My freshman year of college, I was moving back to Sarasota. I had been born there, and some part of me knew I would be going back. One of the top art schools in the U.S. sprawled along the beaches there, and I had been accepted - it was the only school I had bothered to apply to. I have vague pictures of a house with a window between my older brother's room and mine, where we would signal to each other after everyone went to sleep. My mother took me to dinner at The Columbia in St Armand's Circle, where she had been a waiter during my infancy, and eventually met and fell in love with the father of my younger siblings. She had worn a bow tie and slacks like the men and refused to be called a waitress, and told me later that they had to leave in part because they couldn't avoid run ins with the Cuban Mafia for much longer, possibly because of my step father's drug trafficking and addiction.
My mother recognized some of the waitstaff during this precollege visit, exclaimed excitedly the name of the latino woman who brought us water. As my mom described who she was, I saw a pained recognition crystalize across the other woman's face, and my mother gestured to me, bragging about bringing her daughter here for college, asking about the other woman's daughter. She barely glanced at me, with my blond hair and blue eyes and fair skin, choked out a few words in broken English and walked off as soon as her task was completed. As my mother giggled and crooned about how they used to do coke together when I was a baby, I watched that woman signal a different waiter to attend to our table, and I sat in contemplative horror at the strange innocence that so defines my mother. How was it not obvious that this other woman was embarrassed, possibly for still being in the same work environment, or her own relationship with her children and college, or maybe her memories of that time are darker than my mother's, who was able to walk away and not have to face starkly different fears about surviving, how could none of that flit through her mind, somewhere behind her somewhat vacant eyes?
On the way out my mother had an extended conversation with the Maitre D', while I stood on the sidewalk and watched from a distance, trying to figure out what felt familiar and what was fabricated in my sense memories of this place. As she collected me and we left she told me he had offered me a job if I ever needed one, and she threw her head back and laughed good and hard at the thought of me being a waitress, like I was too soft to be able to handle something like that.
I have thought about that moment a lot over the years of being on and eventually running construction crews, almost every time I get on a forklift, so many strange moments where I have exceeded the limitations in my mother's view of what I could be capable of.
She obsessively hoards all of the awful student work I tried to throw away, bad ideas or overworked and with tiny arms and such, the beginnings of all artists. My siblings tell me about the paintings lining the walls of my childhood home that I hope to never step into again. My little brother even stole one of those paintings once, to my glee - and he received the strangest, quietest phone call from my mother who claimed it was worth some obscene amount of money ($15,000 I think?). I don't know what picture of who or what I am lives its rich life in my mother's eyes, all I know is that anything that undermines it is a threat to whatever narrative she has crafted, and it amazes me that someone could move through their lives or look at their children with such an overwhelming blindness.
I think it makes some parts of my natural expression harder to lean into, picking up a pencil to draw carries with it the weight of potentially fulfilling my mother's blind desire for me, like it is not truly mine somehow. And I fight to be noticed for other kinds of physical prowess with a ferocity that is somehow related to needing her ideas of me to change, to recalibrate around something real - battles I bring in every day to work but are being fought for a ghost, an idea of what a Mother should be, for a child I buried in my body a long time ago.
I can't even do simple tasks without thinking about the box she thinks I live in.
Set from MFA Film Thesis I did Production Design for.