Rules. Mommy, Daddy: Loving, Caring
by Sabrae Danielle Smith
Mommy used to walk in the front yard with no shoes on. She said you gotta feel the grass in between your toes to get the good magic to your bones. She watered the petunias, then the white roses, then the lemon tree, then the grass last. She sat on the porch with a mason jar of strained herbs; a secret medley to mend broken hearts and strengthen the spine.
Mommy used to tell Daddy, “Mind your business,” when he insisted that she wear shoes outside. Mommy said, “You don’t have to do what men tell you to do, but be prepared for what could happen if you decide to say no.”
Mommy used to tell me stories. She performed the same stories on the same days. Once a month, on the full moon, she would recite her favorite love story with a glass of red table wine in her right hand, her left hand stabilizing the waves of pelvic cramps that came at regular intervals.
8:00 PM, left hand to belly.
8:15 PM, a smoothing over of her nightgown.
8:30 PM, left hand to belly once more.
8:45 PM, she sits herself on the edge of the couch, thumb gets into position for a deep sleep womb massage.
The story: She fell in love with a boy, but not with his Mother. He loved her dearly, but she wanted more. So, she left to wander ‘round the big wide world between La Cienega and Western, Santa Monica Boulevard and the 10.
Mommy told me, when I was 11 years old, to marry a man who speaks softly and takes care of his mother. I asked her, “Like daddy?”, to which she replied, “Never return calls from men like your daddy.” I didn’t know what she meant then, but I do now.
When I was 13, Mommy let me sit in the kitchen with all the aunties while they sipped on iced gin and took turns stirring big pots of greens and red beans. She told me, “Listen. Just listen, and learn, and know.” And so, I did.
Daddy would sit on a wooden stool in the garage, rag in hand, wax at his left foot. He spent his Saturday mornings waxing the cars – his cars, not Mommy’s car. He started with the Mercedes. Then the Jaguar. And for the finale, he walked the Harley out to the end of the driveway, so all the neighbors could watch.
Daddy insisted there is no greater love than the love between himself and the treasures he housed in his garage. He never said these things, not in so many words, but his stance was strong nonetheless.
Daddy believes children should be wanderers. “Run away if you want to. Go! Go!”
Daddy does not pray to the Virgin Mother, but insisted that she would heal me of my wild ways.
I was 14 when I decided I wasn’t going to pick Mommy up off the bathroom floor anymore.
Mommy stopped drinking magic potions, stopped watering the grass, stopped walking outside with no shoes. Mommy only wore blazers and pointy heels and spent most of her time on the computer, building Daddy’s empire.
I didn’t want any parts of any empire. I wanted to walk outside with no shoes on. I wanted to read short stories and write love poems for the boy down the street who spoke softly and helped his mother bake cookies for all the kids in the neighborhood.
I was 15 when I started cooking all the family dinners. And doing the dishes. And mopping the floors. And doing the grocery shopping. And walking my little sister to church on Sundays. And catching the bus with her to school. And stopped going to school myself.
I was 18 when I ran away with the boy down the street.
We went to San Diego and got married. I sent for my sister but she said she wanted to stay with Daddy. I didn’t like it, but I let her be.
Mommy said I was making a big mistake, but she was going to let me make it.
I was madly in love with the boy and he was madly in love with me. Until he met the woman from 3B.
I had Baby when I was 20.
Baby entered the world with hair like golden wheat, and with a big smile on his face. Baby never stops smiling.
After Baby was born I started working at an art supply store on the beach. It was the first time, since Mommy watered the petunias barefoot, that I felt at home. Baby and I started a Mommy and Me finger painting group and the owner let me use the studio space in the back whenever I wanted.
The Owner spoke like honey straight from the honeycomb. His speech was slow, his words were sweet. His nails were bitten down to the nubs, but his palms were soft. His knuckles were always paint- splattered. He grew tomatoes and cucumbers, and kept mason jars full of lavender, lemon balm, mint, jasmine, and nettles stacked next to the break room refrigerator. He introduced me to Brujita, the herbalist next door. Brujita showed me how to harvest the herbs from her garden and taught Baby all about gardening too. Brujita looked after Baby when I had to teach a class late or tend to the store when The Owner was out of town.
The Owner put together my first solo art show when I was 28. I sold my first painting that night.
And we married the following spring.
And we lived in the two-bedroom apartment above the art supply store, happy to bump elbows and hips, for many years.
When I was 40, Mommy found my address and wrote me a letter. Mommy asked if she could come see me. I didn’t want to see Mommy; I was worried I wouldn’t recognize her. But the Owner said to me, “You’ll see her in the eyes. If nothing else, the caring will still be in the eyes.”
