Know Me Well
-Memoir by Silvana Jakich–
My mother knew me too well and I wished she didn’t. She even knew the distribution of hair on my head. How there was more on the left side than the right. That it was most dense in the upper back section of my skull and sparse at the forehead. She’d squeeze it in her hand and say incredulously:”Look at this- there’s a fistful here.” She’d painstakingly french plait my hair for school. If strands escaped or swung out obstinately from the rest of the neat bundle, she’d unravel and start again. It was the labour of perfection because perfection was my mother’s mantra. My two immaculate braids running from the sides of my head like sea horses were neat and squared away. I loved skimming my fingers gently down those firm ropes and feeling the interlocking bumps. I knew nothing could budge those plaits or muss them up- not even a hard day hanging upside down on the school jungle gym. But they were also very tight and had no give and they hurt after a few hours.
For my 12th birthday, I remember her baking four tortes before one worked. Normally she’s good with cakes but for some unexplainable reason, these ones weren’t co-operating. The first two sagged gloomily before they even left the cooling rack. The third never even made it out of its tin in one piece. I happened to walk into the kitchen just as it collapsed out in a thump of chunky crumbles along with my mother’s cry of “Ahh-ma nije moguce.” (“Oh but this isn’t possible!”). I remember laughing uncontrollably at the sight of this culinary comedy and her turning to me with a hurt look. “You don’t care at all how hard I try”. She looked like she was going to cry. On the eve of my 12th birthday, I had no concept of her struggle. It was just a dark comedy to me.
She used to call me “Southerly” but with her accent it sounded like “Sudderly”. It’s the cold, wild wind that blows into Wellington from the Cook Strait. The Southerly appears without warning and turns everything on its head-women’s skirts fly up, comb overs unstick and litter twirls. It causes a scene and then disappears just as suddenly leaving the victims stunned and light headed-like they’ve been through a spin cycle in the washing machine. Even though we all hated the Southerly, she’d smile cheekily when she called me that. Maybe even a little fondly but I couldn’t be sure. Like I said, she knew me too well and I wished she didn’t.
As teen life took a hold of me, I looked undeniably like my father and was, as he had been, far from perfect. Now my face alone could bring on a look or an exhausted sigh from my mother. Then a reference to my difficult nature would ensue. I wished she’d get a case of amnesia and forget all the darkness she’d seen in me over the years. All those times I’d brought that wounded look to her face. The time she caught me naked with a little boy, the time I told her I hated my sister, the time I got caught shoplifting. I wanted to wipe it all clean and start fresh. But I couldn’t so I reveled in new found cunning and hid my actions and emotions. It was a commitment. People looked into my face and no longer saw a child’s transparency but a shop with the gates down, closed for business. It was all raging inside my bloodstream, rustling around my brain and screaming out of my pores but I remained quiet, veiled and as sneaky as a spy. Tracks covered.
I pretended I was tough, that no-one ever hurt me-especially not her and that I was impenetrable. And now when that look of disappointment crossed her face or her eyes welled up with tears, I effortlessly turned to stone. I played the modern hard girl from my teens into my twenties and now in my thirties, my mother and I have reached a stage in our relationship where my mother doesn’t know me at all. Not even a bit. Nothing. I have cleverly disguised the lot. Hidden my true self impeccably. She doesn’t know me at all and I wish she did.
Silvana Jakich is a Kiwi lass residing in NYC. A screen writer and director with two feature films under her belt, she is currently writing a screenplay for the NZ Film Commission. Silvana is happiest in the NY summer when her hands are in the soil of a Lower East side garden and the weather is perfect for cycling and swimming at the local pool with other LES residents.