Mama Outsider: No Place Like Home

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“You need to move closer to your family and never leave them again.” I still don’t know whether the property manager was being shady or honest, whether she was backhanding me out of frustration at my inability to budget well enough to pay rent or sharing wisdom she’d won the hard way about trying to escape the people you most need.

I left Louisville fifteen years ago to escape the reach of my mother’s swinging belt. I told myself I’d never return to live, even if that meant limiting contact with my other family members who’d loved me best they could in those terrible teenage years. I missed my father’s last years staying true to my promise to myself and here I was, here I am, home again. Begging favors. Needing help. Leaning on a momma who long ago put down her belt.

In those last months in Baltimore, I’d lost my mind. I’d taken a job at a rich private school that didn’t pay me enough to afford the rich private preschools they suggested for my daughter. I’d chosen an apartment out of my budget to live closer to the administrator who eventually felt embarrassed, betrayed by my inability to play nice with spoiled students who called her by her first name. Baltimore was a haze of eviction notices, disciplinary meetings, and weed. Copious amounts of smoke settled into the clothes I’d strewn about my apartment as if to illustrate my giving up. My being overwhelmed. My failure to “build community” while grieving my father, learning a new job, raising a child, and getting used to a city whose inhabitants were always wondering how a person could leave a city like Atlanta for a city like Baltimore.

I should never have left Atlanta. It was a city people dream about. I had friends. I had arts. I had access to the resources at my university. I had enough connections to gain meaningful employment. I had depression. And the latter made all the former nearly invisible, shrunk their magnitude like a funhouse mirror, made it seem like the whole city was on fire and Baltimore had the only hydrant. A brain with depleted levels of serotonin does strange things. It makes an ex-girlfriend look like the only person who could ever have loved you, the last person who ever will. It makes the acquaintances she dates without regard to your feelings about it seem like close friends who’d stabbed you in the back. It throws around phrases like “stabbed you in the back” to describe pain that a person with enough serotonin would register at papercut level. Stinging, unfortunate, ignorable.

I felt like I had to leave. The professionals I’ve since seen call it a lack of coping skills. My friends called it short-sighted. Some spiritualist might call it fate. The Buddhist woman who is trying to recruit me calls it self-designed suffering. I call it fucked up.

Every day since my father died has been at least a little fucked up. There is no such thing as a non-fucked up day when you are a Daddy’s girl without a father. The world doesn’t feel safe anymore and to say that is to admit to being crazy, under-medicated, out of touch with reality, too hung up on the past, or “without good insight.”

Baltimore’s was the second welfare office I’d visited. The first was in Atlanta where I’d tried to access Medicaid for my daughter when I decided to continue a pregnancy that all the people who loved me said was ill-timed. There is no good time to be broke and a mother, but that’s another story. The third welfare office I’ve visited is in Louisville, KY, just minutes away from my mother’s house. This office has been the cruelest, causing my pre-existing serotonin deficiency to turn everything gray.

Maybe the property manager was saying that broke mothers need family most. Maybe she lived that reality. Maybe she’d also wanted to leave her birth city, but had thought of her first child as an anchor to a place she didn’t want to be. Maybe she’d been close to eviction without a plan B. Maybe she’d been a piss-poor budgeter with a penchant for shopping at thrift stores. In those Baltimore days, I didn’t even see the inside of a mall, but I spent chunks of change at Goodwill on things that in hindsight, I could have done without. Maybe she saw me in herself or herself in me or maybe she was just being mean. “And don’t ever leave.” A warning. A curse. A thing I obey because what I remember most about my mother’s belt is that stepping out of line is painful. Maybe I live in my hometown because I am still afraid of life’s leather sting.

This is what I know now, serotonin deficiency notwithstanding: I survived the lash once and I can do it again. I am doing it. Mine is the story of a bulldozed first plan, a razed second one, and a fledgling third. Mine is the story of a margin momma sharing the journey as she finds her way home.


Mama Outsider is a series about single motherhood at the margin. It’s about queer parenting that doesn’t fit the gay-married, donor-pregnant perceived norm, race and class, and learning to find love in the dark. 


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Asha French is a writer living in Baltimore, MD. She has been published on Ebony.com, Mutha Magazine, Emory Magazine, and poetrymemoirstory. She is currently working on her first book. Check out more at her website.

