Mothering the Horrific
By R. J. Joseph
Blinding pain vibrates throughout, snatching the remnants of my breath. Soiled demons tear at my spirit as they claw their beings from deep within my body. I am left a revenant, as they refuse to allow me solace even after their evacuation. They haunt me, expending my soul as they insist I give all. I am never free of them until they have depleted me and gone out to seek other forms of sustenance.
I could be talking about motherhood here…but I’m not. As horrific as pregnancy and childbirth can be, I’d only characterize my children as demons on every other Monday, especially as they’ve grown into teenagers. Instead, I’m really describing my horror writing process. I’ve experienced many parallels between motherhood and my writing life. In fact, the two are now fused and don’t exist as separate entities.
Though I’ve been a lifelong fan of horror, I didn’t always feel comfortable writing horror. Beyond my brief childhood forays into the “dark and stormy night, monsters under the bed” exercises, I put off writing anything horror related of substance. It wasn’t that I didn’t have plenty horrific experiences I could have written about…I’ve lived my whole life in a black, female body. My childhood was marked by very little money and spent with a mother who was borne of goodness and light and a father who apparently alternated his residences between the seventh and ninth levels of darkness—all in the inner city of Houston, no less. There were plenty of terrifying things I could have written about. However, I wasn’t moved to do so until my first pregnancy.
At twenty-one, I became pregnant with my first child. No matter how much information I devoured about pregnancy and the delivery experiences, I never found anything that came close to explaining the nightmares being pregnant delivered into my life. Every pregnancy brought bolder and more invasive demons. I’d always had vivid dreams and nightmares, but pregnancy took the stories to a level I’d not previously achieved. Every fear and insecurity I owned manifested itself in dreams so vivid I would wake up, jolted, heart pounding. Sweating. And often, crying. I spent many a night walking around my house, caressing my swollen belly, struggling to understand what the images were saying.
Would my father really eat my baby? Was I really relegating my little brown babies to lives of racism and sexism and ableism that might kill and discard them as if they were merely nothing? Did I ever really want a partner to help me raise my babies when the only men I had known were terrible and needed to be disposed of? Would I make a deal with discarnate spirits if it meant my disabled baby could walk and talk? How could I continue living if something ever happened to these little beings that I would die for? As tired as I was when my three younger kids were all in diapers at the same time, would I run away from home, and them, even if they were turning to zombies? Since my baby was born dead, had she seen things that most humans didn’t since she had been resuscitated to “undead”?
I had never known terror before I had children I wanted to protect more than anything I ever desired in my life. My nightmares exposed the worst of my fears: that I, a mere mortal, couldn’t possibly ever hope to fight against the multitude of evil people and institutions that threatened my children’s lives at every turn. That fear spurned one of the most overpowering dimensions of my identity: that of mother. I cannot escape the reality that I am a black, female who is also a mother, and these are the dominant influences over my horror writing. Everything I write in the horror realm, whether academic or creative, hinges on my fears and observations as a black, female, mother. Injustices I may have been blind to before revealed themselves as soon as I had little people who depended on me to understand these things.
So I must love, protect and embrace all my spawn—the ones birthed from my body, my inherited children, and my literary offspring.
There is only one way to conquer the insistence of their existence—give them their due. Birth them, and pour my soul into them, giving everything, even that which they will ultimately take by force. I must then exorcise them into the universe, where they will wreak havoc on others, transplanting slivers of my being that will become an infinitesimal part of all.
About R.J. Joseph
R. J. Joseph is a Texas based writer and professor who must exorcise the demons of her imagination so they don’t haunt her being. A life long horror fan and writer of many things, she has recently discovered the joys of writing in the academic arena about two important aspects of of her life: horror and black femininity.
When R. J. isn’t writing, teaching, or reading voraciously, she can usually be found wrangling one of various sprouts or sproutlings from her blended family of 11…along with one husband and two furry babies.