I cut my nails at night. To do so is largely considered bad luck, a harbinger of death perhaps, in East Asian culture. Our superstitious mother is always quick to warn us against it: “Be mindful of when you cut your nails,” she would exclaim, “or you won’t live long enough to visit me at my deathbed.”
But as daughters, we are not as naïve as she would like to believe. What she does not realize is that we have already attended her wake, twice: once in the delivery room where we let out our first cry to mourn the potential of whom she could have been; and once as grieving, parentified teenagers, laying the mother we thought we had to rest. As daughters across the world, we all have different backgrounds but come from the same mother.
When she held me tight in her arms to look down at me for the first time, I wonder if she loathed the fact I inherited my father’s eyes. It was our mother who made room, leaving her career and shifting her organs, for a child. It was she who split into two to deliver us safely, usually without the luxury of an epidural. And yet it is his name that we are ascribed: we become his legacy and his property. Who was she before “daughter” and “wife”?… was calling her “mother” the final nail in the coffin? I don’t doubt that she loves us, but our shoulders carried the weight of her resentment before our fragile bodies could even hold up its own neck.
She bears a child, but we bear her burdens. As children, we bear the burden of never being good enough because she wasn’t. We are raised in a purgatory where we are somehow too little and too much, invisible yet conspicuous. She looks the other way but notices the weight we gain; we speak in whispers and she complains about the noise. Our mistakes are tallied on the wall where our certificates should have been hanged. My mother loves me but I’m not sure she likes me very much. Everyday I promise to be better and yet all I see when I look in the mirror are remnants of her. I am her and she is me –– we cannot escape the destiny that the patriarchy has written for us.
And that is why I cut my nails at night, in fear they will grow so long that I will finally reach you, only to grasp an echo of you. So I will store the burden of being your daughter next to the place where you put your resentment in me. I will cut my nails at night in hopes of cutting myself off from you, from the longing that leaves such a bitter aftertaste. All we ever wanted was to be your concern. But until then, we will cut our nails at night, finding ways to emerge as a woman who can forgive you for the burden your mother made you carry, too.
llustrations by Joanna Marie Dodson Ang