Sitting in a smoke-filled caravan with my family that I hadn’t seen for a very long time, my boyfriend and two strangers. My mum, with tears streaming down her face, desperately grasping at narratives to try and justify her absence from my entire life. Forgetting that I am now grown, she thinks for a moment that she can start again and give me everything she never gave me. Sometimes I wish that impossibility could be true. Then again, is it naive to assume just because someone grew you in their womb and gave birth to you that their physical presence would have a positive impact on your life?

When I think of the alternate reality where I have a mother, it is carelessly utopian, an eternal bond, a warm touch, a loving understanding. I imagine an almost god-tier mother who is endlessly maternal and beyond perfect. When in reality, this is something I have never even been close to experiencing. I have seen glimpses from a distance, even felt it from outsider mothers who don’t share my DNA but who naturally take me under their wing because they can feel the resonance of my loss. As comforting as this is, I’m not sure if I’ll ever know the true feeling of a real mother beyond this selfless gesture from the naturally maternal. The only maternity I have felt from my real mother is a rare hug from what feels like a shapeshifting stranger and the initial euphoria of a promise that’s secretly empty.

The people who could have been a mother to me were unrequited. I started with a physically absent biological mother and ended with an emotionally absent stepmother. Both are broken in different ways, but neither of them knows how to love, and it’s because they are full of anger and sadness that emanates from their neglected inner worlds and in turn, they can only see their external world through half-empty glasses. They see themselves as blameless victims of everything that orbits around them because they are controlled by their pain. It would be dishonest to say that I haven’t been there too at points in my life or that people around me haven’t suffered because of it, but I like to think I can break this legacy of trauma by trying to understand my own demons so equally I can try and understand theirs. The most healing thing is to try and see symmetry in our emotional experiences because this allows room for empathy and forgiveness. Still, even so, it’s endlessly confusing and far from easy.

My journey with maternal figures has forever been a labyrinth of bewildering emotions to the point where I sometimes feel constantly lost within my own hazy ambivalence, and I have no idea how to think or feel about it. Even though I have tried my best to make sense of everything, every thought reflects the last and is fuelled by fragments of emotionally tainted information with unreliable memories that never fit together and thoughts of trying to figure out if it even matters, or if I am purposely ignoring certain facts and ideas because I favour a more desirable narrative, which is where my Dad becomes an important part of this story.

In the first eight years of my life, my Dad was my entire family; it was just him and me; he was my Dad and my Mum. And even though he can also be possessed by extreme anger and is far from perfect, he has always been my saviour and protector from evil. It may be hard to see through his tough exterior, but he has so much love to give and, in a lot of ways, has been a tower of strength throughout my life. So if anyone tries to change the narrative of my Dad being anything but that, I choose to look the other way. That is the story that holds me together, even though I deep down know I have sometimes been a prop in the act of revenge.

I wish this were all as simple as good and evil, but humans are complicated and are filled with a spectrum of right and wrongs. Sometimes people can do bad things for good reasons and good things for bad reasons, and sometimes it’s both. But mostly, they are just lost in a kaleidoscope of emotion, unknowingly casting people around them under the same spell. The only way this can be lifted is by looking deep into other peoples anger and pain and catching your own reflection. 

And on that day in that smoke-filled caravan, as tears filled my eyes, I wish I could have seen myself reflected in the mirror of my mother’s sadness, but I didn’t. I just listened to her list a thousand excuses for her absence as she tried to shed the blame, and all these thoughts just stayed tangled and trapped in my head as another moment passed where I couldn’t even find the words, or space to utter how I truly felt.