and choose who to become.

My relationship with my mother remains strained to this date. Yet, despite what has been said and written, I’d choose no other than her in this lifetime. As Astrid would always have that “secret wanting of hearing what she was saying, of feeling that burnt midnight again,” I know that wherever I am, I will always keep my mother, the same way that she would always shelter me in her memories.

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