Published on December 11th, 2023 | by Ashley MacLure


Living With a Mark

I am five and I hate bedtime. My mother is at work and I miss her terribly.  My father gets me bathed, settled in pajamas, and snuggled into bed. He tells me a story about a chicken baking bread. I protest sleep. He rubs my back. I fall asleep. I dream of a white spider.  It silences me so that when I try to speak, my mother cannot hear me.

I am five and I rest my head on my mother’s lap. As she strokes my hair and reads me fairy tales, I fall asleep. My father carries me to my bed, tucks me in cool and clean where I sleep until twilight. I sneak back and snooze on my parent’s’ floor. I sleep on the floor of their bedroom until I am ten. I cannot bear to be separated from my mother. It’s like some part of me knows it’s all temporary.

I’m ten when my mother begins to crack. Breakdowns. In-patient programs. Suicide attempts, pill addiction. Some days she comes back to me. She is kind and hilarious. Creative, affectionate, like sunlight peeking through a dirty window. She talks to me about standing up for myself when I am bullied. She encourages me to talk about my feelings. She teaches me to draw, and to see. 

Bright pink illustration
Rabbits Wild and Pink by Ashley MacLure

I’m fifteen and my house is filth, clutter, cat poop, and laundry. There are piles and piles of clothes.  Some are moldy from being stored in the shower wet. The dryer is broken and my father hangs the laundry over furniture, doors, chairs. The clothes are never really clean. My father can’t get the detergent quite right. Everything feels starchy, and dirty. My mother sleeps all day, takes too many pills, and doesn’t recognize me at night.

I am nineteen and we are moving because we’re losing our house. My cousin takes pictures of the mummified kitten we discover under the couch and texts it to his wife. “She won’t believe this,” he says, like we’re some kind of freak show. The kitten sticks to the stash of  bills and papers my mom has stashed behind the couch. A perfect spot for a cat to give birth. I know exactly which litter this kitten came from. Litters move from place to place when the mother cat feels threatened. This kitten was never moved, it was abandoned. 

I don’t know how old I am when my mother tells me of a family friend that shot himself in the face.  “I’ll never do that to you,” she says. “ I’ll never leave you.” I believe her.  

I spend my adolescence feeling ashamed of her, of her illness. I am angry about her inability to get out of bed. I am frustrated that she is unlike other mothers, because my mother lives with anorexia, bulimia, borderline personality disorder, and rheumatoid arthritis.  

Raw by Ashley MacLure

She recalls, retells, and relives. 

“Great grandpa” she says. “Molested” is a work that makes me flinch.   I witness her starving her body, drugging her pain, and lashing out at people she loves. Family and friends retreat.  My mother’s demons become her constant company, and my upbringing. 

I am twenty-four with a complicated mother. I graduate art school, get a good job, fall in love. I want to be unremarkable, normal. My mother gives me a big hug one day and says, “I love you, baby” and  takes handfuls of pills the next night. 

I spread her ashes, write a eulogy. 

I am thirty-one and my daughter is a newborn. She is tiny, alert, feisty. She will never meet her grandmother. I feel relief and great sadness. “You would love her, Mom,” I say. 

I am thirty-six and I’ve grown around my grief. Like the cats we buried growing up—Papa planted flowers on top. We never forgot what was really beneath—a rotting, but beloved relic. 

I am thirty-six and the first in my family to get a master’s degree, something my mother talked about doing “someday.” I wish she were here to be proud of me and meet her granddaughter.  

Collage-style artwork featuring a small girl, a fence, and flower petals
Rooted by Ashley MacLure

My daughter is five and folds into my body like a missing puzzle piece I never knew I needed. She is a snuggler like me. Like my mother. 

My daughter is five and calls me early in the morning to rub her back. I know that she won’t be little like this forever. I am tired. I need sleep. I go and fold over the edge of her bed anyway, creating new aches and pains for later. I rub her back until she falls asleep and sneak back to my bed until morning. I will be unlike my mother in this way.

There are things my mother did right. There are things I can do right. Trauma leaves a mark, but I can live with a mark.

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About the Author

Ashley MacLure is a mixed media artist who works with charcoal, drawing, collage, and painting. Her work explores motherhood, grief, mental illness, and trauma. She is trained in traditional and digital 2D illustration methods. She graduated from Rhode Island School of Design in 2009 with a BFA in Illustration and from Framingham State University in 2023 with an M.Ed concentration in Visual Arts. She currently works as a high school art instructor and is especially passionate about teaching young people to think like artists and use their skills to improve their communities. Ashley lives with her daughter and husband in Massachusetts.

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