This post was supposed to be called “To Mothers, from an Unloved Daughter” and unfold as a cautionary tale. But I went to see my mom last weekend and had a change of heart about a lot of things.
What can’t be undone
My relationship with my mother has been better in the past years, but nothing will erase the damage of a traumatic childhood brought about not by my father leaving, but by my mother never choosing me.
Until there was nothing left
My father left when I was five but he rarely showed any sort of affection when he was around anyway. He only paid attention to me when asking for massages, teaching me math or pinching my nose so it won’t be so flat. When my father left it was like lights went out and the theater curtains fell, abruptly ending a show that had just started. And I was left alone in the audience while my mother ran away with the circus. No one explained to me where he went, and why he took the light in my mother’s eyes with him.
It was silence then on. I curled up in our balcony at night, calling out to the sky, asking for answers because no one else would give them to me. I wish the adults didn’t underestimate my capacity to understand and to feel. I wish they didn’t underestimate how much I would remember of something I didn’t fully know, but completely felt. He left and my mother disappeared with him. I was all alone.
I was sent to live with one friend after another. My mom was probably reeling from her loss but back then all I knew was that I was right, she left me too. Whenever she was around, she was angry or not paying attention. I remember her sister arguing with her about me. In her rage, my mother broke all the tiny figurines I carefully picked out for her at my school canteen with my lunch money. I lined them up on the headboard of my parents’ bed to show her when she did come back. Look, mom! Look how much I love you. I didn’t buy lunch just to show you, mom. All the remnants of my childhood and capacity for innocent joy broke with each figurine until there was nothing left.
I never got to say goodbye
My mother returned from her long absences but, when she did, she arrived with another man. After my dad left, my mother gave me a shih tzu. This time, a golden retriever came shortly after the man did. What was perhaps a gift to appease was–I should have known–a sign that I was still alone. For years, my dogs became my only consistent source of affection and joy, and it was through them that I stole glimpses of what love must be like.
One day, my mother told me she was pregnant and the man/dad decided we should move to a “better” home. I remember them giving me new things after that. Peace offerings that made me hopeful that maybe I can have a new but normal family this time. I no longer remember the sequence of events but we had to leave that apartment I grew up in in a hurry. I came home from school one day as we were packing up our things and my dogs were no longer there. I never got to say goodbye.
Without my dogs and the home I grew up in, nothing was left of the childhood and the mother I knew. She grew more distant and stopped talking to me almost entirely unless she was yelling, telling me to do things or both. I was “discouraged” from eating at the same time as them. I ate alone and was rarely given the same food as the man. My mother stopped cooking for me the way she used to. I spent my early childhood standing beside the stove, peering into pots of her cooking and watching how flower-shaped hotdogs were made. At 12, the only expression of love left from her stopped and I ate my dinners in dark kitchens after they’d gone to bed.
Into the hands of my abusers
I wish I could tell you how alone and afraid I felt during those years. I was left to figure out how to commute in crime-infested Manila at 12. (Meanwhile, my sister who is turning 16 soon still doesn’t know how to cross the street.) Around that time, my mother left for the province and I was stolen from in school. I had to figure out how to stretch 200 pesos over two weeks to feed myself and get to school and back. Again, no one told me what was happening or helped as I was growing desperately hungry. Little did I know, nothing would feel more desperate than the fear of being delivered into the hands of my abusers by my own mother.
I don’t know the details but around that time my mom told me to meet someone in Manila and hand that person an envelope. I was abducted shortly after that meeting by a group of men and brought to a barely lit park, where I sat shaking quietly in fear for hours. I was returned to my mother later that night. Still, no one explained to me what happened or made an effort to make me feel safe again. Life resumed as normal and I was left to deal with the trauma on my own. That was the first of many incidents, but I never felt safe again.
Two years later, in another part of Metro Manila, I was lying on a thin mat on the floor beside the small dining table while my mother and baby sister was in the(ir) bedroom preparing for bed. My mother was talking to a man I didn’t know on the phone for a couple of nights. One night, he asked to talk to me. My mother handed me the phone even if I had no idea who he was. He said hello, asked me if I was beautiful and if I would touch myself for him.
When I was 15, we moved to a small townhouse that was more fitting for a family. I finally had my own room. In that room, I listened to my sister run down the short hallway to tell me that Shaun the Sheep was on TV. In that room, I had my first kiss. In that room, my mother let a family member sit with me as I was reading Harry Potter. He insisted that I was too short for my age and that leg massages might help make me taller. He took matters into his own hands, including my private parts.
