It’s always interesting to find out what we’re carrying with us from our parents and grandparents. I’ve never been big on genealogy, but I do have an interest in shared experiences and intergenerational trauma. Some studies posit that the stress of one family member’s trauma (like a violent assault, or chronic homelessness), can live in their body and be passed on to their children. In this way, a child born of a mother who experienced abuse in her early years may carry the cellular memories of that experience.
One of my books, Blessed Be, has a plotline based on a shared trauma that is passed down for many years through the repeated rejection of the daughter by the mother. All three characters, Billie, Betsey, and Issa, struggle with mental illness. I saw this as the tie between their generations, the way their motherly rejection manifested physically. The three women are also witches, so then I began to play with the idea of making their intergenerational trauma something tangible, like a curse. They are cursed with their mother’s inability to love them. They are cursed with feelings of inadequacy, unable to see their own strength. Billie, the narrator, is the one who has to break this curse. She has to look within herself and recognize how powerful she actually is, and how much change she can affect. She is the one that must stop the cycle from continuing.
I’ve been thinking about the passing on of things a lot lately. As COVID cases rise, I spend more and more time alone. I have more time to think. There are physical things I inherited from my mother and maternal grandmother: dancer’s legs, a long torso. Also, there are the intangible things: a sharp temper and the ability to hold a lifelong grudge. I have inherited their tendency towards paranoia. My mother even claims we are descended from witches who were hung in the Salem witch trials. Is that why I write about them?
My great-aunt, Dot, had paranoid schizophrenia (along with several other family members), and received electroshock therapy for it. I’ve seen pictures of her with my mother and grandmother, but she died long before I was born. She lived alone her entire life with no children and few friends. Sometimes, I feel like my feeling of aloneness during this pandemic was something that started with her, like it was hidden in my body and came to the surface when I started quarantining. Other times, I remember being in the first, second, third grade, sitting home by myself and feeling like I’d known aloneness my whole life already.
What do our parents and grandparents bless us with? My father and his mother are responsible for my writing skills. My personality is similar to theirs. When I write, I sometimes hear the both of them in my patterns and cadence. It makes me wonder if the stories I write are really mine, or if they stemmed from something small that has carried on through the generations.