Silence. There is a deafening silence as I stand beside you. The silence is loud enough to awaken the hearing impaired. An avalanche of pain is threatening to suck you in to her dreadful realm. There is nothing to say, nothing to do, nothing that will ease your pain.
You were robbed of your childhood. You were robbed of your joy. Give me your hand. I know it can’t be easy. I see the distrust in your eyes. But I really do care. Trust me. I won’t let you down like all the others in your past. I will stay for as long as you need me to. It is you and me against the world.
Come closer. Let me give you a hug. I can feel the blood throbbing through your veins. I can hear you shriek at the top of your lungs till your voice is raspy and horse. But no one hears. I can hear you till you can yell no more. But no one seems to care.
Your face turns blue, your fingers are ice, and your heartbeat is faint. You fall to the ground. The ground feels warm as the sand sifts through your fingers. Where did it all go wrong? Is the lack of love in your life enough to throw someone over the edge?
Your mom is at the center of it all. She is ill. She never chose that for herself. Did she ever try to go for help? Perhaps. Maybe she couldn’t be helped. Does she even know that she isn’t o.k.? Who knows. What was she thinking when she beat you black and blue?
I will never forget the time when she hit you on the head with that old metal mop, over and over. The kids stood around you, crying inwardly, so afraid. You can probably still feel the cold metal jab against your head, the water pour all over your hair and uniform.
I could see the shock in your face, you were astonished at the brutality of it all. It was your fault. You forgot to turn off the water of the bath and it trailed down the hallway. It was an innocent oversight on your part. She didn’t see it that way, or maybe she did. She might have been really overwhelmed and tired at the time. I don’t blame her for what she did. I feel sorry for her that she lost control.
Do you remember when your grandmother bathed you and wanted to know why your entire body was covered in black and blue marks? You were too cowardly to speak up, you wanted to bury the deep dark secret of what a bad child you really were. You craved her respect, so you held on to the truth, and just ignored her.
The basement. That dreadful place. It was where untold horrors took place. Only the walls bore witness of all those inhumane crimes. If walls could cry, the room would be flooded in a river of tears. That was where the routine beatings took place. It was where the demons of your mother’s head prevailed. She wanted to raise you righteously on the path of your ancestors, molding you to fit the system. She did what she thought was best, answering to a higher calling.
If you would misbehave, or as much as look at someone crooked , she would hit you with belts, hairbrushes, hangers or heels. She jumped on you and would ram your head in the wall. She kicked you, spanked and punched you. She would press her mouth against your ear, and yell in case you didn’t hear her loud enough. Her saliva against your earlobe disgusted you so much. How could you forget about those famous pinches and the way she twisted your arms? It was all in the name of g-d. She would preach the way it says in the bible not to spear the rod. And she never did.
About an hour or so of merciless beatings accompanied by endless rantings of all the sins you committed in your short life, came the worst part. She would smugly say, “this was nothing , it’s just the beginning. Wait till you get what you deserve.”
That’s when you really lost it. You couldn’t imagine anything worse. You would plead with her to have mercy, you tried to appeal to her humanity, till you realized it wasn’t there. It did get worse. A whole lot worse. The details are vague, perhaps too painful to remember. You removed yourself emotionally from the room. The pain was too much to bear.
After a while it became too hard to breath. You started wheezing and gasping for air. An ambulance would need to be called. She couldn’t let that happen. It would expose what she had done to all the neighbors and to your father that was working at the time. There would be consequences. It would tarnish her golden image, which she so masterfully worked so hard to create to the world.
So suddenly your tormentor turned in to your savior . She lunged forward and grabbed a wash cup from the sink and filled it with water. She sat you on her lap and helped you gulp down the murky, tasteless water . It wasn’t enough to quell your hysteria. You were still gasping for air. You saw the fear in her eyes and silently gloated. You even faked some of those funny uneven breaths somehow. You were lucky she hadn’t caught on. Roles were now reversed and you had the power to scare her. You cherished that feeling and wanted to hold on to it forever. There is safety in power.
She would rock you in her arms, ever so gently, telling you how much she loved you. That was music to your ears. You never heard her say that. You were never worthy of love. Now you were. You cherished that moment with only you and her. She apologized for hurting you, but she made sure to let you know that you brought this upon yourself. She made you apologize to her and you promised to transform into her golden child.
Soon we moved to a rental with a basement. That dreadful basement. This time it appeared to be more like a dungeon especially built for you. It was used more times than I can say. The house was cramped with little charges roaming around. She had her fair share of mood swings, and when the clouds passed, it was down to the dungeon. It was therapeutic for her. She was able to vent, and throw herself to the ground, in a childish tantrum begging you to behave.