Asha has written 6 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. “I survived the lash once and I can do it again.”
    Holy shit, woman.
    Don’t think of this as a place you’re stuck.
    Please,please don’t make your landlady’s credo your curse.
    This is but an intermezzo.
    Even if right now you feel like you have no choice, you will.
    You might choose to stay, though, eventually, for whatever reason.
    I hope it will be love.
    I hope with that comes forgiveness.
    I wouldn’t know.
    The issue with belts in general is not whether they’re still in use, the issue is, that the muscle memory of your soul will not forget their sting.
    I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours.

    • Thanks so much for reading. Things have gotten and will get better and I’m not stuck anymore. This is the bleak start to a series that I hope will show growth and movement through grief. Thank you for reading!

  2. Maybe pride is what keeps us from wanting to go back even if we need help. I hated having to go visit my family and pretend like everything is okay. Hell I still pretend. But I take comfort in knowing that my mom’s door is always open and there is a seat at the table waiting for me.

    I am sorry for the loss of your father too.
    “There is no such thing as a non-fucked up day when you are a Daddy’s girl without a father” This is deep on so many levels.

  3. Wow, that was beautiful. And a lot of this sounds familiar to me.

    Me, I had to pretty much stop dealing my mom almost entirely. She hasn’t physically hit me in a long time, but she’ll still say hurtful things.

    I hope your next plan works. =)

    • Thank you. And I’m sorry that you had to walk a similar path. I hope my next plan works too, but I think I know now (because of this experience) that I can bounce back if it doesn’t. Hopefully without as much hurt this time around.

    • Thank you so much for reading. Things don’t stay this bleak. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to share and process some of this past year here in a safer internet space. Thank you for your feedback!

  4. I’m on my way from my own experience of poverty, welfare, and moving from place to place to hopeful married-and-donor-baby stability, so maybe I won’t identify with parenting at the margin of the queer mainstream once I finally have a baby. Maybe everything will click easily into place and missing meals and panic attacks at night thinking of how I will make it through the month will become a thing of the past.

    But I really appreciate this story as someone who knows the sting of a belt all too well.

    I have just cut my dad out of my life – he thinks he’s being victimized. It has just been too many things, one after the other (the last straw was when he wouldn’t take my sister in after my mom put her in foster care – so I ended up taking her in. His new wife didn’t want the hassle).

    I am not sure if I am making the right decision. He’s a fool who doesn’t understand anything, including me. I don’t know how much to blame him. And I love him desperately and painfully. There is no way that isn’t steeped in horrible pain.

    I am sorry for your loss. There are so many ways to lose a parent. I think mine might be lost no matter what choice I make. Same with my mother – as abusive, but so mentally ill it’s hard to place much blame.

    I am looking forward to learning how you negotiate this and how you negotiate raising a child with this kind of background. I am desperate for some kind of stability after a lifetime of abuse and caring for my parents’ children. How do you keep from doing the same things? From passing that on?

    Good luck to you – really.

    • Thank you for reading and empathizing. I also wish you well and I think that consciousness is our best defense against repeating the cycles that hurt us. It sounds like you’re there. Thank you again.

  5. This was beautiful, thank you. Also coming from an abusive household I managed to escape, and also having confronted poverty with the specter of returning there, I understand that pain. (Albeit without the intersectionalities of race and motherhood.) The validation of hearing others’ stories helps with my own healing, so thank you for sharing.

  6. “A brain with depleted levels of serotonin does strange things. It makes an ex-girlfriend look like the only person who could ever have loved you, the last person who ever will.”

    So much this. Not a parent, but so much of your story resonates with me.

  7. love this, sis. your writing is fierce and so is your story.

    “The professionals I’ve since seen call it a lack of coping skills. My friends called it short-sighted. Some spiritualist might call it fate. The Buddhist woman who is trying to recruit me calls it self-designed suffering. I call it fucked up.”

    I’d like to very humbly whisper that I’d call it a *possible* weed dependence. “But weed is not addictive… It is a natural herb from the earth… It helps relieve stress… It’s not like it’s CRACK or something…” … … …

    Hooooney, as a grateful recovering marijuana addict actively participating in the 12 steps of MA (yes that’s a thing), I realized that f o r m e , I had been kept in the dark about my addiction for years by little comments like the ones above. Shit, I was often the one making the comments.

    MA has changed my life. Google it or hit me up if you are interested. I could be totally off base and I know I have not seen you in years, so I am not “accusing” you of anything, trust. Just wish someone might have pointed the possibility out to me as I saw my life crumbling around me . . .

    Sending love.

  8. Asha, I have been reading back avidly through all your articles. This is such a powerful piece of writing, I love how you capture the nuances and contradictions we have in our feelings towards places and the people in them.

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