a measure of success

Every other month, Writer’s Digest presents a creative challenge for fun and prizes. They provide a short, open-ended prompt. In turn, you submit a short story based on that prompt.

I submitted a piece for the edition of Your Story #87 in December 2017. Here’s my text, never published before. The prompt was : Write a short story, of 700 words or fewer, based on the photo prompt shown here. You can be funny, poignant, witty, etc.; it is, after all, your story.

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In mom’s eyes, this picture of you has always been a measure of success. Your two feet in the Mediterranean Sea, traveling and living abroad for months at a time, was the closest she could get to her own dream.

Did you know that she wanted to be an aviator just like Amelia Earhart? Mom was 10 when Amelia became the first woman to fly solo across the North American continent and back. Did you care that, instead, your youngest sister was reduced to become the mother of nine children, a cheaper by the dozen way of living preached by the Catholic Church who wanted to see more and more little French Canadian children being bred in the province? A power play against the ruling British Empire, against any territory claim by the First Nations.

Let me tell you what this measure of success meant for us, her daughters. She was pushing and pushing us to dream big about our future, to make sure that we knew that we could become whatever we wanted. At the same time, she was shaming us if we were challenging the patriarchal and colonialist state of mind of many in the process. Which meant on a daily basis being reminded that our first duty was to get our PhD in house cleaning and child maintenance, with little time left after school to daydream about gaining access to what you were having. This only because and simply because we were women. Because what we didn’t have between our two legs.

As for me, this measure of success also included you, my uncle painfully squeezing my breasts as you were forcing your tongue into my mouth, a day I was helping you with whatever you needed in your apartment, like the good girl I was trained to be.

Fuck, you were eighty something, I was in my early twenties.

For some, who knew, the problem in this family was not your discriminatory, misogynist long embedded worldview and rules, no, it was your sweet tooth. It seems that the men, after a drink or two, felt too easily entitled to women’s bodies. Not to mention the girls. Too dark for them to envision, but not too dark for you to put prey on.

You know what they told me when I expressed my distress after you robbed me of a caring relationship with an elder, I had already been robbed of my body, my sanity, my dignity since the age of height, that’s how men are. That I shouldn’t make a fuss about so little when you, the men of my family, the men of my neighbourhood, the men I was told were supposed to protect me, were trying so hard to have this little French nation thrive.

So like all the other women of the family, I became well versed in cooking and eating compulsively whatever sweets I could get into my mouth to make sure that I wouldn’t talked about any inappropriate topics.

Inappropriate topics? Fuck!!!

This shit became so shitty that, when my mouth was freed from sweets after excluding them from my diet for health issues, and the unfortunate side effect of not having my emotions numbed anymore, I became the problem for raising flags about unspoken, so in your views non existing, issues. I was marginalized for my own happiness, or at least until I understood that I was fostering the dismantling of a caring family.

Dear uncle, so you know, that’s when this unbearable measure of success became a blessing for me. When I figured out how much this generational forced silence was damaging, and speak up. When the sadness, the guilt, the depression I had suffered from for years started to fade away.

When I became whole, my whole self, a loving and caring self toward myself, and an active part of another whole, a wed of compassionate women and men, all genders, creeds, classes, abilities and races combine, who were, are, resisting all types of oppression.

You are not here anymore, but let me tell you, I know now for sure that there is always hope in the dark*.

*Hope in the Dark, by Rebecca Solnit