“It wasn’t just Yvonne. All down the ward, they called for their mothers. Mommy, ma, mom, mama. Even with husbands at their sides, they called out for mama. Nine hours ago, when we came in, a woman with a voice like a lye bath alternately screamed at her husband and called for her mother. A grown woman sobbing like a child. Mommy…I was embarrassed for her. Now I know better.
“I held on to Yvonne’s hands and I imagined my mother, seventeen years ago, giving birth to me. Did she call for her mother? I imagined her screaming at my father, calling him worthless, a liar, useless, until he went out for a beer, leaving her alone with the landlady on a cold November morning. She had me at home, she’d never liked doctors. I could imagine how her screams and curses must have pierced the quiet of the walk street in Venice Beach, startling a kid going by on a skateboard, while the landlady smoked hash and rifled her purse. But did she call out, Mami, help me?…
“But then I realized, they didn’t mean their own mothers. Not those weak women, those victims. Drug addicts, shopaholics, cookie bakers. They didn’t mean the women who let them down, who failed to help them into womanhood, women smiling into mirrors, women in girdles, women on barstools. Not those women with their complaints and their magazines, controlling women, women who asked, what’s in it for me? Not the women watching TV while they made dinner, women who dyed their hair blonde behind closed doors trying to look twenty-three. They didn’t mean the mothers washing dishes wishing they’d never married, the ones in the ER, saying they fell down the stairs, not the ones in prison saying loneliness is the human condition, get used to it.
“They wanted the real mother, the blood mother, the great womb, mother of a fierce compassion, a woman large enough to hold all the pain, to carry it away. What we needed was someone who bled, someone deep and rich as a field, a wide-hipped mother, awesome, immense, women like huge soft couches, mothers coursing with blood, mothers big enough, wide enough, for us to hide in, to sink down to the bottom of, mothers who would breathe for us when we could not breathe anymore, who would fight for us, who would kill for us, die for us.” –Janet Fitch, White Oleander