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Dear Papillon, 

In correspondence, one usually says: ‘it’s always me’ and I had thought of starting this letter that way. But in this case, that deeper things are at stake, you might ask, “Always?”

I read somewhere that the entire skin of our body renews itself in a single month. 12 times a year and 120 times in 10 years. Cellular research shows that, apparently, the body is constantly regenerating itself. Whether it is the skeleton or the organs, for some cells there is a fast turnover, while others regenerate only slightly and slowly over the years.  

And so, no, dear Papillon, how could I be ‘always’ me?  

Of course, with cells it’s easier. It’s more secure. You can see the cells, at least under the microscope. 

Speaking of cells, I wanted to tell you a story. It’s not a love story, I think. Maybe it’s more like a documentary about bees and flowers. Maybe if I had to make an introduction, I would say it’s the story of a tremble. Like the one I was conceived with.  

My mother gave birth to me when she was 30 years old and, with time, I also understood why.  

I don’t know if you know this, but being 30 in the late 1980s meant having a job, a future already taken and well defined, and a road ahead paved with goals to cut. My mother gave birth to me on 9th January 1988 and I did not want to be born, in fact the due date had expired a couple of weeks before, and they had to do a C-section. 

The story inside my house was always told like this: that I didn’t want to be born and that, as proof of this, my mother wore a big scar on her belly. 

But I don’t remember, if I may say so, this obstinacy in not coming into the world, especially since I later discovered that in order to make certain decisions, or not to make them, one must first be born. 

So as I grew up, I thought a bit critically about that, along with a couple of other not very credible stories, like the one about Santa Claus and the one about the little body hanging on the cross that came for us and for our sins. 

My mother perhaps did not want me to come into the world. But how? Your mother? But how can you even think such a thing?!  

And in fact I couldn’t think that. 

Because they’ve been telling you, since you were little and they gave you your first doll, that a mother’s love for a child is the highest and unquestionable form of love, or that your mother would give her life for you. And do you know why? Because you, who struggle to find a way to be you, in reality, are not you. oh no! Too easy. 

You are a piece of your mother and a piece of your father (but more of your mother! Because a mother’s love blablabla). 

But this was a small digression. 

I was saying that, although there was something strange about it, I just couldn’t imagine that my mother could dislike me so much that she didn’t want me in her life. 

Until, as luck would have it, one fine day, when my parents were separating, the story for what it was came out of her mouth, carrying with it a bitter taste of cruelty and relief. 

“If you had not been born, I would never have stayed with your father!” she said in the middle of one of the fierce arguments that always happen between a teenager amid of a mid-life crisis and her daughter. 

So there it is. There I was, in front of her eyes, the figment of what was supposed to be a mother’s love, and at the same time the main reason for her doom to a life of unhappiness with a man she didn’t want, with whom she had perhaps never been in love and from whom she was unable to separate herself. 

But I have to tell you, dear Papillon, that the thing I remember with most surprise was my reaction to that sentence, with such guilt-free anger, even a little gratitude, as if it had cleared the murk from a glass of which I could not see the bottom. 

And perhaps it was that feeling dispensed by such a clingy and contradictory motherly love that made me feel for the first time no longer a daughter, but a person, and my mother, too, just a person, with all her problems and weaknesses, for some reason, until recently I would have forgiven everyone but her. 

And so speaking of cells, all of a sudden, in that quarrel with my mother, genetics had become less important, almost insubstantial. And being her daughter didn’t make me like her. 

Dear Papillon, as I write you this story, for which as usual I struggle to find a moral, I smile because I feel like someone who has escaped great risk. 

Not so much because I think I was lucky, or even good, but because I have the feeling that something inside me has worked. That I function, as a person, not as a battered assemblage of hereditary problems. 

Of course it took a long time to come to this thought.  

I remember arguing incessantly with my mother and suffering and not understanding anything for a long time. But maybe something inside me was moving anyway.  

Cells? Or maybe the thoughts. 

It took me quite a while to write this letter. I’m not sure why, but I’ll try to borrow someone else’s words, maybe they can explain it to me. 

Ilaria Serpi

I want to dedicate a poem to you 

now that I am alive 

and I can see you, I can embrace you. 

You don’t make me fence the light, 

you don’t make me say things that are already defined. 

Sometimes I wonder 

what friendship would be ours 

if you were not my son. 

I write to tell you 

that my love for you is scandalous 

and I want it to be clear to everyone, 

I want it to be said without reticence. 

I give you this my being spread 

and stuck inside a fright 

that does not pass. 

To be near you is a breath of good, 

is something more 

than the fear we have in every heart. 

How can you be so strong 

you who are a tremble’s son? 

Franco Arminio


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Credits by: Sachith-Ravishka-Kodikara