Comforting Words: On Becoming A Woman: Lost Childhood

Monday, October 10, 2005

On Becoming A Woman: Lost Childhood

Today, October 10, 2005, is Thanksgiving Day in Canada and like so many people across the country, I went to Church yesterday to give thanks to the Creator for all things.

As I made my way home, my mind was filled with the beauty of the service, the grace-filled atmosphere in which a Thanksgiving Brunch was served to and by members of the LGBTQ community and other church members who are supportive of that community. Not being a lover of turkey except when Juds, my partner, makes it using her secret jerk recipe, I ate mostly ham and some potato salad.

Driving home, one of the hymns we sang stayed with me for the ten minute journey. It was a fairly new one for me, this hymn, written by Carolyn McDade and entitled "Shadow of Your Wing." The words would carry me through the rest of my less than joy-filled evening. It was one in the afternoon when my cell phone rang and as I flipped it opened I heard a frantic Jamaican accent saying, "Miss Cutie, call me back, emergency, emergency, call me back."

We had not planned on cooking any special Thanksgiving meal this weekend and just as well, as that telephone call changed the course of my Sunday afternoon and much of this day - Monday, October 10, 2005 - Thanksgiving Day.

My mother, someone who many of you have met through my unfolding life story, My Life, My Story, My Gifts, caught herself, by accident, on fire and is now a burn patient at the Kingston Public Hospital in Jamaica.

The extent of her burns is still not yet known to me, as I am awaiting words from a cousin whose face I cannot recall. My dear woman-friend, who I have also written about here, DZ is also on her way to the hospital and is expected to call me before the end of today with a full report.

Here I am sitting at my computer in Edmonton, Canada, thousands of miles and thousands of dollars away from Kingston, praying for Compassion to take me under the shadows of Her wings. Some may wonder why and so I decided to write another installment of my story, hoping that it will be both cathartic for me and will lead me into the sorrow and pain that my mother must be feeling now.

My Words of Comfort this week is entitled "On Becoming a Woman: Lost Childhood" and it follows "Upside Down." Those of you who are new to this blog or those of you who have forgotten details of the story may need to re-read the first part of this story, Naked Before God, and also "The Tender Years," which is part two.

The Sacred Words and Words from the Heart that I chose this week are more for me than you, however, I am sure that many of you have been in this place - where forgiveness and compassion abide - and will therefore relate to these words.

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The obligations for being a member of this community are few. In fact, there is only one – a desire to live authentically. As the host of this Blog and the Comforting Words Community, I willingly open myself to you. I am here to support you as I am able to, whenever and however needed. You may contact me via email or you can join the continuing conversation at the InComfort Discussion Forum. If needs be, I will call you, if you provide a telephone number or you can call me - members have access to my telephone number.

Sacred Words
(By using Sacred Words to describe the quotations that I chose to use in this section, my intention is to share with you words from a variety of sources that are dedicated to Truth and to what is holy in our experiences as human beings.)

From: World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, 684:
"Have benevolence toward all living beings, joy at the sight of the virtuous, compassion and sympathy for the afflicted, and tolerance towards the indolent and ill-behaved." (Jainism. Tattvarthasutra 7.11)

From: The Best of Women's Quotations, Helen Exley, 6:
"My will shall shape my future. Whether I fail or succeed shall be no man's doing but my own. I am the force; I can clear any obstacle before me or I can be lost in the maze. My choice; my responsibility; win or lose, only I hold the key to my destiny." Elaine Maxwell

From: The Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz, 162:
"The truth is like a scalpel because it is painful to open your wounds and uncover all of the lies. The wounds in our emotional body are covered by the denial system, the system of lies we have created to protect these wounds. When we look at our wounds with eyes of truth, we can finally heal these wounds."

Words of Comfort

My world, the world as I had come to know it - turbulent yet full of simple pleasures of sweets, meat loaves and childish pranks with the neighbourhood 'gang' - came to an abrupt end.

Mama recovered the furniture that the bailiff had seized within a few weeks but we lost the house and the home that sheltered and gave me a sense of belonging. Our new house, still rented, was lower down in the same community and far removed, at least to me, from the hub of activity.

