There is a water stain on the ceiling above my bed, created one night when the roof decided to leak. I stare at it often, early in the morning, when the only thing stirring is my mind. While the sun is rekindled from blackened ash, thoughts of escape creep into my head. It is the color of my morning coffee – café’ au latte’ – sweet with cream. And it is driving me mad.
This stain, this black mark upon my dawn, has become an omen. How else could it haunt me so?
Somehow, whether a fluke of nature or the twisted device of the Gods, this puddle of water dried into the shape of the contiguous United States.
This stain is there to remind me, morning after morning, that I am going nowhere. Not to the next state, not across the country, and certainly not around the world as I once dreamed. I am stuck in this muddy rut of my life with no vehicle of motion in sight. Somehow, while I wasn’t paying attention, I became a rusted-out jalopy, with wires hanging from my undercarriage and two flat tires. Obviously, I am going nowhere.
When I was a child, I dreamt of far off, exotic places. Ancient temples, pavilions, and cathedrals were my destiny. I would walk along the Roman Aqueducts. I would spit from the Eiffel Tower. I would stare at the same churches that Monet painted ad nauseam. I was going places. I was so sure of my future back then. Life was going to be one big, never-ending discovery. I was hopeful and excited.
And now, I spend my days circling the wagons about the camp, trying to keep my two children from doing harm to one another, while changing out the laundry and fighting the constant derivation of dirty dishes.
This watermark has shown me my limitations in life. It shows me just how far that I will never go. It is darker around Texas, my birthplace. I haven’t been there since I was an infant, and realistically, I will never go back. My ceiling holds no Europe, no Far East, no island archipelago. Distant lands are so far out of reach for me that they are not even on my freak-of-nature map.
I glare above me, wiping my bleary eyes, while dreaming of places close by, but still out of my limited reach. New York, where life is vibrant and mobile. Louisiana, where the bayou nestles each looming, moss-draped plantation. Wyoming, where horses gallop into the pastel horizon. There are places I long to witness with my own fallible eyes, to capture the moments that no camera can.
I dream of little towns, sprinkled across the country. Places just like the Eastern Shore where I have lived most of my life. Given my meager existence, I’d like to think that it is possible for some other woman, trapped by the circumstances of her life and cursed by a leaky roof, to look up at her stained ceiling in cadence with me each and every morning. Maybe she misplaced her dreams as well. Or better yet, maybe she lost them and then found them again. I need to talk to that woman.
That comforts me, to know that I am not alone in longing for what I will never have. It has to be possible, it just has to. I can’t be the only woman in America, the Land of the Free, to feel jailed by her responsibilities.
Not to say that I regret having a family. I suppose sacrificing my life, the life that I once yearned to have, is but a small down payment on the possibilities of my children’s futures. I am the one that suffers for the good of the masses. My son could develop a cure for cancer. My daughter might bring about world peace. My children may impact the world as we know it in a very large and positive way.
Maybe the whole Equal Rights movement has duped women in a major way. In gaining equality for all, we were led to believe that we could, in fact, have it all. Women’s Lib gave us the right to dream big, but the reality of motherhood does not allow for the fruition of those dreams.
A woman may become a groundbreaking archeologist unearthing treasures in Egypt, but a dutiful mother may not. A woman may find a cure for cancer in some ant-built dung heap in Africa, but what mother would drag her children to the perilous plains? A woman could become the next Shakespeare, penning literary gold that will be read for generations to come – but not as long as she’s birthin’ babies and chasin’ rugrats.
Women now have the right to vote, attend prestigious schools, and shatter the glass ceiling – if they are willing to forego motherhood, or at least postpone it. A woman can be anything that she wants to, but most of what she wants is not compatible with having small children underfoot.
In my mind, we are no better off than the women of Jacob who wove textiles, nursed babes and dreamt of the illusive golden palace where servants would attend to their every whim. In thousands of years, women have gotten nowhere.
So what is the difference between today’s women and the Jacobite women? They knew not to waste time longing for the unattainable, their roles in society were well defined and thus, abided by. Whereas, we do our motherly duties begrudgingly and stare at the water-stained images emblazoned on the ceiling at the start of each day, trying to decide whether it is acceptable to want more than what we already have.
The only solace seems to be this: I accept my lot in life and immerse myself in its daily tasks. After a full day of mothering the children and the house, I am too tired to covet a life that I don’t have. I fall asleep abruptly and without dreams, for there is no room for dreams here.
The night will pass quickly, and I will be fine – until I awake in the morning to face my watermarked reverie. Thankfully, my gaze then falls to an angel baby, fast asleep in her bassinet. She is real. She is my heart. And she is definitely within my reach. I just pray that she, along with my rambunctious son, will be enough to quiet the tumultuous waters of desire.
They have to be.