Mommy came to see us: me, Baby and The Owner.
Mommy said Baby was a happy baby (although he was far from a baby by then). And The Owner was a good man.
And I told Mommy, “The caring is back in your eyes.” Mommy was happy to hear that.
“Rules. Mommy, Daddy: Loving, Caring” is a short story in four parts, which explores relational trauma through the lens of forgiveness. Smith uses small details from her own childhood trauma to inform the narrative of a fictional family that works through missteps, miscommunications, lapsed intentions, and the repetitive nature of familial trauma. The piece is a template, one of so many, through which anyone can explore ways in which they were raised, unraised, or mis-raised, and how ultimately, love can blossom wherever planted.
In conversation Sabrae Danielle Smith pertaining to The Women That Raise Us:
"...We must move against not only those forces which dehumanize us from the outside, but also against those oppressive values which we have been forced to take into ourselves.” - Audre Lorde. Through experience, this concept has seemed to flow into our relationships with ourselves and our relationships with others, potentially, creating barriers and preventing us from building, supporting, and lifting one another. how can we transcend this construct?
I certainly agree with the sentiment, wholeheartedly. There is a wonderful tarot card reader and behavioral scientist (among many other inspiring identifiers, of course), Jessica Dore, who introduced me to the idea that throughout life, we are each capable of taking stock in the belief systems we cling to and doing away with what does not serve us. Furthermore, we should and are allowed to do so as often as we feel we need. Within the context Lorde is referring to, those of us who get to not only deal with the individualized maladaptive ideas and behaviors passed down from parent to child (grandparent to child, auntie, uncle, cousin, neighbor, et cetera), we also are charged with the job of identifying and ridding our inner hearts of systematic oppression. And what a job that is, yes?
"...we are each capable of taking stock in the belief systems we cling to and doing away with what does not serve us."
The how is particularly daunting. Especially considering the vast majority of oppressed people are also vehemently denied access to trusted, tried and useful information. The reality also remains that so few professionals (those with these ever elusive “keys”) are concerned with alleviating communities of color of this construct, and those that are so inclined, find that the actual development of practices, in health and in creative work, is a process too difficult to partake in.
What I find interesting to witness, and admittedly only marginally participate in, is the conversion of health and creative communities. The intersections of these communities, particularly interracially and in conjunction with social media/virtual community building processes, seems to be promising. At least, from where I sit. I do not have answers, but from what I have observed, to transcend this construct, we must first start there- in the conversations being had by women of color who care and make.
The Women that Raise Us aims to exemplify the variations of women that raise and influence us, directly and indirectly, acknowledging every connection, whether ancestral or distant. Who are the women that have shaped you or raised you? Who are the women that continue to do so?
My mother and my grandmothers have left the most profound imprint on my life and my work. When I first started creating, the influence was inadvertent but as I’ve grown older and my creative processes have evolved, I see that they are the roots. Many of the things I write about are direct reflections of their relationships- to men, to me, to each other, to the earth, to food, to their bodies- the list goes on, really. Their lives and blood and tears are at the genesis of everything I do.
Do you consider "negative" and "positive" relationships and experiences with women as a contribution to your growth? Do you consider friends, inspirations, fallen relationships or even the everyday encounters as a contribution to your current self?
Absolutely. Every relationship is an opportunity for reflection and growth; I believe that’s really one of the fundamental objectives of our souls’ human experience.
In what ways can we, as a community, release the stereotypical negative perspectives and ideas of women of color and their roles? How can we transcend these constructs and deepen the interpersonal / intrapersonal relationships with women of color?
I believe the first step we must take as a community is to honestly unpack the issues that arise because of the shallow hypervisibility women of color experience; and by shallow I mean that the image, the representation of what we are, how we sound, how we feel, how we move is the smallest fraction of the truth.
After we’ve come to terms with what these issues are (and I say “we” recognizing that this happens within the microcosms and that as a global community, that is too large a dream to plant in the here and now), then we can work to build representative alternatives. I try not to fall back on pessimism when it comes to this, for we all know we all are capable of that annoyingly human tendency to compartmentalize. But in the optimism, I so tirelessly stoke, my hope is that maybe an increase of viable representations, true representations, alleviate the issue of stereotypes, and thus the issue of utilizing stereotypes to cause irreparable harm.
What are your thoughts on women of color being hyper-visible and yet invisible (ignored, unheard, unfelt) in society and/or their own communities?
