Mirror, mirror, on the wall. I am my mother after all.
I was a teenager when my mom handed me a little coin jar with those words inscribed across it. She’d been laughing, though “laughing” is too demure a word for what my mother does. She laughs loud, cackles, really, shakes the house’s foundation with the force of it. My mom laughs like she lives. Unrestrained. Uncontrolled. Unpredictable. And as I’d stretched my hand out to take it from her, I’d watched her closely, trying for the millionth time to commit her features into memory so I could compare in the mirror later.
I’d been quietly trying to untangle myself from her for years. I’d grown up hearing, “you look just like your mother!” Or “my, you’re Lynda made over.” I couldn’t even walk down the halls of my high school without being called, “Little Lynda” by the staff who’d gone to school with her. My mom was a shadow I couldn’t escape from, couldn’t even begin to figure out how to. I’d study myself in any reflective surface I came across, looking hard for my father somewhere on my face, because surely he was there too, wasn’t he? The shape of my nose. My hair line. I saw traces of his people but mostly it was a younger version of my mother staring back at me. Usually scowling.
I couldn’t even talk, most of the time, without people shaking their heads, small smiles flirting with their lips, and commenting, “You’re your mother’s daughter.” It was such a source of pride for her. Here was her daughter, the only one she’d been capable of having, and she’d managed to clone herself. For me, it was an endless identity crisis. Was I me? Or was I her? Would I ever get to be me or would I always be an extension of her? I’d stomp my feet and plant my hands on my hips, pin the commenters with the deadliest glare in my arsenal, and, if anything, it was just further proof of her blood in my veins.
My mom was never a bad mother, but she is a storm. Looking back on my childhood, it’s her noise threaded through it. The ebb and flow of her light and dark weaving through my memories. My dad was the one who was constantly moving; working, singing, preaching, off to this place and that, but he was always a low hum, a cloudless summer day, while my mom was lightning and thunder and an E5 tornado. She was hot and cold and loud and quiet and there there there, pushing and pulling and impossible. She was my best friend and worst enemy, sometimes all within a single minute. If my parents were music, my dad would have been a country song, something slow, maybe a little mournful. My mom would have been something current, the drum solo turned up loud enough to blow the speakers that she kept time with by pounding on the steering wheel of the car.
That jar followed me through the rest of my teen years into adulthood. From counter top to dresser top and back again, it was in every home I made. Sometimes, she was with me, still that shadow I lived under, that noise my life was built around. Sometimes I was alone, but I could still feel her, because she was never too far away. I worked harder, trying to pluck my threads from hers, become my own person, but she was always there keeping pace. The comments never stopped coming. She perfected the sing-song voice she used when quoting the words on that jar to me, her voice husky, a little too deep to be entirely feminine. Even though I was no longer little, I was still, and started to suspect always would be, “Little Lynda.”
I chased my independence in my writing, constructing every kind of mother-daughter relationship imaginable. She read it all, everything I ever penned, and if she noticed a theme, she never commented on it. Instead she’d go and sing my praises, brag about her writer daughter to her friends, as though I wasn’t using my words as a knife to sever us. Sever who she was and who I was, cut away those accusations of being just like her.
My mother was both the moon and the sun. She had her own gravity and pull, and I was a planet that orbited her while she controlled my tides. My best friend. My worst enemy. Always the reason I couldn’t figure out me as a person. Whenever I thought I did have it figured out, that jar sat as a reminder that maybe I didn’t. Maybe I never would.
I had children of my own, eventually, and, little-by-little, I saw my mother. She’d come out in the way I pointed at them, the stern looks I’d give them when they misbehaved. I saw her whenever I gathered them up and held them close to me, as if my arms were enough to keep the world at bay. I found her in the concoctions I made in the kitchen for their ailments, and the way I’d cut my tired ranting off mid-sentence and flash their bewildered faces a tight smile. I saw her in the car, the way I’d sing along to the songs that came on the radio, stomping my feet and banging the wheel, noise for the sake of noise, and when I’d huddle under a blanket, collecting quiet like talismans. I stopped searching for myself in the mirror, stopped trying to forcefully blur out her features that were so dominant. I poked at the bags under my eyes, the large pores that were scattered across my cheeks and sigh. My mother’s fault, you know. She gave them to me along with her mop of unruly hair. I stopped cringing, at some point, when I’d hear, “You’re just like your mother” and instead straighten my shoulders, remembering how she always went to bat for my sister and me. How no opponent was intimidating enough when it came to us. I remembered how she pushed aside her own darkness to help us find a way out of ours. How she always knew the tiny details, even if she had to pull them from our unwilling hands. How she managed to dog our steps without ever feeling like she was suffocating us. She suffocated us, yes, but her very existence did the suffocating. Because she was such a force of nature, because her shadow was so large and encompassing. Because she did have such a pull. You don’t blame the moon for the tides. You don’t blame the sun for the earth orbiting it, that our lives revolve around it. You just accept that it does.
And you’re grateful for it.
On my bathroom counter is a jar that holds my bobby pins. She’d given it to me a few years back. She’s always giving me trinkets. Little reminders that she’s thinking of me, even when I’m not around. It’s all about me, it says. Next to it sits another jar. The words starting to fade after all this time, but they’re etched on my heart now. If they had a voice, it’d probably be a little husky.
Mirror, mirror, on the wall. I am my mother after all.
I cackle. Just like her.