When we first decided to launch a magazine, we were very clear on what we would cater. True stories, life stories, inspirational stories… But as I sat down to write my first article, I was overwhelmed to say the least. I didn’t know where to start or how to start. I could find nothing to write about… until that one evening and that long conversation with my mum… I was searching for inspiration everywhere when here it was… right in front of my eyes.
I come from a normal middle-class background. My father was the sole bread winner of the family while my mum, though well-educated, was a stay at home wife. From the outside, anyone who saw us would see a big happy family. But what I choose to disclose now, will probably throw some light on what really happens behind closed doors. To put it simply, our life was similar to Cinderella’s. If Cinderella was turned to her pauper self when the clock struck twelve, our household would become something like a no-man’s land when it struck 9 every night. You see, this was when my father would sit down to have his daily dose of drinks. And this was our cue to quietly withdraw to our rooms. I can still picture the anxious look on my two-year-old brother as he clears away his toys and sits with us, his sisters, in the pretense of playing but actually seeking safety. Yes, my father was an alcoholic. And like most alcoholics, he was violent too. My mother bore the brunt of his anger majority of the days, but we were never far from it. Being the middle child, I took up the role of the protector early on. I could sense his moods and could mostly guess when his fist would come flying. I would try my best to shield everyone from it, including my mother. It was not a role that I happily took on, it was thrust upon me. And all through my childhood, I bore this resentment and anger towards my mother for never taking that step to leave him, for never being courageous enough.
I still remember one night when my father stood screaming at my mom to get out. And she did nothing except just lie there, defeated. She never fought back, never said a word. I did not care at that point that I would have to face his wrath next, but my 16-year-old self, stepped in and screamed at her, ‘Don’t you have any self-respect? Just get up and let’s leave. Why are you still hanging on here like a dog?’ She slowly dragged herself up, her eyes brimming with tears and said in a slow whisper, ‘And where do we go?’ This was the thought that let her stay married to him. She knew she could never go back to her family. She had no one to turn to. Everyone who knew of the abuse treated it as normal. I have even heard my mum nod in agreement when they say, ‘It’s just a few slaps, but he takes care of the family.’ When my sister got a good proposal, the first thing my mother asked me was, ‘Would this proposal have come if I had left your father?’ For many years, I believed that it was all just excuses. I continued to blame her for the way I turned out too. Even after all these years, every raised eyebrow, every pause on a word from someone and I mentally prepare myself for the onslaught of hurtful and angry words. And I think my siblings have done it as well, knowingly or unknowingly we found a scapegoat, someone to blame all our problems on.
As I sat down to talk to my mum last evening, I asked her the question I have asked her many times in the past but never found a satisfactory answer. ‘WHY? Why bear the insult? Why bear the trauma? Why stick on to someone who always said that he was better off without you?’ And her answer was simple, ‘Because of you’. As I looked at her perplexed, she smiled, ‘I could have left your father. I had the option of a government job and I could easily afford all my kids education but trust me when I tell you, your father loved you. All of you… It’s true that it’s much easier to remember the bad than all the good. You forget the days he held on to the handlebars of your bicycle and prayed that you wouldn’t fall while trying to cycle. You forget the day he cried happy tears and stuck a paper note on his forehead saying, ‘My daughter passed with distinction’ when your sister’s 10th results came out. We were embarrassed when he walked out to dinner still wearing that note but for him, that was his silly way of showing love and delight. You forget the day he came home, gently carrying your little brother, wrapped in his hospital blanket. You forget the evenings he spent playing board games with you, shopping for birthday dresses and the many picnics and trips. He was a complicated man. It was probably the circumstances under which he grew up that made him this weird version of Jekyll and Hyde. But of one thing, I am sure, he loved you all. He just didn’t know how to show it. He deserved to be there for you. I couldn’t take that right away from him.’
I sat thinking for a while. Would it have been a better life for us if she had left my father? Would I have been a little less critical, a little less temperamental, a little less of a people pleaser, if so? I honestly, don’t know. All I know is that abuse, be it physical or emotional, leaves a mark that you carry for the rest of your life. But to survive in spite of it all… that is incredible.
I don’t know if what my mum did is right or wrong. It’s right for her, though I have my reservations. She is a woman who has endured a lot to gift her children a safe and secure life. Her reasons helped her to push on and survive, and I am proud of that. And with this conversation, she gifted me something else… the power to seek the good even among the many mistakes.
As I close my eyes and think about my father, a memory long forgotten resurfaces. I see him… his hands on the pink handlebars of my first ever cycle, as he gently instructs me on how to balance it. After many attempts, I finally manage to wobble along. My tongue sticking out in concentration as I take a turn and ride back to where my father is standing, I can see the smile on his face, the proud smile. And after five years of his death, I let go of the weight I have been carrying around all these years… I finally feel a burden lift…