Maybe it was by accident but the community had a structure, characterised by the economic status of the families. At the entrance to Pembroke Hall, coming from the main highway, lived mainly lower income families. Driving through the area, the 'higher' up you got, the more prosperous the houses looked. In fact, many Jamaican communities have this feel, with the poorest living at the foot of the hills, while the 'masters', the old moneyed families, perched on top of the peaks. Those of median income lived, you got it, in the middle.

We would move to the lower part of the community, which was actually called "bottom Pembroke Hall," and eventually would move out completely to the neighbouring community, Patrick City. Yes, we lived very close to the entrance of that community also and would reside there for a few years before I left for University in the Ukraine.

In the space of ten or so years I grew up rapidly, from a not-so innocent child to working woman in every sense of the word. Truth be told, childhood was a shortlived experience for me, lasting possibly all of eight years from birth. At least that was my initial impression.

Years later, when I was thirty-something, standing in one of the largest commercial banks in Kingston, I had a flashback as I greeted a man who was part of my very early years. The memory and the image that panned my vision left me stunned as I shook the hands of the man who first molested me.

How old was I when this happened I cannot tell for sure but as he asked me how I was doing and about my mother, the memory of his youthful hands on the most private part of my body was so clear and disgusting that I quickly ended the conversation, ran out of the bank, got into my car and sat in the parking lot and wept.

Too ashamed to tell anyone, I kept this secret to myself for many years. Who would believe me anyway that more than twenty-five years after the fact, I had a flashback and recalled being molested by my babysitter, someone who my mother had trusted to look after me?

Who would believe the other stories I could tell about a life of sexual abuse by older boys, children of my mother's dearest friend, at whose house I had been left to be protected while she went to earn a living? Certainly no one would take my word for it that the father of one of my 'gang' members was having a fun time with me each time we all played hide and seek in their house?

I held these secrets close to my heart, never feeling safe enough to share them with anyone. What would they think of me if they knew that my 'uncle', who had come to live with us after he was injured on farmwork in Canada, was having sexual intercourse with me at almost every opportunity he could get? Of all the secrets I have kept over my lifetime, this may very well be the one that eats into the deepest part of my soul.

Here was a man who had a long history with my mother's side of the family. He was the father of my cousin, a child who my aunt had passed off to be the offspring of another fellow. My mother knew the truth, however, and it was her 'big stick' over her sister's head. I suspect she, my mother, threatened her somehow, as their relationship to this day remains acrimonious.

My aunt was married to a fairly wealthy man and lived just above the median line in Pembroke Hall. We were not really welcomed to visit but my mother would find every reason to go there and would always return home with parcels of food and other goodies she could never afford to purchase after her own marriage and business failed.

When Mr. Mc returned from Canada and needed somewhere to live, Mama was probably the first to offer him a place as not only had he come back with appliances which she could never afford to purchase, but he also had some money. By that time, live and living cash and more to come in compensation, was a commodity that was scarce around our house.

His arrival signalled a new low in our house, as not only did my aunt stop speaking to my mother, my cousin who was also living with us, was coming face to face for the first time with her real father - a surprise for which no one prepared her.

Things hit rock bottom, at least for me, when I realised the relationship between Mr. Mc and Mama had taken another turn. Realising this left me feeling completely lost and so alone. At the tender age of nine or ten, where was I to go or who was I to tell that Mr. Mc had been fondling me whenever I went into his apartment to listen to the stereo system he brought from Canada? Who would dry my tears the first time he had sex with me and told me what would happen if I told anyone?

Something tells me my cousin knew what was going on but she did nothing to stop it. Maybe she felt I was getting just reward for the terrible physical abuse she was suffering at the hands of my mother.

P, my cousin, was no more than a domestic slave in my mother's house. By this time, my mother had 'taken in' five other children of a woman who was escaping domestic violence and needed someone to leave her brood with until she got back on her feet. In all fairness to her, my mother had strong feelings about women being physically abused by men (how ironic) and would always be 'fighting' for her 'sisters'.

