Mama’s Magic

Mama’s Magic Written By Brianca J Hadnot (December 2016)

A young woman suffering from relationship problems recollects on her tumultuous childhood, and the strength of her own mother; this leads to a moment of awakening and a renewed sense of hope.

Photography by Carrie Mae Weems-- Kitchen Table Series
Photography by Carrie Mae Weems– Kitchen Table Series

“I could have fucked you over a million times” he says, voice booming.

His chest is puffed forward and he bangs his fist against it as he talks. His statement is more amusing than enlightening, mostly because he has confused a testament of my faith in him, as a credit to his own honor. As if in some way my strength is his, as if my vulnerability was a silly mistake.

To him, I am another naive woman, to deluded to have ever consciously allowed someone so close to my heart. A million times he could have fucked me over! He says it like I am too stupid to have noticed the power he wielded. He doesn’t realize that this power, that he lords over me, is my own; power that I gave willingly. I don’t bother to explain this to him, he is on a roll and in any case he could not understand. In his mind, this would only prove me sillier than he first assumed. For this, I laugh, only a man could be so innately arrogant.

He is merely a man so I do not blame him, he is caught in the pressures of society, being bent and molded into the form that the world has fitted him to. In his world, one must protect themselves from everyone and everything, and he must fight.He tried to teach me once, how to survive in a world like his. He warned me that the entire world would step all over me, swallow me whole if I did not change. I was too warm, open, inviting, vulnerable; at least that is what he told me. I was strange to him, and I suppose had I lived like he had I would have found me strange too. In his world, strength was found only if I learned to talk loud, to curse him, to break down into irrational tears, to be ruled and controlled by the constant change of my own emotions; I am supposed to be as volatile as a storm, this is the only way he knows a woman to be. And for this, I pity him.

Sure, that woman he describes may be thrilling and beautiful, but is she whole? Does a whole woman, one secure in herself need to pitch her voice or swing her fist to force understanding? Even as I ask myself this, I am reminded of the women of my childhood, smiling and gentle, nurturing. I watched them in their kitchens, one scrap of this, two of that, a dash of whatever is left and before their husbands made it home they had constructed a feast. My mama would look down at me in those days, my curiosity and wonder filling my eyes, she would wink and would tell me that it was magic, and I still believe that it was.


Once, Daddy got laid off from work. I was a child then, so i didn’t really understand what it meant, but from the look in my Papa’s eyes I could tell it was bad news.Not Mama’s eyes, when Daddy came home that day we were in the kitchen, and Mama was doing her magic again. Daddy walked in, his shoulders more slumped than usual, and when I ran forward to hug him, he did not swing me in the air like he always did, instead he patted my cheek gentle but reserved. I tipped back to my Mama’s leg, as the tension rose in the room.

Daddy’s eyes connected with my mother’s and they seemed to speak with perfect understanding, and never uttered one word. And when Daddy broke that connection, averting his eyes towards the tips of his scuffed work boots, Mama looked at him with so much intensity, so much sureness that it seemed to knock the worry right out of him. “That’s alright” she said, and though I knew the sad state of our bare cupboards and the constant calls of the collectors, the way she said it, her eyes speaking volumes, I believed her.

Daddy was home for three months that time, everyday he would dress as if he were going to work, come into the kitchen where Mama had laid his breakfast, and ate, silently. When he finished, he would pull out the books and the bills and spend hours reading, calculating, and staring. My Daddy would stare at all those pink slips until the veins in his eyes turned bright red and the wrinkle in his forehead grew deeper. Then he would walk over to town and look for work. He would never find it and he would come tired from rejection and sit in his favorite worn chair. Mama had patched that chair so many times, I struggle to remember its true color, but it was Daddy’s favorite, and he sat in it everyday during those months.I remember because it was something peculiar about the way he sat, pushed forward, with his shoulders hanging loosely towards the ground; it looked as if he was carrying the whole world on his shoulders and only after he sat in his chair could he put it down for a while.

Mama was our strength in those days. If she was worried us kids never knew. Her smile shone as bright as stars on the countryside, her back was straight and tall, her head high and regal. She would get fitted in her Sunday best to collect charity from the church, I was embarrassed to beg for eggs, and milk, and bread; I worried the other kids from the neighborhood might see me and that they would laugh, but my Mama, so strong, it never looked like begging.

The day the lights got turned off, I was scared that it would break Daddy, that this would be the end of my family. I knew about Mama’s magic, the way she could create full meals out of empty cupboards, the way she could look at you and take away all your worries, the way she could take charity without surrendering her own dignity, and even then I was awestruck, but Mama had small time magic and it was nothing she could do to turn the electricity on. We came home from the church and Mama tested the switch, but after toggles both on then off then on again, nothing seemed to happen.

I looked at my mother, searching for answers and solutions. Mama caught my eye, she saw my worry, and shrugged as if to say “Its time for a little magic”. She let me help this time,I gathered all the candles and Mom grabbed a box of matches to light the first one, after that she taught me to use the light of one candle to light the others. Mama said that this was the strength we women had, we could share all of us, lighting the world with our warmth and never lose sight of ourselves.

When Daddy got home, he didn’t even notice the power was out, he opened the front door and saw Mama, dressed and beautiful as the women in the magazines, a candlelight dinner behind her and his family waiting for him with love in their eyes. The room was dim, but Daddy’s smile cut through the shadows, and even today I still remember the way he looked at my Mama. Like she was the entire world.

I have always hoped a man would one day look at me that way. Although this man, beating his chest, looking more beast by now than anything by this point, had never looked at me that way. To him, my calm and understanding attitude, was weakness. If I did not learn to fight, I would lose and of this, he was sure. I did not resent him for this, I suppose for him the world was a much different thing, a battlefield. And if the world were a battlefield, then he was right to tell me to fight.

Only he was too blinded by his own ego to consider that maybe I was fighting. Not like him, for he is man and I am woman. No one more or less than the other, simply different. Different strengths, lead to different strategies. I could not fight like him, I had to fight like Mama had taught me all those years ago. Allow my being to be my defense.

My smile shining brightly upon the world, when it has given me nothing to smile about, that is my act of defiance. My love growing stronger, though others have proved their own to be weak, that is me declaring war on the script society has written for me. My swagger, moving tall and confident as if I glided rather than walked, knowing full and well that they expect me to slump, to hunch and claim defeat. That is me, swinging back! Defining myself for myself.

I look at the man before me, and he is still talking, my listening has no effect on him. I would bet that he would boast the same way if I were absent all together. “But I would never fuck you over, I love you” he says this as if now I should run and hug him, this being the greatest thing he can offer me. But when he says this I do not feel love, but betrayal.

I think of the battlefield that he declares the world to be, and I note that it is not the world fighting against me, but him. The greatest tests have been loving him, through his own demons, his own diseases, healing him from the poisonous miseducation he has been ingesting sense birth. I bite into my cheek, so as not to say again.

That he would never fuck me over again, It is what he means so I do not say it. Instead, I think of my mother and her strength, her magic. I try to embody it, to wash myself in it, to see this man who has declared war on love and heal him. I try and allow her teachings to possess me, and then allow my spirit to possess him. To show him, the power of the love he has no belief in. To allow him to see the world through my eyes, one that does not see a battlefield to thrash against, but an ocean that flows peacefully, one that would carry me, carry us if we only let it. I do not give up on him, though sometimes I want to, I love him. I love him as he learns to love himself, that is my magic. That is my strength.

Wishing all of you a happy and joyful winter holiday! I would like to thank you for all the support and love I have received in such a short time, it has been the best gift I could have hoped to receive. Thank you.

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