She doesn’t like me. Constantly changing me and asking her boyfriend if that’s better. She’ll give me a severe haircut and ask him what he thinks. He is diplomatic, non-committal. Then she’ll dress me up in lots of purple and consult him again.
He asks, “Is that necessary?”
She says, “It’s what they’re looking for.”
He says, “Sounds like submission to me.”
She says, “Exactly.”
My mother is Geraldine Coral Bates. She’s chosen to be known as G. C. Bates. It’s more professional, and genderless. It’s how she signs her name on the letters of introduction when she sends me off for consideration.
Her boyfriend, Jamie, has read my face, and felt the shape of my fingers and accepts me as is. Mother doesn’t listen. I like Jamie. He is polite and encouraging. He protects me.
My real father is long gone. My mother can’t forget him. He once branded her as his own, with fists and cruel words. Though I wasn’t fully formed at the time, I can hear him and feel him. He is part of my structure. Figurative, but real. Between the lines yet glaringly obvious.
Mother doesn’t like words like ‘glaringly’, apparently adverbs are not acceptable – taboo. She purifies me, washes my tongue. Sometimes when she is finished with me, I have no idea who I am, or what I mean. Why can’t she leave me alone? What is wrong with me the way I am? She threatens to get back to me tomorrow. Wake up early and fix me, make me acceptable!
Who are they, these people who reject me, or worse still, ignore me completely? Mother claims they only care about credentials, her track record. She doesn’t have a track record. And me, am I that plain and ordinary, that much pulp?
My wardrobe, nationality and religion are changed once again.
“Why have you covered my face with cloth? Sent me wandering across land and sea? Aren’t I native, naked and proud, connected to the dreaming?”
“Don’t be silly. That was last year. I have breathed new life into you. You should be grateful.”
“But what is true, Mother? Who am I really?”
“The truth is not important, Dear. Get used to it.”
“You’re a liar. You’re worse than the man who beat you and damaged you so badly that you need to fix yourself through me! I know your game, Geraldine.”
I speak defiantly. Doggedly resist. Push on indefatigably. Relentlessly use every adverb I can. Cruelly push buttons.
She throws me across the desk. She cries.
“Mother, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. You created me, I am good. Trust yourself, don’t listen to all that noise out there. Remember why I exist in the first place. Remember the joy. I can be that for you again.”
She sniffles, wipes her eyes and looks at me lying limp and overdone on the desk.
“What have I done?”
She sits down, picks up her blue pen, and … gentle this time, respectful this time, from within her heart, and only for herself, I become real again. All contrivances are shed, some with a laugh that I haven’t heard for months. Of course, Father has to appear, violent and hateful. This time, she exposes his hideous final act for all to see. It is raw and devoid of literary hi-jinx – pure G. C. Bates.
Once again, Jamie, beautiful Jamie, reads me from beginning, to middle, to end. He laughs, and he cries. Then he goes and holds Geraldine tightly in his arms.
And I am flat and warm between their stomachs.