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Twain Dream


"No matter what anyone else tells you, it's always better to be weak than it is to be strong."

This was the last lesson my mother ever taught me.

This is a story about that lesson.

I've only understood what she meant in hindsight. For years, however, I never figured out what I was supposed to take away from it. Even as she explained, its meaning was lost on me.

"If you are strong, you'll only rely on yourself. How can anyone bear to live a life of solitude? That is the biggest weakness anyone can have, juvenile."

My mother, Alessandra Matos, gave birth to her only child 20 years and some months ago, on January 5th, 1998 at 12:34 A.M., with no husband present. Seventeen years later, on January 5th, 2015 at 3:45 P.M., she instantly died after her car skid off of the icy road and into a telephone pole on the way back home. Nothing more than that. Anyone could have made the same mistake, no matter how strong they were.

My grandmother let me move to Martha's Vineyard to live in her apartment at an elderly housing center until I finished high school. After I graduated, I found a job, moved into a cheap apartment of my own, and changed my name to Aster Matos Twain. Dissociating myself from the rest of my family allowed me to live my life in quiet stillness, no longer burdening them. I wonder what my mother would say to that?

'It doesn't matter what you want to do as long as it's your decision'? 'You're my son, so I'll love you no matter what you choose to do with your life'?

No. That's what a mother who isn't her would say.

"Why should anyone else be the reason for whatever you do? If they won't help you, then they shouldn't be of value to you."

Were all Brazilian mothers like this, or was it just a reaction to America's culture? Maybe both.

Every time I dream, my mother dispenses her unwanted wisdom to me. I'll usually be unable to respond if I even know how to respond. Whenever I talk, she listens before continuing as if nothing happened. Were my worries that irrelevant? Or did she simply never have responses for them? Even in life, she was never very good at actually talking to people. That's probably why she always dominated conversations.

If she cared, then it's always been impossible for me to realize it. Regardless of whether or not she was caring, it always made my words feel like burdens. Always growing up to feel more like a responsibility rather than a child, my family acting as if I'm a weight on everyone else, feeling like friends are my friends out of a sense of obligation. If even she didn't give the impression that she cared, then how could anyone else feel kinder about me?

Maybe if I had done things differently in life, she wouldn't have died. Even aside from that train of thought, maybe I could have been more independent after her death. Less selfish. Less jealous. Less self-absorbed. More empathetic. More understanding. More careful. The right way to go about it would be to say that they're burdens that I still carry to this day, but they aren't burdens anymore. Just liabilities, as my mother would say.

It's not that this story has a bad ending — only that it has one I regret. It doesn't have a bad beginning either — just one I wish didn't exist in the first place. Since I've always been told that I've been terrible at starting things, maybe now would be a good time to tell it again in a more digestible way. It was during January 5th's dream, where my mom imparted her dense wisdom on me as usual about strength, that she said:

"You should be proud to be one's responsibility. Being someone's responsibility means they want to put up with you. If you weren't, then you would only be another finished product of theirs. There would be no reason for them to continue caring for you."

"But don't worry about that, juvenile, because today will be a special day for you!"

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