This has been a difficult part to write. I’ve rewritten this four times now. I’m not sure I truly know how to love myself. I know that I am learning, that I am on that road.
When I speak of my childhood, I gloss over the details. I don’t linger in the telling. And it startles me the effect it has on those that listen, horror and sympathy. Two of the very things I don’t want because it reaffirms how painfully real it was. In many ways, I want to forget. I do so by giving out the highlights which are always the better tails, the less traumatic stories that seem to be the closest to normal.
I was such a quiet child. I remember every home I have ever lived in. I remember each of the eight places I lived before we moved to the house when I was four. I have such vivid dis-joined memories in those early four years, of people and places and food and good times and bad. I saw so much in my early four years to sustain me, at least the difference between the two was so startling it left my first four years on this earth in vivid relief to the monotone colours of the latter years.
And there are spots in my memory which I hit brick walls. Moments, where memory stop and then restart, skipping over minutes and hours of the same day, deleted sections scattered all over that time period leave me wondering what really happened. I remember the fights my parents had. I can still taste the fear and how much I knew all the way down to my bones that I had to hide that same fear. If I showed it at all, it would be turned on me. The happy family facade was one that we all participated in actively. How can things be so happy when the fights began, the yelling and screaming and the slamming of things drowned out even my fast beating heartbeat in my ears?
I have no idea who started the fights nor the whys of them. I react now to screams by out screaming in most cases. The few cases where I have had to not interfere I ended up all the way back into my four-year-old self, curled up rocking with arms around me, quivering in fear. It shook me up. I learned I’ve actively avoided the things that might send me back. I have a tonne of weird quirks like that. Most of the time they seem like innocent quirks but each one has a history of trauma attached to it.
Like why I lie about my favourite colour; I know it’s a lie and yet I refuse to give up that part of me again. Would it be fair to say I was an extremely sensitive child? Perhaps. But I don’t think that’s the case at all. Negative reinforcement, see there I go again speaking in clinical terms, my mom never said anything nice. She either spoke nothing, neutral which was much preferred or she tore it apart. Anything she said that was negative was so much worse that it really should have been. It tore me apart. There was plenty to say wrong, badly, negatively, cuttingly, hurtful, reprimanding, whatever it was it didn’t fit in her ideas of good. And good was avoiding the negative with her. No words were better than the alternative. And oh boy, she had a temper! I learned early and quick to stay off that would set her off. Well, most of the time. Sometimes being a kid was enough to set off that temper too.
I can’t even recall her ever saying that she loved me, or that she was proud of me, or that I did good. I was the constant disappointment struggling to win her love and approval. I was aware of that even then at those tender ages. I also knew she loved me. It showed in her actions. I knew her past, her own childhood had damaged her, hurt her and that was the rock between me an’ my mother’s love. I knew it wasn’t because she didn’t care. It’s just she didn’t know what love looked like. Love was something she had been denied. So I glowed for her, showered her with love, devotion, and pride. I am still proud of my mother. I was way too young to attempt to parent and heal my own mother. I was four. I was seven. I was nine. And when I was eleven, I had to say goodbye to the only parent I ever loved from the bottom of my soul.
It’s frowned on to talk badly about the dead but I need to speak. I’ve spent so many long years painting my mother as a different person for my sisters that I’ve almost forgotten the real woman she was. I have my fair share of childhood scars from her hands as I do my fathers. Those scares are just different and they shaped me in ways I am only beginning to understand.
I don’t blame her for how I’ve turned out. Somehow I’ve gotten a view from above me and her. I knew she did the very best she could even when she felt that she wasn’t. I still look at the bits and pieces of memory of have of stories she told of her past and I shake my head in awe. She was a survivor and didn’t know it. She went through more abuse than me. Of course, she was hyper-critical. That was her habit of showing love and in protecting herself all at once. Of course, she was depressed. She had many emotional issues, a horrible marriage included. Of course, she turned to religion. She felt powerless and turned to the only power that had shown any strength in her life.
I believe she was bipolar and depressed. I don’t recall any manic stages but oh I do the blues. Those were the days walking around and breathing was done with extreme caution. And I still loved her. How could I feel even as a child that she had never had enough love? I think it is so. Even though I don’t blame her for the way I have been moulded, I see now I need to acknowledge her role in it.
I’ve experienced cultural shock several times. At age four from a life of vivid activity and family to a quiet, still and bland home where the green of the grass in the yard is the most vivid colour I can find. Then at age six, religious training begins at home at full speed. I still look back at how programmable people are. She didn’t know it then but she programmed out of me the right and ability to say no and stand up for myself. There was a small part of me that retreated, refusing to give up my right to self-autonomy but was quite helpless under the circumstances. Disagreeing no matter how firmly never empowers a child even if they are correct. And then when I was eleven, my mother died. The shock of my father, of his life, his real beliefs, the rest of the world and television and the world of fiction books. I went from extreme religious fanatic fundamentalism to this strange mix of freedom, abuse, and even worse horror. I broke.
It’s hard for me to know where I fit in. I’ve learned to become chameleon-like when it comes to culture and circumstances. My sisters only got the last part and missed the early shocks that I went thought. I’ve ended up like some foreigner to them even though we all lived and grew up together. That is what happens when I happen to be ten years older than them.
to be continued.