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Jamaica Kincaid Lucy
I can think of several books that had a profound impact on me. Zami by Audre Lorde, I read it in my early thirties when I strongly believed in the power of my masculinity, although I didn’t want to admit it. Instead, I prefer to retreat into a humble role and blame love for the shaky orgasms we’ve extinguished – Wrong, pointless things, but bear with me. Then came the incredible Zami Audre Lorde, in Zami Audre Lorde reveals what it feels like to be in control and bliss without a penis or limited definition of masculinity.
Sometimes Audre Lorde seems like such a man’s man. I love Zamio, that changed my mind. My penis and I weren’t that special, we were substitutes for other feelings. Feelings that lead young men and women to search for substitutes, transfers, for love. Still, as a substitute, the penis was sumptuous. “I love you” was said, and morals were compromised. And I wanted to believe. Everyone has a good time until the feeling wears off. Then the questions come, the blaming starts and the unresolved issues arise.
My next epiphany came with “The Blues Eyes” by Toni Morrison. I didn’t believe there was such a level of self-hatred in some black people, never. And the depth to which he will sink by internalizing that hatred. Pecola’s rape by her father, emotional abuse by her mother. And the joy in which Morrison’s characters internalize it all. This book blew my mind. I believed that Toni Morrison was a sorceress. Good witch! She is consciously aware.
Now adding to that list, enter Jamaica Kincaid’s book, Lucy. This novel is the most honest representation of a woman’s story that I have ever read. It’s like reading private thoughts in your ex-girlfriend’s diary. Think. Not the recorded events, but the circumstances that led to fellatio. Or, the thought of finding yourself in a room naked with your boyfriend and his boys. Or brag to jealous friends about how you lost your mind by seducing your best friend’s brother, son or father. Jamaica Kincaid Lucy is so good.
Our protagonist Lucy recounts the story of Myrna looking at her boyfriend’s hand in the aquarium. She said of her mother Mirna, “it was so cruel it was like having a wicked stepmother.” Mothers are a recurring theme in Kincaid’s stories. More on mothers later. They were waiting for Mr. Thomas and Mr. Mathew, fishermen who work with their mothers.
Mr. Thomas drowned that day, and he and their fish never turned up. Mr. Mathew came to tell them the story; he was pitied, she said, it broke her heart. She fell sad. As they walk home, Lucy realizes that Mirna has been crying a lot. Lucy tries to comfort her with “nonsense about such things having a great wise purpose behind them.” Then Myrna drops this bombshell. She said she met Thomas (she didn’t call him “sir” now). They met under the breadfruit tree that was near her toilet, near the entrance to the alley behind her house. And she’d be standing in the dark, fully clothed, but no panties, and he’d put his middle finger in her.”- Wait- that’s not a bombshell. Lucy says that’s expected male behavior; they’re not pretty, but men are dogs. ” Everyone knew that men have no morals, that they don’t know how to behave, that they don’t know how to treat other people. That’s why men love laws so much; that’s why they had to invent such things. They need a guide. When they’re not sure what to do work, they consult this guide. If the guide gives them advice they don’t like, they change the guide.” So much for what Lucy thinks about men, another one of those life paradoxes to be revealed. Myna cried because she would get no more money: shelling, sometimes just the sixpence that Mr. Thomas gives her for putting the middle finger on her. She needed that money for something she didn’t know yet. Still, it wasn’t enough, and she was upset that it wasn’t, and so she cried.
I thought about the lengths young women would go to escape an evil mother. Mirna’s story made me wonder about the reasons young girls come for sex. It wasn’t about the penis or love, it was about feeling better. To escape from the cruelest oxymoron, evil mother. The more you run away from them, the greater their influence in your life.
Then on page 105 Lucy said the most incredible thing: Lucy is consumed with jealousy, she said. “Why did such an unusual thing happen to her and not to me? Why did Mr. Thomas choose Mirna as the girl to meet in secret and put his middle finger in her and not in me?” Lucy continues. “This would become the experience of my life, the one that everyone else would have to live.”
Lucy goes on to talk more about how she felt about the story. Kincaid is aware of what she shared further to make it clear. Lucy: “I could have retreated into a lie and said all the appropriate disapproving things, but I saw that he was beyond reproach.” Lucy wanted to ask, was it great! – Come on! – What a story, Kincaid made me realize that these are things I thought I knew about young women but have no idea. At the same time, I am questioning the depth of my feeling, why and how I define my masculinity. What am I looking for? What makes me feel great? I mean, most of it comes from some great lost ones, like Lucy’s.
The truth in the novel Lucy is constantly struggling with her feelings for her mother who oscillates between love and hate. One causes the other. As Lucy tries to figure out her feelings and assert her physical and emotional independence, her mother’s love or lack of love is the anchor or wings that guide her decisions. She constantly seeks her mother’s approval, while hating her mother’s judgments and her Christian morality. After all, this is the mother who named her Lucy, a maiden name for Lucifer. That her mother would find her diabolical didn’t surprise Lucy. She said, “I have often thought her divine, and are not the children of gods devils?”
When I was young I believed that a freak girl really loved you, anything I told her to do she would do it. As Alanis Morissette: “Is she a pervert like me? Would she go down on you in the theater.” I thought it was my penis or me. We were worshiping. I didn’t understand anywhere that it was about the unrequited love of a mother or a father. It’s not like women haven’t given us clues, Carly Simon: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is about you.” But we never see our own needs until those needs are revealed in someone else’s story.
Lucy has shown the extremes she will go to in order to assert her independence, to distance herself from her mother. But no matter how far Lucy went. She was always emotionally anchored to her mother, her efforts were always compared to her. Lucy’s jealousy of Mirna is a direct consequence of the lack of love that was not given to her. Lucy wants someone older to want her, like Mr. Thomas wanted Mirna. Lucy longs for her lover.
Jamaica Kincaid emphasizes this analogy more in the novel. Lucy feels the same way about her new home in America at the end of the novel as she did at the beginning when she was leaving her island home. Even though her body was moving across the ocean, in the end she felt the same, alone. No matter how many times we move or where we go, we are tied to that first refuge.
Her mother’s affection changed when she gave birth to a son. Lucy was never the same. She was jealous of the love that belonged to her, but she refused. In Lucy, Jamaica Kincaid describes the difficult relationship between a mother’s love and a daughter’s disappointments. True, Kincaid’s novel gives us a detailed blow-by-blow of Lucy’s whereabouts and her relationship to her mother. And she hints at what brought her to where she is: “Oh, the injustice of it all. What words did Mr. Thomas use to make this arrangement with her, and why, again, was I not worthy to hear them? “
To me, this goes a long way in explaining why your partner hates you, or you hate him, you remind him of a parent. The amazing sex we had at the beginning no longer feels like a “lifetime experience”. Those meetings started as a substitute for that unrequited love and attention. Know his substitute for hate. Now anger is love security. Or, as fourteen-year-old Lucy said when he was sucking Tanner’s tongue on his best friend’s brother at their home during piano lesson, she was looking at his hands. “Taste is not what is to be sought in language; it’s how you feel.
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