It took me so long to start writing this because I wanted to talk about my past in a way that didn’t sound like a witch hunt. I don’t want it to seem like I blame all my misfortune on my parents and I don’t want to say something my baby sister isn’t ready to hear. So right off the bat, I’d like to disclose that: 1) I can’t share all the details just yet; 2) my parents have not apologized for their bad parenting or anything that’s happened to me as a consequence of it; 3) everything below is factual to me—if something isn’t true but was told to me as if it was, please know that it is not my intention to lie; and 4) if I had to do it again, I would, because running away is the best decision I’ve ever made.
When, Where, Why, How
I left the house I was living in with my mother and half-sister on 11 July 2007 with all my belongings and P2000/$40. It wasn’t enough to pay for rent or food, but I had had enough. I started moving my things to friends’ houses weeks before, starting with books and other objects my mother didn’t really pay attention to. I didn’t plan to leave so soon, but the day before was her birthday and it was the last straw.
The Last Straw
My mother, my sister and my sister’s father were having dinner at a hotel to celebrate my mother’s birthday. She told me they’d pick me up before then so I could join them. While waiting, I decided to bring some of my things to my friend who lived a few streets down. In my flip-flops and thin clothing, I draped several paper bags of books and baubles on my shoulders and arms. The rain poured and the canals overflowed. Floodwater raced quickly past my ankles and took my slipper. I chased after it as I tried to keep the paper bags together. I remember that moment so clearly. In my cheap green slippers, pink shirt and black capris, I looked up at the sky, rain drenching my face, and laughed at how absurdly cinematic this sad moment was.
They said I should take a taxi to the hotel instead since the rain was so bad, as if they didn’t have an SUV at their disposal. The engine of the taxi I took got flooded, so I had to walk the rest of the way. I was drenched and my mother was pissed by the time I got there. She led me to the buffet area in a huff, telling me that I should eat and then leave because they were staying the night.
So I did. I left.
A Long Time Coming
My mother has treated her men better than me for as long as I can remember. So I’m going to pause here and say, if you’re going to treat your kid like shit, don’t have one. Also, buying your kid things does not automatically make you a good parent. You can’t compensate for shitty treatment with stuff in any relationship.
My mother likes to brag that other people did her schoolwork for her. It should come as no surprise that she’s always depended on her lovers for money and never earned any herself. Growing up, my father was never around. When he was, my mother would tell me to be quiet and not wake him, or to bring his slippers as he removed his shoes after work. When he left us abruptly when I was 5, she was devastated. No one really told me what happened or where he went; I was simply passed from one female friend/relative to another.
I saw her spend the money we had left on parties, pretty things and a pretty boyfriend. When she was around, she was upset. She broke the figurines I bought her everyday with my lunch money. She fought with everyone. One day, she found cuts on my stomach as she gave me a bath. She left me with a friend whose daughter gave me a large “tattoo” with the sharp tip of a compass. The tattoo was a child’s drawing of my father.
A House is Not a Home
My mother got pregnant with my sister when I was 11. It turned out, the father had
three four grown kids and hadn’t actually separated from his wife. My mother said she didn’t want to keep my sister then, but she did, which is one of the very few good decisions my mother has made. My sister is the best thing to happen to me in the biological family department, but this story has nothing to do with her, so let’s move on.
My best memories of my mother was when she was single, even if we had no electricity or water and had to shit in newspaper. I remember staying up with her in bed until morning once, putting cheese rings on my fingers and talking about everything. This man plucked us from our old life and eventually found us a house where we could start anew. I thought it would be different and I could be part of a family now, but it turned into a Cinderella story and my mother was the evil stepmother.
My mother rarely let me eat with them, so I ate before or after they did. I was given leftovers or something entirely different and definitely not as tasty. I was “discouraged” from using any of the appliances when he was around. I later learned I was safest when I pretended I didn’t exist. In summary, I was a cupboard short of being Harry Potter. For the longest time, I hoped a Hagrid would swoop in and save me, but life rarely turns out like the movies.
I was sexually abused by two of my mother’s love interests on at least four separate occasions. I don’t remember other instances and I don’t want to try. Once was when I was 16 and no one else was home. I told her what happened over text. She arrived a week later and scolded me for not cleaning the house.
A house that isn’t safe is not a home. A mother who doesn’t protect you isn’t a mother.
Home Wasn’t Built in a Day
I still don’t know how I did it. My father stopped sending money before my third year of college so I started designing websites, writing and selling clothes online to get by. Friends always lent me money when they could, and I was never in short supply of love and support from them. I am the home these good people built, and I feel so fucking lucky to be here.
I worked many odd jobs. I saved up for graduate school. I studied abroad on scholarship. I finally have savings. I’ve had many loves and heartbreaks. I still don’t know where I’m going most of the time. In short, I feel like any other 20-something these days—and I am proud of how much I fought to get here.
I continue to overcome my bouts of depression and manage the effects of anxiety and trauma. I often feel like I have but a tenuous hold on sanity, but I am the most self-loving I’ve ever been. I sometimes still feel sad that I never had the privilege of having a loving family and the leg-up a secure life offers, but I created this life and I built this home within me with the dreams I chase, the love of my friends and the compassion of strangers.
Thumbnail photo: Own; taken in Cottbus, Germany 2015