The things we remember

I’ve read a lot of posts on FB lately about the same topic – what we choose to remember.

“Do 100 things right, no one says a word, but do ONE thing wrong – and they’ll never forget it”

“No one remembers all the good things you did for them – they only remember the one time when you stuffed up”

My friend Christabel challenged me on this with my memory of growing up and my memories of my family.

I want to say for the record, they did a lot of things right.

I wasn’t locked in a Dungeon or made to sleep outside in a tent, I was included in the family home. I was included in family holidays – they didn’t go overseas without me. I was given pocket money just the same way Jay was. It bothered me that we were given the same amount; considering I actually worked for mine (Jay didn’t have to do anything for his) and was 5 years older…but at least I was included. The family table was always set for four. I wasn’t sent outside like an animal to eat my meals. My parents laughed with me, played with me (sometimes), listened to my somewhat endless talking and remembered that my favourite colour was pink. Dad told both Jay and I bedroom stories when we were small. We’d sit on Jay’s bed – the 3 of us – and make up stories together. I remember them so clearly, I could re-write them myself. When I was being fussy with food and was refusing to eat healthy things, my Dad made up the story of “Mr and Mrs Germ” who got very sick watching TV and eating corn chips and chicken nuggets all day (my favourites). They got very ill indeed and almost died but ‘the Doctor’ asked them to eat one piece of fruit every day and one vegetable and as they did, they started to get better. Their skin turned from grey “to a healthy bright green” and they took up tennis and won a championship. After that, I always tried to eat at least one healthy item on my plate. I love that Dad did that…for me, it seems.

I suffered from epilepsy when I was much younger and my parents would both be with me whenever I ‘came out’ of having a fit. They made me take my tablets, went to every hospital appointment with me and on one occasion when I was in a very bad way indeed, I was flown to Darwin (the nearest city to me) because I almost died. I remember it. I remember feeling very sleepy. Sleep was so heavy on my body it was like a thick, deliciously comfortable coat. I wanted to lean into it’s heaviness and stay forever. My eyes were so heavy. I just wanted to close them. Doctors had told my Dad that if I fell asleep, I’d go into a coma and possibly never wake from it, so Dad talked to me the whole plane flight.

I’d close my eyes and sigh happily – so at ease and so tired and Dad would nudge me “Hey, tell me about your favourite thing today”, “Why do you like ice cream so much?” “If you could have 5 wishes, what would they be?” “What would you do with $100?”…and on and on. I had the feeling I was going to die, you know. I was at peace with it because I just wanted to sleep.

My Dad – in that long plane flight – could have just let me.

Then I wouldn’t be a burden…I would be the little girl who just slipped away. The way someone slips out of a dinner party to quickly use the bathroom.

“Be back soon”

I wonder if it was tempting for him? He had ‘his own son’ (you will never believe how many times I heard those words. How many times they broke my heart, how many times they sharpened me, shaped me, cut me, bruised me) and his wife back at home. How easy it would be to just not try. Or to try less and less and put his hands up in resignation “I did all I could”

No one would ever know any different.

But instead, Dad prodded and poked, tickled and cajoled until we were in hospital. Mom tells me that Dad held me in his arms and ran through hospital corridors, screaming “Help me! Somebody help me!” as if his very life depended on it.

That’s the story I like the best. The one I ask Mom to tell me over and over.

But now I wonder if it was a figment of my imagination and it never really happened. It’s just the dream of a little girl who wanted so much to be loved by her parents.

So yeah, I have happy memories of going camping, summer picnics, going to the beach…all happy, normal memories any kid would have, I guess.

I’m thankful for that.

But underlying it all, was that Jay was better than I was. Jay was wanted, celebrated, missed, needed, cherished and preferred…while even at a young age, I couldn’t mistake the sighing my parents did around me. The exasperation. The forced patience. I was a burden. An added extra.

An inconvenient truth.

There was always a cost to the nice things my parents did for me. So I never felt…safe. I never felt truly included and never felt like I truly belonged. I never felt wanted, needed, loved. Not really. Not ever. Not even when we were sharing a good time – my family and I.

I remember once as a fiery teenager, shouting “I never asked to be born!!!”

and my Dad shouting back in full force “If you had, I would have said NO!”

Maybe that’s my real life – and the ‘memory’ I have of leaning on my Dad’s shoulder on that hospital flight all those years ago and his voice above me – as if he was speaking through a roll of toilet paper “Tell me what your favourite songs are”…was something I just made up.

I read stories based on true events about children who were abused. Children made to drink floor cleaner or bleach, children starved and locked into their rooms until they almost died and were thankfully rescued by Social Services. Children sexually abused, children used as slaves, children beaten and tortured.

So I have nothing to complain about.

And yet, I’m still really, really messed up on the inside.

I can’t accept a compliment from anyone because I think they’re lying.

I can’t trust. Not really. I find it hard to love. I can’t allow someone to be nice to me or do something nice for me without thinking there’s a trap somewhere…that it isn’t real.

I can’t escape life for me as it is right now – and as it stands – my brother is the golden child and I am a heavy, dirty, useless burden.

That’s real. I didn’t imagine that.

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