When my mother tries to touch me, I flinch. I don’t like her to touch me at all, ever, and I don’t remember a time when we cuddled or hugged or she took me “uppy,” although it happened. My grandmother has proof: the old black and whites of me in my mother’s arms, in a cracked, brown leather album that says, OUR FAMILY, in faded gold letters on the front.
I dread our every embrace. I feel her bones, smell her breath— sharp, like the smell of New England Novembers—hear the excitement in her voice at welcoming me home, and I can’t wait to pull away. What kind of daughter am I?
My mother and I have the same hands. They are exactly the same: veiny, bony and large-palmed. I wonder if my daughter will have my hands, my mother’s hands passed down twice.
Once, when I was 17, she refused to take me to the doctor when I had an earache. I couldn’t drive, and she said it wasn’t her responsibility to take me. I went to sleep and woke with a circle of brick-red blood, the size of a silver dollar, on my pillow. She felt terrible and took me to Dr. Marsh right away. She scrubbed the stain out of the pillowcase later, in the sink, under the faucet, by hand.
Once, when I was 8, I was in the front seat of the car and must have said something smart, because she hit me hard with a backhand across the face. It was harder than a slap, because I could feel her knuckles and her rings, which scratched my cheek and nose. Later, she felt sorry about the rings.
Once, when I was at boarding school, she spent many hours writing me cards in her enviable, flawless penmanship, her right hand moving steadily across the page. Each line was perfectly straight, and all the ƒ’s and q’s slanted the same, beautiful way, like morning light through a window pane. The florid words always added up to the same thing: I was manipulative; I was trying to sabotage her in her job; I was blaming her for my father’s leaving us; I was the cause of her illness and near death the year before; I needed to grow up and face these facts. She always sent the same cards, reprints of Impressionist paintings. I had a box full of them, but I preferred not to read the cards more than once. I hid them under my dorm bed, content to let Monet’s gardens flower in the dark.
So I can never tell her how much I don’t want her to touch me with those hands. I just let her embrace me, like the frozen juice around a Popsicle stick, and wait, desperately, for her to let me go.