I came into the world less than twelve months after my sister was born.
That is to say, my mother had less than three months to recover before I began to take space in her battered womb. I think I was born with congenital guilt as a result 🙂
It doesn`t take much imagination to conclude that this was not a planned pregnancy. My mother was not a martyr. My father on the other hand, may have been a little too anxious to get back in the saddle. A mistake was made, and I was the result. I have no choice but to admire him for that.. What dark, unknown realm of non-existence would I otherwise occupy if it weren`t for his impatience?
My earliest memory in life is of a faded green sofa with dark wooden legs and windows dressed in white curtains. The wooden legs of the sofa were covered in teeth marks, courtesy of an out-of-control German Shepherd dog we owned for a short time. I also have a memory of the same very large dog knocking me down repeatedly as I played outside in my snowsuit. And, although I don`t remember it, I am told he peed on me once. He was put down shortly thereafter. I was three years old.
Memories become a little clearer at the age of four. My mother left home for several days to give birth to my brother. I recall being sent to stay with the neighbours and not liking it one bit. My sisters were sent elsewhere and we didn`t see each other until my mother returned. Although my father came to visit for a little while each evening, I believe I cried most of the time I was there.
The highlight of my fourth year of life was when I fell straight into a garbage can as I climbed over the railing of our second floor apartment. Thankfully, I was too young to feel humiliated by that experience..
Moving on to age five, I have a splendid and clear recollection of being carried out of the hospital in my father`s arms after having had my tonsils removed. There was a light snow falling and he covered me with his coat to keep me warm. I have never forgotten that moment; it remains clearly etched in my mind. I also remember the intense feeling of comfort and safety that I felt. It is the only time I can remember being in my father`s arms.
Relocating to California at the age of six was traumatic for various reasons. Attending first day of school without a word of English felt like being thrown to the wolves without protection. It was as if I had been transposed onto another planet and was surrounded by aliens, such was the immensity of the language barrier – or the Wall, as I like to call it. I remember feeling exquisitely shy, alone, embarrassed and stupid. Those are heavy-duty feelings for a six-year old, but there they were.
I have a very vivid and unpleasant memory of the teacher digging her long, yellow nails into my skull and screaming something at me from beyond the Wall because I was having difficulty with my math. I burned with humiliation as everyone in the class watched. More than anything that has ever happened to me in my life, that was the one event that sealed the deal for me. It was the beginning of my mute period; a period that, until recently, had lasted all my life. The Wall eventually came down as the language issue was resolved, however, it was quickly replaced by another kind of wall. The kind that separated me from the rest of the world; the one that always kept me on the outside looking in, always out of step, never quite fitting in, and forever wondering why.
My parents eventually hired a tutor to teach us English and I excelled. I tended to read ahead in my homework and as a result, could anticipate the questions and always knew the answers. Despite this, I refused to raise my hand in class. What if I made a mistake? I could never ignore the little voice in my head reminding me that I was not good enough. I sometimes wondered if the voice might be wrong, but it was loud and persistent. It made me believe. On the very rare occasions that I was compelled to raise my hand, I was always surprised by the sound of my own voice. To my ears it sounded weak and uncertain and only added to my insecurity.
Sometime around the age of 11 or 12, I stepped into my mother`s skin and didn`t exit until I was forced to when she died. The connection was complete. When she was happy, I was happy, if she was sad, I felt the weight of it in my soul. When she cried, I cried with her.
Being one in a circle with my mother seemed like a good idea at the time, but the end result was a shaky and undefined Self, mirrored only through her eyes, existing only in her reflection.
But what happens when the mirror breaks and the reflection disappears?
That is the time to open the Gift of Great Loss, the final and greatest gift ever given to me by my mother – the unremitting drive to re-define my Self.