Perhaps it’s the former columnist in me, but news stories often lead me to ask questions above and beyond. If enough facts fail to surface, I invent narratives to explain why people do what they do. Last week’s massacre caught my immediate attention. Suspecting the story was not as black and white as the media had portrayed it, I began to educate myself about the journal, about the politics at play, and particularly about the modern social narrative in France. A story formed in my head, one about a character nobody ever speaks of: a terrorist’s mother. Once again, I take inspiration from my colleague Elaina, who explored the theme first here on Monday.
Indulge me, if you will. Let us journey together into the mind of my nameless counterpart, a woman who could not possibly have predicted the course of her child’s life. I have, of necessity, fictionalized her story and emotions, but I did so as an exercise in finding commonality. We mothers, as Elaina said, speak the same language, regardless of culture. Let us compare our two lives. This, then, is “She.”
* * * * *
I wake in the morning and rouse my daughter from her ten year old sleepy-head dreams. I feed her and make sure she has warm enough clothes, that I signed her social studies test, and that she knows which dance lesson she has after school. My greatest fear involves her safety as she trundles down the dark, icy street. Can passing commuters see her all right? Will she arrive at the bus stop in time? Does the wind blow too hard on her delicate skin?
All legitimate concerns, but none plague my soul for more than a few moments. None carry the slightest hint of foreboding. My daughter lives with pressures that pale in comparison to those of millions of girls. Chances are, she will not grow up to hate and to kill. I have every reason to think she will become exactly whomever she desires to be. What of my counterpart living somewhere in France?
SHE wakes in the morning and does not know exactly where her daughter is. She nibbles some flat bread and sips milky tea, wondering what her daughter eats on this frigid morn. She has only to switch on the TV to see her daughter’s face plastered across every global news outlet, to hear her daughter’s recorded voice exhorting a young man to dedicate himself to an unholy cause. She can’t bear to listen. The dulcet tones of that once little girl please her, but the words send shivers of doom down her spine. She suspects she will never see her daughter again. Rubbing away tears, she flings a scarf round her face and practices a gaze of empty indifference. Her heart aches as if a knife had embedded itself there, twisting slowly with each news bulletin or well-meaning knock on her door.
She sighs, remembering when that body curled perfectly under her chin, remembers inhaling the aroma of silky black hair and traces of spice in her little girl’s clothes. Remembers all those times she wiped away tears, kissed minor hurts, stroked tender skin. Those lips pink as roses and irises so black they spoke of passionate depths. A beauty, a little beauty, the kind they write of in poems, like Scheherazade. She used to put kohl round the child’s eyes and rub her wee cheeks and then they would giggle and play hand-clapping games.
At adolescence, though, her daughter grew rebellious, fell in with the wrong crowd, skipped school, and disappeared for months at a time. She always welcomed her home with joy in her heart, but the daughter had changed. Argued all the time about justice and sin and the depraved western world. Spoke of rebellion and God’s Will and extreme acts of vengeance. She looked upon her little girl, now grown so fierce, and felt her soul bleed. Neither reason nor appealing to the girl’s softer nature made any difference, and finally she knew her daughter was lost. She wept for a week the last time they parted, never dreaming she would have to watch her daughter hunted down, reviled by the world, blamed for inciting young men to murder.
Such shame she feels now, though she dares not express it. She wakes each morning and stares in the mirror, perfecting that dead gaze, practicing the phrase “no comment” in French, refusing to divulge her deep-suppressed rage toward a God she has thought little about since her childhood, the God in whose name her daughter now seeks false glory. Sooner or later the microphones will find her, and then her image will also fill the screens of the world.
Here in my snug house, safe from such sorrows, I think of this mother who raised her sweet girl as lovingly as I’m raising my own. We pray for our children’s happiness, fulfillment, and peace. We hope they will eventually become parents, too. I imagine this mother dreamt of great things for her daughter, but neither she nor I can control the whims of our children or the forces that press them to make their own choices.
The evils I fear are statistically unlikely to happen at all, but the evils she fears stagger the mind. Her daughter is likely to meet a violent end. The life that she carried for nine months in her womb, the life she tenderly nurtured, for whom she wept and she pleaded, has been swallowed forever by the red blindness of hate.
How terribly, unremittingly alone she must feel.
I think of this mother because I believe that somebody must. While others parse the meaning of morality, anger, and freedom, I prefer to think of the collateral details. This story did not begin with the violence last week. It began years ago in the arms of a starry-eyed mother. Only later did it grow into something she could no longer control.
And in that sense I am she, she is me, and we are one.
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Very good, Colleen.
This could be one of your best yet, Colleen.