purpose: a mother’s edition—
purpose: a mother’s edition—
—is the story of a generation/and in that generation, her prologue/a grandmother’s/smiles are more genuine than the overcast dampening your eyes/her bright sockets and splurges on individuality/her opportunity to love what drags her from numbness, what kindles her curiosity, to love what makes her whole./my grandmother, my nani/could have been a worse person/but it doesn’t feel wrong/to wish she had chosen independence instead of widening her heart, widening her body/these fickle biological statements warping what we see as the truth of nature.
The chords you finger on my chest leave searing wounds. You press harder, blistering your fingers on my strings and complaining because you don’t understand what it means to feel pain. Empathy is more than a chance occurrence when others are around to cheer you on. From the corner of my glazed eye I can make you out, a silhouette communicating with the sun, absorbed into its bright flashes. I watch them miscredit you and raise their penciled-in eyebrows behind your back when you talk with your lilt and get words mixed up in your head.
Yet I am no longer an instrument but a vessel for your downpours. The chords you finger on my chest leave deepening wounds, leaving shards of blades that constrict in my body when I inhale. I’ve grown used to feeling for them when you are not near me, as if they are my ribs and they define whether I will eat today.
Often you watch your mother talk to your sister in-law, and I cannot tell whom you envy with more spite (because it is possible, I believe, to hold those you envy close to your heart—I’ve learned many things from you). On our evening walks, I stay silent and become the backdrop to your absent conversation under an amaranthine sunset. Your pace matches theirs but your thoughts trip over themselves while your second family talks about love and losses you won’t have the capacity to grapple with. The musicality of your voices stun me, and I bow my head, listening to its subtle crack, watching dandelions grow between the asphalt wrapping our neighborhood so it won’t spill over.
“I’ve given my life to serve, and where did it land me?” my mother asks by the vanilla-scented candlelight. “Now I’m purposeless.” She folds over the flickering flame, bowing in a silent prayer.
Here, I should have reminded her. You are here, and you can do so much with that.
Fostering empathy is reserved for those who can bear remaining a shadow in the fading embers of another story. An unwritten history, a script narrated by your voice encased in a mechanical box. I’ve spent the better half of my life attempting to deconstruct this idea, to mold it into a form I can take.
When does a bearer become a burden? After careful observation, I believe this is the question that could define your existence. Everyone has a rhetorical question they live and are consumed by—a question living in their head, reserved for moments of deadspace. When does a bearer become a burden?
“When they age,” my grandfather would have responded, if direct language had aged well, or if my father hadn’t been overseas to battle sea gherkins and mermaids and undersea ghost pirates. My grandmother would have had a different response. “When they become women,” she would have replied, demure and agile.
Perspectives change more often than ideals.
My mother is depressed and doesn’t realize it yet. I imagine a day in her reality while cleaning my cat’s matted fur with a ratty, putrid white towel bearing small brown stains. My mother stands—a figurehead behind me—but she’s looking through me again. She knows what it’s like to empathize, to remain at someone’s side for decades before they decide to raise themselves from shriveled embers. My mother knows how to clean burns, how to heal humanity.
Her body warps itself out of proportion until I am looking up at her feet, raised to a platform she can supervise. Her body glitches in place, and it is instinctual for me to take a step forward, arms in front as if I am preparing to catch my mother in a sterile vacuum where I hold no dominion, no superior grip on reality. I keep her expectations at an arm’s length from my shoulders so as not to expose the stiffness behind them or the layers of weary musculature ripping itself from my shackles. If she is depressed, we are shades floating in her mimeographed society, playing our messy roles behind a distilled backdrop. We are what our distanced neighbors call white noise. Street noise. The world communicating behind a glass veil.
ANSHI PUROHIT is a high school sophomore who has work published or forthcoming in several literary magazines such as the Eunoia Review, LEVITATE, and Mobius Lit. She has published two books, was a contributor for the Eleventh Hour anthology, and has been recognized by the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading while drinking (too much) coffee and listening to music.