Kendra ripped her train ticket into quarters, wondering how many of her foremothers actually wanted to give birth.
Her right hand ran out of ticket to destroy and moved to clasp a small wooden box in her pocket. The trip, the box, the morose thoughts; everything began two weeks ago, at Casbah Gallery. All other details had been lost in the ongoing consumption of her psyche, during which she could barely gather the mental energy to press buttons on the ticket machine and get shuttled from San Myshuno to her parents’ home in Newcrest.
Kendra had gone to support her friend, who had contributed a found-art piece to an exhibition on the origin stories of local artists. His battle cry for sustainability was just okay. The honor of finally breaking Kendra’s mind, however, belonged to the piece across the hall. There stood a sculpture by an adopted artist of a birth mother she never knew: a cold, imposing, faceless figure overseeing the room in stark contrast to the subject’s absence in the creator’s life. Kendra was drawn towards this idol as a couple gushed in the background about how sad it was the sculptor never met her mother.
In that polished surface where the woman’s features should have been, Kendra saw not the pain of its polisher (who appreciated Kendra’s take on her work, by the way), but that of every mother in history whose story was lost. Since that moment, she could think of nothing but the existence of this vital but nameless legion.
It wasn’t the lack of genealogy that bothered her. It was the lack of answers. What was each woman like? How did she die? What was she passionate about? Did she want to raise children? Did it suit her? Did anyone learn her story while she was alive? Kendra multiplied her questions by the number of anonymous female ancestors, a number too big to comprehend, and found her storytelling mind lost in powers of millions of possibilities.
It was that motherhood had been the default role for women, regardless of what they wanted. Some still think the purpose of life is to have children. So? People remembered Shelley for Frankenstein, not for producing offspring. Kendra saw no reason she couldn’t do the same.
It was fear of the unknown. Yes; Kendra’s latest horror poem was yet another attempt by yet another artist to put into words yet another gruesome phobia that couldn’t be explained using words. She had frightened herself, not only by imagining billions of forgotten births—most without epidurals—but also by realizing she herself could sacrifice control and risk death to create life, maybe by necessity if she were born a bit earlier or somewhere else in the world. The personal accounts she’d spent the past fortnight inhaling didn’t help; they made her loins reflexively tense in dreadful anticipation of the thing. But by definition, no sources existed to identify the choir whose belabored howls echoed across her brain in unison.
It was not being able to pin down the juxtaposition she wanted. Gore without violence. Ubiquity (shucks, each person in her way at the train station was born) hidden by silence. The notion that every woman weighs unspeakable pain against the benefits of motherhood—no, the concept of unspeakable pain vs. the concept of motherhood—before having experienced either. How can you possibly know it’s right for you, then?
It was that really, Kendra herself had lost this connection. She couldn’t remember her grandmother’s face. For all she knew, she was descended from a line of ovate-void-faced women like the one imagined by the adopted sculptor.
Kendra watched her boots propagate ripples in every puddle between the station and her childhood home, wondering how to atone for ignoring the one female Espinosa predecessor whose face she knew. Claudia. She hadn’t spoken to Claudia since she moved out. All these years watching her mother double-fisting cocktails after work every night, honoring her heritage through food, cooing with excitement over every drawing she or her brothers made, and she never thought to ask why.
Her hand again found the box containing a pair of crochet earrings. She had made them with goldenrod thread, Claudia’s favorite color. Mom would be thrilled. Still, Kendra felt it was an understatement. What gift says, hey Mom, sorry for taking your bravery and sacrifice for granted, I’m ready to understand you? What can you possibly do for the woman who fought your greatest fear—three times—and gave you life?
Kendra stopped at the curb, feeling embarrassed by her trinket, for facing her own mother like a stranger.
In anxious stillness, she retrieved her notebook and drafted the prologue of “La Madre Sin Rostro.”
Las olvidadas no pueden ser amadas. The forgotten cannot be loved.