“Healing is a cyclical process that follows a pattern until the situation or the physical/emotional pain goes away. If not addressed it may linger from one generation to the next. In a patriarchal age like ours, men and their career choices affected the women in my family, how they organized their lives around the choices of their husbands. As I write my family history, I realize I followed the steps of the single women in my family who were writers and teachers. As to my mother and grandmothers, I broke with this pattern and became the first generation of women to go to college. Now I understand why it was so difficult for my parents to understand why I wanted to leave my career when I got sick. It was more than just money. For the female body, it always is.
“Why do you want to leave your teaching job?” asked my dad thirty years later, as we sat in his study-room. We had moved three times in the city, however my parents kept the same furniture at each place; all gifts from their wedding day: a wooden set of table and French chairs, a red velvet couch, tall lamps with brown shades, two green sofas, a marble coffee table, picture frames, and a cast silver table center.
I chose to sit on the leather chair for back support. The study was in the center of the apartment, in-between the bedrooms and the kitchen.
“I’m in physical pain all the time, Dad.” I said. “The university assigns me almost one hundred students each semester.” I sighed. “It feels like a factory. Time off is not helping my back, only worries me more what I’m going to do next.” He stared at me in silence, trying to understand my situation.I held my tears of frustration. “I love teaching but I also want my body pain to go away and give myself more time to recover from the surgeries.”
My parents paid for my college tuition so leaving my academic career behind was a major decision for all of us. I’ve always felt I owed them for helping me out during those first years in college. My mother eavesdropped on the conversation as she walked by.
“You could have bought yourself an apartment here in the city with all the money we sent you,” my mother couldn’t wait to remind me whenever the subject came up.
“I know Mom, you said that more than enough.” I responded each time.
“I know what the problem is,” she said and paused to clean her hands on the apron around her waist, holding a kitchen rag with the other hand.
“What, Mom?” I said.
She flipped the rag and pointed at me. “You’re just burned down.” I didn’t know how to react to that.“I know.” She spoke even louder. “I saw it in a movie.”
“It’s not burned down, Mom. It’s burnt out.” I said.
She was probably right but at the time it hadn’t hit me yet how exhausted I was. Fatigue, anxiety and insomnia had taken over my body like a California undertow. My mother didn’t express her opinion much but when she had an idea about me, she was firm and most times right.
“Let her talk,” my father pleaded trying to get back into our conversation. “I want to hear it from her.”
“It’s okay Dad. She can express her opinion.”
My mother played the submissive type, so I always defended her when I could. She rolled her eyes and walked away into the hallway, back to the kitchen.
“You will lose touch with your own career,” my father continued. “That’s what my own father told me when I changed careers.”
Opapa, my father’s dad was a Baptist protestant and the general surgeon at one of the most prestigious private hospitals in the city, El Hospital Aleman. He had high expectations for his children and grandchildren. However, my dad didn’t follow his steps because he fainted at the sight of blood. Instead, my dad studied philosophy and then switched to architecture, a career that took nine years to complete. When Tono died, my grandfather on my mother’s side, my dad took up the management of the family ranch.
“And?” I asked.
“At first I didn’t think of it too much,” He said with nostalgia. “As the years went by, he was right. I was too immersed in cattle ranching, trying to make ends meet, and helping your mother to keep her piece of land. I couldn’t do both.”
The sustenance of our family and the survival of patriarchal names depended on him and each family man. As in my family, men were the major players. While my father chose to manage the ranch, my older brother followed in his footsteps and became an agricultural engineer. The need for reason inspired them as they searched for their own truth that led my dad and many other men of his generation in an insatiable dominion over nature. Always struggling to acquire more, they built doorways to the physical and mental labyrinths they created for the upcoming generations. My next of age brother, Jorge became a lawyer and followed my grandfather’s footsteps by practicing law.
Induced by societal norms, the men in my family learned to fortify a male sense of security based on material gain and comfort. In the end, they faced mortality like the rest of us. As to my decision to leave academia, it became an on-going struggle for several years, until my body said enough is enough. Falling back in the gentleness of my female body became my priority for a better healing.
[Disclaimer: The stories and pictures in this Blog do not coincide with the women and people depicted in the photographs. Names have been changed to protect their identity. I am solely responsible for the facts gathered and on which the stories and images are based. Nonfiction narrative asserts descriptions understood to be factual and may incorporate fictional elements to clarify and enhance them.]