The divine mother and the anxious daughter

By Soncirey Mitchell
Reader Staff

My first official religious service, outside of weddings and funerals, was my high school baccalaureate. Dressed in my devil-red graduation robe, I sat in the dark theater, waiting for the pastor to tell me the difference between a man and a woman. At those kinds of events, it doesn’t matter what the speech is meant to be about; it all goes back to Eve.

For the purpose of this story, I’ll call the pastor, Adam. That wasn’t his name.

Adam ascended the stage wearing a sweat-soaked button-up shirt and a look of absolute control. The story he told is, roughly, as follows. Years ago, Adam had found himself in a foreign country in a psychiatric hospital for women. Unable to read the signs, he’d gotten lost in a crumbling maze of hallways until, finally, he opened a door into an airy room with enormous windows. Inside was a gorgeous woman. I will call her Eve.

The two couldn’t speak the same language; but, even so, Adam asked Eve how to return to the lobby. In response, she stripped out of her clothes, revealing a matching set of lingerie the color of that original, forbidden, apple. Then, Adam and Eve waltzed around the room to music only she could hear.

My question is: Who dressed her in that lingerie?

The moral of that story was, “You never know what might happen when you step through a door.” For Adam, it was sexual gratification masked by religious righteousness. For Eve, when she first crossed the threshold into that hospital, she was probably promised safety. Instead, she became a fantasy, paraded through the minds of high-schoolers in lingerie that she couldn’t have bought for herself.

When a woman walks through a door, she may not know exactly what’s beyond, but she can usually guess. That’s why we hold our keys between our knuckles and check the backseat before getting into a car. That’s how I knew what Adam’s speech was about before he did.

It might have been more accurate to call Eve “Mary,” but frankly that pastor couldn’t tell the difference between the two if he preached to them at church. 

I’ve never considered myself religious, but I can recognize the Virgin when I see her.

If I found Mother Mary at the bus stop, she’d have the wrinkles of the woman I clung to when I missed my flight. I was stranded in a foreign city at night, the streets were empty and I sobbed because I was sure they’d find my body in the park the next morning. She barely spoke English but got me home safely.

If I sat by the Virgin Mary in a cafe, she’d have the smile of my friend from kindergarten. We hadn’t spoken but for a few words in more than 10 years, but she saw I was having a panic attack and hugged me in the bathroom until I stopped crying. I didn’t have to tell her about the screaming man or the names he’d called me.

If I met Mother Mary on the street, she’d have the eyes of the girl at my high school who hid me from my stalker in an empty classroom. I didn’t know her very well, but all it took was the word “help” to send us running behind the nearest door.

If I found Mother Mary behind the bars of a psychiatric ward, she’d wear the costume the world clothed her in — lingerie or veil. She’d do her best to love her body, though it’s been commodified, abused, and dressed and undressed for the pleasure of others.

I’m an anxious daughter in a state that only values divine motherhood, and even that is tenuous. Next month, my friend will give birth to her son. She could bleed out in a helicopter bound for Spokane because Sandpoint no longer has a maternity ward.

Last month, I deleted my period-tracking app. I often forgot to input data, and I was worried that somehow a court would see those unlogged months and wrongly assume that I’d been pregnant and then had an abortion. In my nightmares, my life ends for one that never existed. Our bodies are at the mercy of governments that promise us safety and barely deliver the illusion of it.

Sometimes the world feels like a crumbling psychiatric ward: no music, only the chafe from cheap lace. And yet, we survive for ourselves, for each other and for the possibility of a better future.

I’ll see Mary again at a coffee shop, paying for the woman behind her. It will be OK.

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