I came across another profound bit of knowledge from Audre Lorde recently, which deals exactly with this. In “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action”, she says, “In the case of silence, each of us draws the face of her own fear – fear of contempt, of censure, or some judgment, or recognition, of a challenge, of annihilation. But most of all, I think, we fear the visibility without which we cannot truly live… and that visibility which makes us most vulnerable is that which also is the source of our greatest strength.” As women of color, these fears are deeply rooted in horrifically real experiences, and that is nothing to take lightly. Where we transmute the fear is in taking ownership of our voices, our stories, and our enterprises. In my own life and work, I do my best to iterate that if the world, the audience, whatever we wish to call it, partakes in looking at me, they are also charged with the responsibility of hearing me. And this isn’t an easy feat, not only because we live in a world full of folks who are not used to listening, but because we as artists and women, and even more so as women of color- we have to unlearn silence.
How can we lift each other, while we still climb as individuals? How can this become an ongoing practice?
The first step is to realize that there is room for everyone to thrive. Speaking specifically with regards to the creative world, for too long we’ve let capitalism disrupt the natural inclination to climb collectively. The second is to also continue reassuring yourself (and each other) that no one can do what you do, so long as you are creating from your own true core. Continue drawing inward for self-reflection, relax into a love affair with yourself, create from that space, and when you’re ready to reenter the world, your community will show themselves. From there, it's pretty simple. Do you, and love on them while they do them. We each get to decide what that love entails, what it looks like, what responsibilities come with it, individually and within our respective communities.
"Continue drawing inward for self-reflection, relax into a love affair with yourself, create from that space, and when you’re ready to reenter the world, your community will show themselves. From there, it's pretty simple."
What is your take on transgenerational trauma? How can we remove our transgenerational traumas in a healthy and effective way?
I think that particularly within marginalized groups, transgenerational trauma is so intricately woven into the way we experience the world at large. I know that personally, much of the relational trauma has been passed down from generation to generation in an effort to suppress, but that suppression has a purpose beyond any individual’s psychosis (or less severe, their negligence, or disconnection). I am not the only one who was born to parents who held so dear the “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy, and would explain that the abuse was just how we “teach”, and therefore protect our families. I’m still learning how to unpack this trauma, and I have yet to anchor myself to any one methodology, or even one set of boundaries to work through it. I am ever changing, my relationships are forever changing, and the world is forever changing. In my own personal experience, to completely sever ties isn’t always possible, or even necessary. I believe there will be many of us that find that the lesson is the transmutation of the trauma, not the complete removal of relationships in which traumatic things happen. Of course, this is subjective; we have to rely on our individual assessments of the degree to which the trauma impacts us and there are, of course, relationships that cannot be mended.
Now when looking at the way trauma colors our experiences in the world, what I wonder, is how different things may look generations from now. I have much faith in our generations' ability to at the very least turn the tide in our families, our friendships, and within our communities; there is a level of awareness, both in our individual intentions and behaviors and in the way the world around us operates, that I believe is not conducive to maintaining the status quo. So I wonder how different the world will feel and look and sound for our grandchildren, or our great grandchildren as a result of us becoming better friends, neighbors, parents, and consumers.
You use written word and illustration to capture an array of themes, do you find a sort of release from creating?
I have actually found that my process of creating is a grounding one; without holding on too tightly to this need to release through creation, I’ve discovered for myself a whole new layer of creative expression. I create to record, to meditate, to ground. Creating has become a way to proactively (as opposed to being strictly retrospective) make sense of experiences. Creation involves recording realities, but also expanding, creating alternative narratives. The process has become less of a purge, and more so an exercise in sitting with anxiety, sitting with uncertainty, just sitting with what is, or sometimes what could be, until I feel my tailbone back on solid ground.
Where were you mentally, physically, emotionally, when the piece was created?
What spaces are you in (mentally, emotionally, spiritually) when you are creating or triggered to create?
So much of my work has been brought forward through some sort of candid, drunken stupor; it feels irresponsible to say, but the truth is that much of the sudden comfort with uncertainty begins there. An openness to explore comes from these moments.
But then there is also the expansion, that grounding process I discuss above, the creation of this is altogether separate from that purge-like state. This is the creative practice, the process, the creative equivalent to that to-do list for my day job, so to speak.
Creative expression is hardly ever the catching-of-the-holy-ghost, praise dance, speaking-in-tongues, thing anymore.
Where can we find more work? More shows? Do you have any upcoming releases to keep an eye out for?
Everything I’m working on in 2019 will be anchored at my Instagramfirstname.lastname@example.org.
I’m taking an extended break from doing shows but may soon be hosting a set of intimate gatherings to showcase new art.
Sabrae Danielle Smith is multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles, CA. Smith uses the written word and illustration to capture a wide variety of themes, but ultimately her body of work is linked by a compulsory exploration of relational trauma and intersectional identities. Smith writes experimental short stories, poetry, and short meditative essays. She prefers to create illustrations using ink, watercolor pencil and acrylic paint.