THESE DAYS YOUR ARMS ARE covered in tiny red scratches. You can’t seem to get any work done without Jonah anchoring her claws into you. It hurts but you let her. Until it starts to feel good, that point right before she punctures your skin. You’re beginning to enjoy this pain of being needed. Which makes you think of your mother, and her mother, and her mother’s mother, who wasn’t actually her mother at all. Because when are you not thinking about them and the lies they tell to keep it all from falling apart?
It’s a lie about a girl and her mother who was once a girl too, a story that struggles to be told. All the women in your family are excellent at pretending. You aren’t as skilled. You can’t help but piece the story together, gathering the clues that whisper to you through the mildew-covered cracks in the tiles of your grandmother’s house. Something happened here a long time ago, many times. The lie exposes itself in the silence following the rapture of defiance or in the repetition of certain phrases that signal where you are in this continuum of generational trauma.
Mais uma pra sofrer. You hear this phrase whenever you complain about your hair that doesn’t hold a blow-dry, your womb that’s begun to ache every month, your longing to belong somewhere to someone.
Mais uma pra sofrer. Your mother’s mother sighed and repeated “another one to suffer” after each baby that came out of her was a girl instead of a boy. A girl must suffer because to become a woman is to marry the impossible intersection of virtue and desire. You imagine the home birth that wasn’t planned: your mother’s mother being rushed to the hospital, surrendering to a new life in the back of that battered green Jeep that’s in the picture of all the Miranda girls piled on top of each other, smiling, waving to the future. Their shoes muddying the blood-stained seats. You imagine the pain of labor, threatening to rip her open from her womb to the space between her eyes where the birthmark you both share lives. She was left fractured into two perfect halves, one part of her left to take care of her six baby girls and the other searching for the sister she’d left behind. But you only imagine, because you can’t ask. The Mirandas don’t talk about pain. It’s swallowed whole until it becomes as part of you as the stubborn curls you try to eliminate from your DNA with every keratin treatment. But it cannot silence your ancestors who’ve awoken in each chemically mutated cell.
When you’re eleven, you learn that your body is not yours, it’s on loan until it’s passed to the next person who will validate your existence. You spend the summer in this town tucked in the rust-painted mountains of Minas Gerais. You love this place—here you are closer to belonging, closer to understanding how you came to be.
It’s a cool winter day in July. You lie with your back on the granite floor of your aunt’s garage. The disinfectant smells like a citrus breeze leading to the ocean, even though it’s hundreds of miles away. You imagine the beach you’ll never visit that you’ll tell your friends about back at school in New York.
You watch as the girls rest their backs along the nape of your grandmother’s pink house. They watch for cars approaching in the distance to warn the boys who are playing soccer. Dirt rises on the cobblestone streets. You rest your hands on the moon that is your stomach, that for as long as you can remember has never been flat. You puff it up and imagine yourself carrying a baby girl.
Your cousins laugh. They want you to show them how big you can make your stomach. Little Brenda who is more your sister than she is your cousin, puffs hers out, she’s so skinny you can still see her ribs underneath her skin. None of them can get theirs as big as yours, which makes you feel accomplished. You run upstairs and stop at the white leather couch. Your mom and your aunt turn to look at you as they prepare almoço.
Olha que eu posso fazer, you say, and show them this wonderful new trick.
Your aunt turns to look at your mother, her face drops as she approaches you. She pulls your ear until you’re both in the bathroom. You don’t remember what she says. Just how hot your ear feels to the touch, the stinging and the understanding that what you just did was bad. Very bad.
Ten years later, you remember this when a guy suddenly licks your underarms in Malcolm X Park. You don’t really like him, but rebellion feels good when it hits the base of a foreign tongue.
You like offering your body up like this, to the men who desire your every fold of flesh. You like feeding them your sweat, your tears, your orgasms, because in that moment, your body is yours to give.
Two years later, you offer yourself up to a new man. Except this time, it’s different. He doesn’t want to possess you. He challenges you and that irritates you. In his arms, you begin to dream about women: the women in your family, the women you wanted to be, and now the women you want to disappear into. You begin to imagine what they’d taste like. One night you dream you’ve gone out for the night with this man who is maybe your husband, and you’ve left your daughter with your lover. When you open the front door, your daughter runs up to greet you, you pick her up and lean over to kiss your lover.
And even though she isn’t born yet, you’re already afraid that you won’t be able to protect her from the falsehoods of this world; the ones that live inside of you and threaten to destroy whatever dream you have for a different life. But in this city, the city that belongs to you and the family you’re creating, the moon appears before dusk most days. And in the crescent moon’s shadow lies the truth, guiding you towards your very own tomorrow.
Carolina Meurkens is an emerging writer and art-educator living in Washington, D.C. Her writing sheds light on the untold stories of complex family dynamics, love & solitude, intersectional Blackness, and modern womanhood. When she’s not writing, she is most likely playing guitar or cuddling up with her partner and their two cats, Domino and Jonah.