Ma was angry and wild. Jamie tried to dodge her blows, but could not. They pelted her neck, her shoulders, her eyes, her ears, and her nose.
“You snotty kid," her mother screamed. “You brat. I’ll teach you not to talk back to me." She grabbed at the roots of Jamie’s hair and pulled. Jamie gasped as the pain seared down the shafts into her head.
While the pain continued like tuning forks, to pierce, Jamie felt herself slide off and divide into three. For a minute, she was hurt, angry, and bewildered. It didn’t make sense. She hadn’t talked back to her mother. Yet, Ma’s heaving breast and raging eyes were so forceful that Jamie could not be certain of her innocence. The befuddling power of her mother’s anger was so convincing that it made what she screamed seem like reality.
Ma continued to lash out at her, whacking anywhere she could reach. Jamie felt hot hands throttle her arms, her chest. She cast about for a way to protect herself; her anger and confusion momentarily slipped away. Her mind, nimble and clear soared swiftly upward, eager to disconnect while her body vibrated in response to Ma’s frenzied strokes. It could bear the pain even if Jamie knew her mind could not.
Suddenly, Jamie knew what to do. She knew how to hurt her mother. While the blows pummelled her body, Jamie looked at her mother defiantly and let her eyes mirror her hate. She no longer felt any pain. She brandished the only weapon she had.
"Do you think this is going to make me love you?" She spat the words at her mother.
“I don’t love you," she taunted.
Â“I don’t love you," she said, repeating the words with adolescent daring and resolve .
Her mother yanked her to the floor. Jamie fell and her nose bled.
“What do you know about love?" Her mother asked towering over her, her face twisted with hate, her eyes slit with rage. Her unruly hair stuck up in black, lusterless tufts. Around her mouth there was a faint line of grease and white powder and her stomach, swollen with ire, strained against her soiled and ripped nightgown.
“Love," she grimaced, “Love is when you live with a man for twenty years and he dumps his shit on you and you don’t leave. That is love."
"Jamie stared at her mother. “My God," she thought, thunderstruck, she is talking about her marriage to Dad. The illumination was unexpected. Never in all her sixteen years had Jamie heard her mother speak of her father this way.
“Marry a man like your dad," she would say to the girls as they were growing up. You can’t find any better.
“Love," her mother continued, enunciating the word with disdain. “You will never know anything about love. No one will ever love you." The words seemed to motivate her mother as she lunged forward, ready to swipe again.
“That’s not true," Jamie protested from the floor, raising her hands over her face and head. She moved to dodge her mother’s blows. “It’s not true. I love Cathy. I love Eric. I love Michael, and they love me. I love Michelle. I love Audrey and Anna, and they love me. The words, tumbling one after the other, began to form a slow melody. I love Eiler. I love Le May . I love Marilyn and Yoshi, and they love me. I love Estelle. I love Robyn. I love Laurie. I love Mark. I love, I love, and they love, they love me."
In the middle of her refrain, Jamie became aware that the blows had stopped. She looked up from her position on the floor and saw her mother staring at her. Slowly, the angry woman lowered her arm and saying nothing, she turned and left the room. Jamie remained in the room, singing.