We are not a sisterhood. We are barely even sisters. We sit in our cubicles and call one another once or twice a month. We speak about inane topics that matter very little to us, but which we pretend are important: we talk hair and makeup and sex. We are modern women who can allow themselves to be frivolous enough to care about our appearance. This is how independent we are – we choose to primp.
Our mother is at fault, as all mothers are. Mothers everywhere care for their daughters and ours did too, except that she didn’t want us. She wanted sons, strapping boys that would remind her of Prince Charmings and the lost fathers we never met. Our mother was a working woman who hated to work. She procreated with the ease of brushing her teeth, barely thinking of us as anything more than a routine flossing that the dentist would tell her off for not doing. She did teach us to take care of our teeth. We all have beautiful smiles and weak chins dragged down from too much looking at the ground when we walked to school.
We write letters to lovers and leave them in our “drafts” file in our emails. We correct one another’s grammar on Facebook and when we get together we take so many pictures so as to convince ourselves and everyone else that we’re having a great time.
When our mother started to lose it, we didn’t know what to do, and we didn’t have enough money to put her in a home, so we took turns taking her in. It was terrible. We tried to foist her onto one another like the unwanted spinach she was: it might have been good for us to have her around, but we hated to admit it. We weren’t so modern that we could make spinach the hippest of health foods like so many women in Brooklyn and Portland and Los Angeles can do.
It wasn’t us that killed her. It was everything else. She loved us, more or less, even when she couldn’t really place who we were. It was her own body that betrayed her, taking away her control over her throat and causing her to choke on her own food. She turned purple and suffocated right there in the restaurant, and she left bad luck in the place. No owners of that place have ever managed to keep their restaurant open for more than a few months since she died there.
She left a curse on our lives too. She made us unite, though we never wanted to. She created a moat around us that pushed us together so that we built our castles above the same empty air. The rapid burble of water that surrounds our heads is never-ending and pushes our shoulders down and our chins up. We’ve been measuring our chins together, to see if they have lengthened or straightened. But the only things growing larger about us are our ears, noses and waistlines, all of which are a product of our age.
We are drawn inexorably on through the years and ages, our lives thinning out of much that seemed indispensable. We now talk twice a week and meet for exercise in the park every Saturday. We talk about baby clothes and then allowances and then when we should allow our own daughters and sons to date. We disagree and fight and never apologize but we never have a proper falling out. The ties between our wrists are fetters, they drag us down, and our husbands and wives tell us we care too much and that we never used to. We take out the picture of our mother, kept in all our wallets, standing in front of the grave she picked out for herself while she was alive and we expect the photograph to be explanation enough.
It’s her fault, not ours. It’s our mother who forced us into communion. We wonder whether we will create the same unbearable ties in our own children when we die. We wonder whether we can be as substantial to anyone else as our mother was to us.
It is the attempt to preserve her that lies unspoken between us. We are each created of her aspects, and when we stand together we create a whole picture of her, puzzle pieces fitting together by touch rather than by sight. Our only coherence is in our knowledge of her, this vanished woman.