Over the summer less than a year later, I came back from the province ahead of my mother and sister to enroll for my first semester of college. I was alone at home when the same man visited. He said, as if to comfort me, that he won’t leave until I fall asleep. He’s not leaving, he repeated. I knew what was going to happen as I walked into that room. I came in, secretly clutching a pair of scissors and a spray can of deodorant, and wearing several layers of clothing. I don’t want to talk about what happened anymore but you can probably guess. This was a man my mother trusted with her life and her family’s. I texted her what happened in so many vague terms. When she came back from the province, she scolded me for not cleaning the house.
She delivered me into the hands of my abusers and gave them my innocence and capacity to trust. By choosing them over me every time, she also made me feel at fault for all of it.
Wounds and wishes
The worst is over. The worst is over. I have to remind myself everyday.
I ran away two months after I was molested, worked several jobs to crawl through starvation and college, was sexually abused again, had many heartbreaks, saw the world, loved a lot and continue to fight PTSD, anxiety and depression, but I am now at a better place. The wounds have closed but remain painfully tender. I don’t know when that won’t ever be the case. Writing this feels like bursting the sutures open, flooding me anew with anger and pain but also with such clarity on what I wish for the child that I was and for all children, present and future, too.
I wish someone tried to explain things to me and didn’t just leave me to drown in self-pity, doubt and hatred, and stew in confusion and anxiety that my parents never loved me or that I would never be safe again. I wish adults would stop underestimating the capacity of kids to understand, feel and, most of all, remember. I wish my mother wasn’t too proud or ashamed to ask for the help she clearly needed when my dad left. I wish she told me what she felt instead of pretending to be strong. I wish she told me why every time she left me someone new. I wish she had given me attention instead of things. When my mother did talk to me, I wish she had done so without anger. I wish my parents apologized for their mistakes.
I hope they know that any relationship they want with me now will never be. The normalcy between us isn’t forgiveness. It’s just quiet.
I wish unloved children out there know that their parents mistreating them is not their fault and that they are always worthy of good love. I wish my mother never had me, knowing that my father didn’t want children. I wish she didn’t have me just to get him to stay. I wish she had protected me from being molested. I wish she had chosen me at least once. I wish she had at least been there. I wish she had learned to be independent instead of clinging from one man to the next. I wish she had me aborted instead if she wasn’t ready. I wish my sister won’t grow up as damaged as me. I wish people who don’t want or aren’t ready for kids don’t have them.
To present and aspiring parents, I hope you are the type of people to raise loved and emotionally healthy children. Because on many days, I wish I was never born.
And what can be made new
After looking back at my childhood, I realized my bitter memories were never about not having things or comforts. I was never upset about having to live in an apartment without electricity and water with my mother where I studied by candlelight and we had to poop in newspaper like dogs. I never asked for a complete family after my dad left. I just wanted them to talk to me.
My mother loved my sister harder (the way she knew how at least) the moment I left. My sister is very lucky because she has the mother I never had and, though that might sound sad, it’s what saved my relationship with my mother in the end. It took me many years, but I reached a point when I didn’t want the anger anymore. I’m still plenty angry these days, no denying, but I don’t want to bring that into my sister’s life because her parents already have toxic angers of their own.
My relationship with my mother was made new when I stopped expecting her to be my mother and be my friend. Expecting someone to mother you means expecting them to choose you. It comes with a lot of hopes and consequent disappointments. All the disappointment just made me sadder and angrier so I decided to stop. I came into their house fuelled by the idea that this was the friend who birthed me and I am here so we can raise my sister properly together. Being friends has also given me the room to talk to her candidly about parenting and what she didn’t do so well with me that she can do better with my sister. I have also become the person she talks to about problems, the kind she probably needed when she was trying to raise me by herself. This is the best we’ve ever been and I wouldn’t change it for a Mother.
I wrote this post over five days because I found myself ugly crying every two or so paragraphs even though, in many ways, I had moved forward from this all already. It’s obvious that there is still a mother-shaped hole in my heart and I know it will never be filled. It will heal and scab and scar someday, but it will always be there. Growing up unloved and unparented felt like free falling through infinite mother-shaped holes in the universe. I still feel that way all the time. Building the ground beneath my feet myself is my greatest achievement and something I would not swap for a “normal” family relationship anymore. The past weekend, I saw that my mother was trying to do her best with my sister, and that’s enough for me.
This was so difficult to write. Wounds were reopened and a lot of tears were shed so I’ll take a break next week for sure. Haha. Take care everyone. 🙂