My mother is a cleaning lady. She often uses aggressive cleaning products: they disrupt the healthy microflora and ecosystem of our hands and the environment around us. I have a complicated relationship with my mother, partly because her mental handicap limits her intellectual and emotional abilities. Just after she was born, she got a stroke, because the drunk doctor did something wrong. And if that was not enough: at the age of 3, her father and she got in a car accident and ended up in a coma for half a year. He was also an alcoholic. She had to go to a special school for people with handicaps and her father told her to hide this from others, including my father, afraid that he would not marry a simpleton. In my first week of primary school, she tried to help me with homework, but it was too difficult for her. I was perhaps ten years old and started to look down upon her.
She embarrassed me often in front of friends that I did not clean enough or well. “How will you ever find a boyfriend?” Or she would make remarks about my clothes when I returned because I got dirty from outdoor activities. She made our home as sterile as possible; no place for dirt, not even for good dirt. I thought I did not care. But the remarks are imprinted deep in me. When I am stressed nowadays, I am blocked when I want to clean the house or feel I need to first clean the house before I can invite others, but can still thrive on intellectual tasks.
The relationship changed when I lived in Prague, together with a rubber plant. The plant did more cleaning than I did. I felt guilty about it. I told myself that cleaning was for people and plants with too much time. Later I learned that rubber plants represent happiness and wealth, but perhaps I had placed the rubber plant wrong according to feng shui because I did not experience abundance in the creative work I was doing in the film school in the Czech Republic. I felt insecure about my intellectual part. I directed an ecofeminist film adaption of Poison Ivy. My mentors told me it sounded like a great story, but I made the mistake of trying to fit it in a short movie. The lead was this perfectly clean-dressed lady who could not be herself. The rubber plant played a role in the short too. In one scene,
My parents came to visit me in Prague, and I decided to pretend that I had everything under control. My mother made sneaky remarks about my apartment. I decided to make tea and opened the door of my cupboard softly, although I wanted to smash things. She stopped talking. The rubber plant held its breath. “You are my only daughter,” she said. “Please do not do stupid things to yourself.” “Why do you say that?” “The way you opened that door, makes me worried.” I murmured everything was ok, but started to perceive my mother's intelligence differently from that day.
The rubber plant appeared that night in my nightmare. We know you, because we cleaned up your dirt.
© Wendy Wuyts 2021-10-22