She loved playing on your guilt. She would tell you that you are putting her in the grave, she would tell you to appreciate her because her time on earth might be cut short. She would take your hand and put it on her chest so that you can feel her heart palpitations. She claimed you were making her ill. In hindsight she must have been pregnant at the time, because heart palpitations are common in pregnancy.
She didn’t scare you. You wouldn’t have mourned her death. You actually fantasized about her death over and over, thinking of all the attention that would come your way if she was laid to an eternal sleep. It was a sweet dream. A dream that comforted you at night before you fell asleep.
Then you moved again and graduated the basement era. This time beatings were routinely held in bedrooms. As your mother’s illness got worse, she no longer called for that shrouded layer of secrecy any longer. Her image didn’t matter to her so much anymore. Her condition must have deteriorated, because she was such a proud person and now she was making a spectacle of herself in public. The downside was that the kids were more exposed to what was going on. They were scared that they will be next, and often time they were. Those poor kids.
What was worse than the beatings was the verbal abuse. They gripped your very essence, ripping you of a healthy sense of self. They were just words, but they buzzed in your brain your brain like a beehive, leading an active life.
Bad, lazy, sick, retarded, messy, incompetent, ugly, retarded, ungrateful, chutzpahdik, unhappy, selfish, kvetch, unholy.
She scrawled those words on your forehead for all to see. She made everyone believe them, and worse of all you believed them too. Conversation of your incompetence took place in front of you all the time. Nothing was off limits. Your mom would laugh and joke about you with her sisters all the time. You were her weird child. You were the butt of every joke.
How sad was it that you gave them reason to laugh at you, as if it was your job in life was to provide comedy about yourself. The saddest part is that you still do that all the time. You goad others on to laugh about your incompetence and faulty mechanism.
Then, Dad, there was you. You stood there on the sidelines. You did nothing to intervene on your daughter’s behalf. There was so much you could have done, but you chose not to.
You were no innocent bystander in any way. You echoed her insults. You agreed with her assessment. You egged her on when she spoke about how clumsy her eldest daughter is. You teased her about her housekeeping skills by the seudah every week, humiliating her in front of her siblings. You robbed her of their respect, and then you wondered what went wrong when a grown teenager was beating her younger siblings. To add insult to the injuries, you always took the side of the younger children. It was her against her sibling, her against the world. You were just as guilty in ruining her childhood.
Do you know what I secretly think of you? You were a coward. You couldn’t handle your wife degrading you. Her criticism of you were like daggers to your heart. She knew how to hurt you where you were the most vulnerable. So you took part in her agenda. You let her be the scapegoat. She was the sacrificial lamb.
You remember the time you told her that you like her like a frankfurter? She does. You used the analogy that frank’s are so enticing making you want to eat them, but then they make you burp up the most disgusting taste, making you wish that you hadn’t touched them at all.
You laughed at your dry sense of humor. Your daughter laughed along with you. She was so nonchalant about everything. But it hurt her so much, more than you can imagine. She would always bounce back. Till she didn’t bounce back and become withdrawn and depressed. The life was sucked out of her soul.
Can you remember those days when you wistfully daydreamed about your favorite teacher? You secretly wished she would adopt you. You wanted so much to be loved. You dreamed of that perfect mother. What would she have been like? Would she like you just because? Would she cherish your relationship? Would she be the keeper of your deepest and darkest thoughts? Would she be your anchor in this large and frightening world?
Who knows. You don’t even know what a mother is. You never had one. You were robbed of the person that you needed most in the world. She robbed you of a mother. She stole a tittle that she was undeserving of.
Do you know what hurts her so much today? She is so alone in the world. She has no one to count on. She needs to fend for herself. All her battles are hers alone.
She came over to your house the other day. You called her your silent child because you never hear of her. She didn’t agree with your choice of words, she is your dead child. She isn’t your child anymore. She knows how much you resented having so many children. She isn’t selfish like you. She cares about your needs. She makes herself invisible, to give you the gift of having one less child to care for. But it comes with a price on her part. She has no support system, she is missing out on the solidarity of family. If her husband would choose to leave her, she would be left for dead. He holds so much power over her, because she has no one to turn to.
Hey kid, you would be proud of me today. I am a mom to four young children. I give them all that I ever wanted for you. They are happy kids. They bask in my love and feel protected under my wing. I never hurt their fragile feelings or lay a hand on them. I can promise you that.
Good mothers do exist. We were just not fortunate enough to know that. It is hard to give what you never got, so I find mothering to be a taxing job, that I struggle with. I do my best. I just hope that my best is good enough.
I am still standing besides you. Let’s take a walk and throw some pebbles of hurt away. The pain will fade. Time does heal, but it doesn’t give back what was taken of us. Maybe tomorrow will be a better day.