In desperation, we scrambled to make it to bus stops, factory doors, and daycare centers. We carried our heavy loads, balancing children on our hips, and tried to forget there was a time when we would have stopped to pray for, or at least consider, the lives of those less fortunate.
We lost many things on our journey. School pictures, cherished albums, love letters tied in teenage yarn. We had no place to store the proof of our memories, so we left them roadside, along with our burned-out cars, or gave them away like we did the bright, youthful clothes we no longer had occasion to wear.
We traded dreams for practicalities and tucked our stubborn hopes away in empty pockets. Our skin grew pale as we traded iron for baby food and protein for something that was 10-for-a-dollar. In parking lots, the women with their late-model key chains and freshly styled hair scurried to move their children away from ours, as if poverty, with its day-old bread and generic boxes of rice cereal, was catching.
We shielded our children from glaring or sympathetic eyes and, with never-enough guilt twisting in our stomachs, somehow always managed to find an extra dime for the gumball machine or a quarter for the merry-go-round outside. At night, as they rested in the crooks of our arms, we read our children fantastical stories of faith and transformation: ugly ducklings that turned into swans and earnest frogs that became princes. Wanting to believe in miracles ourselves, we read with animation, perfecting the voices of wicked witches and wise fairy godmothers. It’s never too late, we taught them, to become the person you were meant to be. At the same time, we feared our own lives were cautionary tales with no assured ending. We knew that hope without any real, tangible possibility was futility. We prayed that it would be different for them — that the things that had proven impossible for us would not be our children’s curse to bear.
We taught them to read and write, and drilled them on spelling, numbers and songs so that when they went to school with the sons and daughters of the women with the late-model key chains, they would not feel the weight of their hand-me-down clothes or five-dollar shoes, but take pride in their achievements.
Under a set of fluorescent lights or out in the elements, doing tedious work that required no special skills except the labor of our hands or the strength of our backs, we tried to grow numb, thinking that if we could sever the nerves that attached emotion to circumstance, we might not feel the depth of our own despair. We might not feel the empty space left behind by lost potential, or the oppressive pain of not being fully alive — of being nothing more in the working world than a nine-digit number with 10 expendable working fingers or a strong, replaceable spine.
Yet, we knew the feeling of half-dead wasn’t dead at all. It was only a shrunken, dried-up sponge of emotions waiting for the next disaster, reflective hour, or inescapable conclusion to burst its cells open and overflow. At unexpected times, while in the middle of work or staring out of a bus window, we often found our eyes watering with the pressure of a spirit looking to find its way back in — to be heard, acknowledged and perhaps even nurtured.
And when our children asked questions about the future, all we could tell them is the same thing we told our spirits. Maybe Someday, Baby.
Maybe someday the cupboards will be full.
The night will not be frightening.
We’ll find a car that runs.
Our hopes will turn into possibilities &
the ugly duckling will turn into a swan.
It is also what we told ourselves in the hours we were alone, when we were not only resourceful mothers or strong-spined workers, but women with soul-needs of our own. We told ourselves that everything that we never had or that we lost along the way would be found or rediscovered. That there would be new pictures to frame and set upon a mantle — a future full of love letters, ticket stubs and pressed flowers to revisit on a sentimental winter’s day — and a little black dress with no practical purpose to hang in our closet.
Maybe someday, baby, we promised ourselves
There won’t be as much to fear.
The panic will subside.
We’ll pick up the guitar or paintbrush again &
walk barefoot along an ocean shore.
Maybe someday, baby, we’ll find love.