In 1966, at age 29, she got married. Guided by all social conventions, she had a daughter the following year. Then the second. Then the third and finally a boy. She went on with life doing what was socially expected: she took care of the house and children while her husband worked outside the home. The children studied, grew up, married and moved. The grandchildren started arriving at the exact moment she was widowed. She took on the role of grandmother and kept herself busy, not least because daughters and son proved to be quite a birthing people: for three decades new grandchildren continued to be produced. From the outside, she seemed to have had, until the last phase of her existence, the most perfect life of a white middle-class woman from São Paulo.
Until one day, having a glass of wine with his eldest daughter in the apartment where he had spent the last 50 years, he suddenly got up and walked out of the dining room towards the bedroom, walking as an 84-year-old walk. She returned with four school notebooks and placed them on the table. What is it, the daughter wanted to know. “Things I wrote while you guys were growing up.” The daughter, with a mixture of curiosity and fear, opened the first.
In it, language, structure and grammatical aesthetics that are part of the best literary techniques. Did you write that, mother?, the daughter asked, astonished. The mother, who was taking another sip of wine, put the glass on the table with the movement of people weakened by osteoarthritis, and nodded.
In the pages, elaborated during many nights, the day to day of immense loneliness. The conversations with her husband in which she asked for money for groceries and he complained that the expenses were too great, the silence of the children who came and went without talking to her, busy as they were in their adolescence, the weight of work that it’s taking care of a home of six people, the lack of time so she could look at her and not at others.
The more her daughter read, the more she sank her head into those notebooks knowing that she wouldn’t be able to take her eyes off there to stare at the woman across the table. The social correction of the mother’s life unraveled in four confessional notebooks violently written during late nights in exile.
When she worked up the courage to take her eyes off the pages, she asked if her mother shared those pains with her friends. She said no. “Why?” she wanted to know. “Because I was embarrassed to look like I was complaining about a perfect life, a polite and kind husband. I was afraid you’d think I didn’t love you. Doesn’t being a mother require sacrifices and unconditional love?”
The daughter then asked, “If you had known that the neighbor at the front door, and the one in the apartment across the street, and the other women in this neighborhood and in this city were going through the same things, would that have made you suffer less? ” In her mother’s eyes, the expression of someone who had never thought about it: that those were not only her pains, but those of many other women like her. After assimilating the idea, she shook her head saying yes.
The daughter understood who the woman in front of her was: a writer interrupted by the sex-gender system. Someone who spent the most powerful years of her life silenced by norms and rules, alone inside a house full of people, working as only mothers work.
Not knowing what to do, I got up and knelt at my mother’s feet, putting my head in her lap. For the first time, I knew exactly who I was bowing to.
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