Mapping My Mother

World Literature Today|Summer 2020

Mapping My Mother
In isolation, a writer connects her mother’s attempt to protect her from “never-being-able-to-leave-Cuba-itis” to her own desire to protect her children amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Anna Kushner

My mother spent Mother’s Day this year in a nursing home in Miami, physically isolated from everyone she has ever known, mentally isolated because of her dementia. As I process the heartaches and losses of this season, her absence is the one I’ve carried the longest and the one that seems to go on and on. The depth is unfathomable; insondable, the word comes to me in Spanish. I fear falling into it and never again coming up for air.

In trying not to think about my mother now, I recall her as she was during my child hood. I remember, specifically, the way she shut down when she returned from her only trip back to her native Cuba, in 1979, thirteen years after she immigrated to the US. She was irritable and reluctant to talk about the island. This was my first encounter with trauma, though I did not have the vocabulary for it then, this immense grief of hers and her inability to reconcile herself to a country she found so visibly altered. I hungrily looked at the pictures she took during the trip, wanting to find in them the source of her sadness, but I didn’t have the context of the “before.” Born in exile, I have never known the Cuba of my mother’s “before,” and this contrast, it seemed, was what she found so perturbing.

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Summer 2020