Deja vu

I have been in this place before. I am 3 years old, and my mother is telling my weeping older sister “I am leaving and I am never coming back”. I lean against the large double bed, and look downward, not wanting to be in this room. Not wanting to be present in the midst of such raw and violent emotion. Mostly, just wanting to get away from this woman that I feared. The rest of that period blurs, and I am now in the second grade. My father is living in an old house on Esquilmalt Rd- a house built 100 years ago, and jutting onto the edge of a harbour. Tidal mud claims a gumboot belonging to my sister, and we are called home by a housekeeper. My mother does not live with us, and the housekeeper blatantly favors her own children. I remember her screaming at my older sister “when you want my things you can be as nice as pie, but afterwards you say ‘go to hell'”- kind words to say to a child. I see her walking around the bedroom as we are kneeling to say goodnight prayers- searching for a reason to smack one of us for some unknown sin. I am again deliberately an emotional outsider. I am in and out of hospital, for I suffer from the sequalae of grossly mismanaged health issues- things that could have been attended to had my parents been happier. Pure speculation. And now I am being driven with my sisters to a strange new home, by a social worker of all people. I cannot remember saying goodbye to my father. I cannot remember anything except the drive. We are going to live in a “foster home”- and I see my foster mother, tall, with red eyebrows, and a long switch. Despite the severity of her appearance, I feel safe. The year that we spend with these good angels is punctuated by me spending 6 weeks in hospital- I miss my birthday, and only get out at Christmas because my foster mother is a nurse. I remember missing the kind pediatric nurses, the lump in my throat as once again, people that I had become attached to were disappearing. The lump in my throat grows when we leave that home, and is companioned by a deep ache in the pit of my gut as the knife of fear once again finds its home. We return to our parents. I see myself at age 10, being thrown against the wall by an enraged mother. I am not sweeping the floor to her satisfaction, although I am indeed trying. I remember the confusion, the despair, and the wild impulse to jump out the window and run to God knows where. The only thing that holds me back is the embarassing realization that I have wet myself in the terror of the moment. I remember my mother standing in the doorway looking at me and then making me undress and get into the bath with her. I can only speculate that she was looking for bruises. I remember not wanting her to touch me, feeling repulsed at the sight of her naked body, looking away, keeping my back to her. Every emotion frozen except for fear. The landscape changes once again. I come home to the first house my father ever bought, the house that he bought to make my mother happy, and I am 11 years old. It is the cusp of summer vacation, and I come home to see my parents sitting at the kitchen table. My father looks like a November stormcloud…. “Your mother is leaving”. He has just found out that she is having another affair. Although I outwardly protest “you are not getting a divorce are you??”, inwardly I secretly hope that I will never have to see her again. The relationship is just that fractured. The divorce is finalized on December 17th. Sole custody is granted to my father. The journey of single parenthood is a rocky one for him, made easier by his joining an organization that he eventually becomes president of. Through PWP (‘Parents without Partners’) he eventually meets his future second wife. And, being a child with a chronic need to please and win acceptance, I knock myself out trying to earn her approval. I do not understand her need to cloister herself with her own children. I do not understand that her rejection of us is HER problem, and not mine. I forge ahead for the next couple of decades, trying to be worthy of existence. But it is never enough. It is only after many years of falling into the same patterns of grovelling abasement that I realize that loyalties can be horribly misplaced. I will never know until the day my father dies if I have done enough. My need to please, and thus be loved and accepted through performance only deepens. I carry this deeply ingrained modus operandi with me into my everyday interactions. But I also eventually burn out, and the desire to give turns into resentment at it “never being enough”. What makes this cycle all the more horrible is that I see it being played out in MCD’s life. He tries to please, in his own way, and it doesn’t seem to be enough for his wife, or his wife’s family. I see the same downward spiral of discouragement, despair…the same belittlement and erosion through sarcasm. I see his wife lashing out in her own anger and grief- accusing him of having ‘affairs’ that he has never had. Jealous of any longstanding friendships that he has continued to nurture and be fed by emotionally or spiritually. She has expectations of him that, really, only God can fill. No one person can ever make another happy, for happiness must bubble up from within the individual- it is a wellspring brought about by the work of the Holy one inside of us. No one can MAKE you happy. I wonder that if she is jealous of MCD’s friendships, why it wouldn’t inspire her to want to become a better friend to him. I would want her to know that we will not stop loving her. But we do not see love as giving in to her every whim, or buying into a story that we know is NOT true. There is pain, excruciating pain, on all sides. Pain filtered through the lenses of a multitude of differing histories. Yet for me, it is an all too familiar litany. I cannot trust at this point. I cannot just wipe away the accusations leveled at MCD…the rejection of the man of integrity that he is…so that his wife can feel like a justified and comfortable victim. She is not a victim. It is the baby that is the victim- he is being deprived of father, grandparents, uncle and aunts…a whole rich side of his family. In the tearing apart of a family, it is the children who suffer the most. I know. I have been there.

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