March 8th is International Women’s Day. Below is an excerpt from the book I am working on, a memoir of sorts that will, among other things, celebrate my mother’s incredible strength.
She sat in her car, hands gripping the steering wheel. She was so proud of herself for driving over here. She had been thinking about this for weeks and she had finally convinced herself that she had nothing to lose. It had taken a lot to get here though. She had to fight the voices in her head telling her that she couldn’t do it. There were two of them really. One was her own – the cruel voice of self-doubt. The one that told her that she wasn’t brave enough and that she probably wasn’t going to be very good at it anyway. The other voice was his. Look at yourself, it said. You can’t even get out of the car. How did you ever think you were going to do this thing you are pretending to dream about? You should really just give up on this useless goal and go back home. She feared he was right. A couple of years ago, he might have been. She would have been overtaken by guilt as she approached. She would have focused her eyes on the road ahead and kept driving, turning around at the next available u-turn. She would have repeated the mantra “stupid, stupid, stupid” as she stopped at the supermarket, which would be her excuse for going out in the first place. She would have gotten home, kissed him on the forehead, and put the groceries away. She would have washed her face, changed her clothes and sat out on the balcony, taking slow long drags of her cigarette as she stared out at the sea. She would have told herself that it was a ridiculous idea anyway, masking the pain as another piece of her soul seemed to melt away.
Now in the parking lot, only 50 steps away, she looked down at her fingers, white at the knuckles. One by one, she slowly pried them open, taking a deep breath as each hand released the steering wheel. She adjusted the rearview mirror, removing her sunglasses to check her mascara. She hated the bags under her eyes, and there were days when they were so big, mascara was hard to put on. She had tried every eye cream on the market, and nothing seemed to help. We laughed sometimes about her bags – Louis Vuitton bags, we called them. If you had to have them, let them be the most expensive ones around. And hers were. Expensive not in money, but in the cost they represented. Her bags carried memories of every suffering and sorrow she had ever felt, every person she had ever loved and lost. It was almost like her body was too small to hold her enormous heart, so her eyes took the overflow. Today the bags were a little smaller. That felt good. She breathed, waiting for the song to end on the radio before turning off the engine. Then, she carefully opened the door, took a cautious step out of the car, and walked slowly across the lot. As she approached the door, her whole body began to shake. She didn’t stop, though. She had already made up her mind. Today was the day. With all of her strength, she pulled the glass door open. A young woman, appropriately named Sunshine, smiled at her. “How can I help you, sweetie?” she said, her voice ringing with the slightest hint of the South. My mom put her hand up on the counter to steady herself, took a deep breath and said “I want to learn how to dance.”
My mom started ballroom dancing around 4 years ago, at the age of 70. She is strong and generous and beautiful. She is a gift, and I hope that her story will help others find their own strength.