However, this generosity of spirit did not extend to P. She had to rise at the crack of dawn, cook a huge pot of boiled dumplings, green bananas and yellow yam with steamed callaloo (spinach), which would be mid-day lunch for all of us. Then she had to wash the breakfast plates and utensils and sweep the entire four bedroom house, including Mr. Mc's apartment before she left for school. My comments about the amount of work she had to do was greeted with a slap across my face once too much, so I soon stopped noticing.

P hated my guts and this grew more intense as Mr. Mc showered me with gifts and attention and she in turn met more abuse from my mother. Recollecting all of this is so painful, yet it is by intentionally going back and facing what I have locked away that has brought me healing.

Growing up an only child had its high's and low's and my relationship with P was the same. There were days, as she combed my hair, making corn rows in the most intricate designs that I felt her love of me. This love quickly turned to hate after she was hit across the face, with a hot metal pot full of Saturday afternoon soup, by my mother.

I tried in every way I could to show P how much I loved her but I am not sure if she ever understood. Once she had a terrible fever, dengue fever I believe and I wrapped my skinny self around her, praying that I would get the fever so that I could stay home with her and comfort her. Of course, my wish did not come true and so, looking back, I surrendered myself to her father's sexual assault thinking that was the least I could do for her.

Telling this piece of my story is one of the hardest things for me, because I cannot understand how my mother would later claim that she never saw what was happening. How could she have not seen me changing from the innocent, long legged child who loved to run the avenues with friends to the quiet, sulking person who locked herself away in a room when home, playing love songs and crying in a pillow for the protection of a father who was now long lost to her?

Did she not wonder when all my 'boyfriends' were men much older than I was, some as much as thirteen years? Her seeming oblivion to, yet condoning of my sexual behaviour was so confusing for me. It actually drove me nuts one summer during a visit to family friends on the North Coast and I was not permitted to go to a date with a sailor twice my age.

Aunt J, as I called her, was not my real aunt. She was my mother's best friend who would host me every summer at her seaside home on the northern coast of Jamaica, close to the world famous Dunns River Falls. This particular summer, I was either thirteen or fourteen and during a window shopping expedition in Ocho Rios, my beautiful 'cousin' J and I met a couple of sailors. We chatted a while with them and they invited us to dinner and dancing that evening, not realising our age.

Imagine my shock when Aunt J said no way under the sun would we be going! I remember bawling my eyes out, thinking what kind of woman she was to deny us this once in a lifetime opportunity of fun. Who knows, maybe I would marry one of these guys and get to leave the dreadful world that I lived in! Obviously, she knew what type of fun these men had in mind for us but to me she was a wicked witch. Furthermore, back in Kingston worse was being done to me in my own house, so "what's the big deal?"

The real sad part is that I could not even tell Aunt J the hell house I was living in and how my own mother had told me, at thirteen, that if I was going to bed a man, I should at least be getting something for it, i.e., money.

Her understanding of womanhood was quite strange to me, as on the one hand she was obviously turning a blind eye to the sexual abuse that was being done to me and the resulting promiscious attitude and behaviour that were becoming a part of my persona. On the other hand, she was preaching the gospel of justice and education for women - go figure! "Two things will get you through this world," she would scream at me, "good manners and a sound education."

This might have been the only piece of advice from my mother that I took seriously as it was the thought of freedom that drove me through high school and later to gain a scholarship to the former U.S.S.R. where I earned a Master of Arts in International Relations. I could still hear her voice as I went back to school a couple years ago in pursuit of a Master's degree in Theological Studies, thankfully though, for me it had a different meaning.

As for the good manners, well that is debatable.

(To be continued)

Words from the Heart

Shadow of Your Wing
by: Carolyn McDade
Stay by me now that I may feel the shadow of your wing,
the shadow of you wing, the shadow of you wing on mine.

Lay down your load that I may feel the freedom of your wing,
the freedom of your wing, the freedom of you wings on mine.

Lay wide your dreams that I may know the boundary of your love,
the boundary of your love, the boundary of your love on mine.

Lay down your guard, that I may know the sorrow that you hold,
the sorrow that you hold, the sorrow that you hold on mine.

Stay by me now, that I may know the joy that lifts your soul,
the joy that lifts your soul, the joy that lifts your sould on mine.

Walk by me now that I may know the measure of your step,
the measure of your step, the measure of you step on mine.

Blessings, until the next post.


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