What is your first ever memory?
Was it happy? (I pray that it was).
I have blurry, far-away memories – as if I’m seeing them underwater and all the sounds and sights are fuzzy and not quite clear enough to be definite…
I think I remember the hut I grew up in – in the Philippines. I think I remember a metal tub I had to sit in and my Mom pouring water over me and laughing as I complained LOUDLY about hating being washed. I think I remember how dirty the streets around us were as I grew up in that village.
I think I remember a thin, straw mat and all of us laying upon that one mat – Aunts, Uncles, cousins; all of us together – on balmy Cebu nights. No blanket. No pillows. Just bronze legs and arms splayed over each other. Snuffles and snores, deep breaths…mingled sweat from toils of the day…I think I remember the comfort of being surrounded in family each night as I fell asleep, tucked closely into my Mom’s body. I think I remember the sound of my Mom’s steady heartbeat. I think so…
For so long, it was Mom and I. The 2 of us against the world.
Then she met and fell in love with an Englishman and 2 became 3.
I think I remember living in a caravan-type thing with my Mom and Dad after we moved to the Northern Territory. I remember there were tiny statues of the 7 dwarves on the TV and I liked to play with them.
But my first clear, vivid memory?
My first ever memory is of my Dad explaining all the benefits to my Mom – of giving me away.
I had woken in the night from a bad dream and tiptoed down the hall to my parent’s room so I could tell them about it, be comforted and hopefully *fingers crossed* get to sleep in their bed. I felt so blessed whenever I got to sleep in my parent’s bed. The monsters couldn’t get me there, sandwiched gratefully between the two people I loved most in the world.
“But we have our own child now” I remember my Dad’s voice coming clearly through the wooden slats of their bedroom door; “Our own son” he repeated.
That dagger to my heart.
Wasn’t I anyone’s?
Did I not too belong to them?
Was I…unwanted? Unwelcome now?
I remember hearing – or at least I think I do – my Mom standing up for me.
At least someone wants to keep me…or do they?
Because my parents – they talked for hours about giving me away. I know because I stood outside their door that night trembling and hoping not to be sent away.
It was a difficult decision to keep me.
Like I was a commodity to be traded. A ‘thing’ to be kept…or disposed of.
Something that required thought and discussion to keep. To put up with.
The two people who should have been naturally predisposed to loving me and wanting me around…were discussing GIVING ME AWAY.
Do you know what that does to a 5-year-old little girl?
I think I discovered stress and anxiety that night.
They are not fun.
Especially not when you are only 5 and don’t have the resources to do anything about it.
I was sooooooo small!
Tears are slipping down my cheeks as I am writing this.
This is so hard.
A wound in my heart that has never healed.
It can’t heal…it gets torn open every birthday when Jay gets 10 gifts where I only ever got one. It gets prodded at whenever Mom and Dad rejoiced over my younger sibling’s every step, every breath, every smile, every word…while simultaneously pushing me away.
I lost my voice the day my brother was brought home from the hospital.
I lost my identity.
I ceased to exist.
Maybe the trade off to keeping me was to highly and aggressively put my younger brother first at all times?
When 3 became 4…my while life changed.
The pain of daily rejection…especially as a little girl who just didn’t understand…that is the first memory I have. That’s what shapes the person I am now.
That wound? That pain? It never went away.
It hurt every ‘family day’ at school when my parents didn’t turn up.
(They proudly went to all of my brother’s school events, though)
It ached deep in my chest when I got awards at school and would stand to accept them and scan hungrily for my Mom or Dad’s face in the audience and always came up empty.
The hole in my heart got bigger every Christmas when I was given a handful of small packages while the whole room was filled with sparkling gifts – all the tags marked “Jason” in my Dad’s familiar scrawl.
“Thank you, Mom” “I love these, Dad” I would say – holding brightly coloured plastic bangles in my hand and wondering if my parents ever even knew me or what I liked; as Jason unwrapped a new bicycle from the factory or screamed in delight at his entire set of He-man action figures complete with castles and ‘battle gear’.
Every time I close my eyes, I hear “I’m disappointed in you” “You could have done a lot better, Janet” “You’ve let us down…again” “Why can’t you be more like your brother?” It’s what I’ve heard my whole life from my parents.
A constant soundtrack of how I’m a complete failure.
So that wound? It festers. It grows. It doesn’t ever heal – but instead affects the rest of me with it’s poison.
Bullies in my life add to the already running track:
“You’re not good enough”
“No one likes you”
“You’re not worth anything”
“You are so pathetic“
“2nd place” takes on a whole new meaning when it’s what you live in your family.
That pain from knowing my own parents debated about keeping me…it makes me strive further, reach higher, do more than expected, stay longer than anyone else, give bigger amounts (whether I can afford to or not)…it makes me fight with everything I have to be heard.
To be seen.
That little girl is in my writing. In every word I blog or share; she is quietly pleading “I am here, too. I matter, too…right?”
That pain makes me doubt my right to exist. That memory makes me timid. It makes me automatically accept blame, gather shame close, ignore compliments but chalk up each and every failure like notches on a prison wall.
It is the mountain I carry.