One day, my mother sat me down on the kitchen chair while I clutched shards of an organ that used to be a heart. A cup of coffee to warm the hollows of my guts and a song on a dashboard re-echoing over and over in my ears.
She said, “tell me what happened?”
I summoned all the air that my punctured lungs could hold and simply said: “he left.”
Two syllables I spit felt like two large bitter pills I swallowed.
“Did he say why?” She said, her fingers about two inches from mine.
I remember when she was 37 and I was 7, when those same fingers held a pen on this very same table, to affix her signature on a paper, to mark the finish line for her and my father.
“He said he’d given up,” I said. “That I am too much. That he wanted someone ‘lighter’.”
Saying it out loud, I felt the knife twist in my ribcage once more.
It would have been easier if he said he’d cheated or that he’d fallen out of love. Because then, the fault would fall on him.
But he was always the one to say it like it is. While I was the one to throw puzzle pieces around like crumb trails behind me.
“Am I really a burden?” I ask her through sobs.
“Oh, my darling,” she said, eyes glistening.
I am a 24 year old woman. With a blossoming career, an apartment and a car. But when she held me, I felt as helpless as that little 7 year old girl, who dreamt that her father had come back for them.
“Now, you listen because what I’m about to tell you is very important,” she said as I sobbed into her chest.
“When I had you, it was unexpected. Your father didn’t want you at first and your grandparents were very disappointed in me,” she said.
“About 2 months before you were born, your grandma came to visit. I couldn’t remember what we talked about exactly, but I remember very clearly when she was about to leave, she put a hand on my tummy and said: ‘now, you take care of yourself and take care of your baby . Life would become easier if it was a boy… but it’s not. So be careful, you have a daughter.”
My mother paused and caught a tear with her finger as it slid down my cheeks.
“That phrase kept popping up in my head over the years,” she continued.
“That time when I lost you in the mall, that time when a burglar entered our house, that time when you fell down the stairs and broke a tooth, that time when you turned 16 and got on a motorcycle with a boy 3 years older than you, that time when I overheard you crying in your room at 3:00 AM and I opened your door and you pretended to be asleep.
It keeps creeping up in my head ‘Be careful, you have a daughter. Be careful, you have a daughter,
That’s why I yell at you when your skirt is too short and your shirt too tight. That’s why I keep calling you during the day to make sure you’re alright. That’s why I want to meet every single man you date and ask them way too many questions,” she said, a tear resting on the cornered curves of her smile.
I sat up straighter and looked harder at her than I ever did before, wishing her thoughts became words printed on her face.
“You ask if you’re a burden and I say this because it’s the truth. Your grandma was wrong. She said life would have been easier if I had a son. Perhaps because sons don’t bear the burdens that we do.
Sons don’t bleed and sons don’t have to be polite nor thin nor pretty and smart at the same time. No.
But daughters have to speak gently and swallow what they think and cook and clean and keep the husband happy.
You ask me if you’re a burden and darling, you break my heart. Because your grandma should have said: ‘Be careful OF your daughter, because she is fire. She is the lightning that warns you of a storm coming.
Darling, you’re not a burden, you are wrought iron. You have bones that carried you through hunger and bad men and drunken nights. You have eyes that never lost its color even through watery hours of laying in bed. While you doubt your capability of loving and your worth of being loved, there are people like me who are in awe of your existence.
Darling, you’re not a burden, just because you refuse to become the quiet shadow in his wake. You’re not a burden just because you don’t bend at his irrational thunderstorms.
A man who thinks you’re a burden is not a man. You are made of Jupiter and supernova and granite rock together. You are not a burden. And only an extraordinarily strong man can carry you.”
— Joanna Paola “Nini” Garado, Be Careful, You Have A Daughter | July 12, 2015
*This is inspired by true events. The title comes from a recent time in my life when I said the same thing to my best friend. I realized now it was a horrible thing to say. Sorry.