I try to fill my space and mind with smiles, beautiful things, places and a whole lot of comedy. This a tried and tested, fool proof remedy. It works until someone asks particular questions that lead to answers that are emotionally striking. Of course, I could try to lie, but anyone who knows me for more than five minutes could easily read that my disciplinarian mother had beaten lying out of me by the time I was six. So I’ve become, over the years, avoidant and transparent. Avoidant until I’m asked the correct questions, and then completely transparent. It sucks because ultimately, I’m not a huge fan of my story. I prefer a shallow, spoiled brat, fantasy version. But reality, though probably more entertaining to others than my wishful fantasy of ordinary family and life, is hard to think about, and harder to talk or write about. So I did what I have taught myself to do for the last ten years. Face the fear, the emotions, and write.
HERE AND NOW
I’m 29, the mother of a nine year-old, in the middle of a law program in school and working at a corporate office. What triggered this was a question someonerecently asked me in a kitchenette as I nearly leapt out of my skin at his entrance.
“Why do you jump like that every time I walk in? You must be guilty of something,” he mumbled with a sarcastic, sideways smirk. It was an innocent remark-the kind an aquaintance would make during lunch hour small talk. What do I do when I’m trapped in a situation like this? I hurry, or turn in the other direction and pretend to be busy with something, not to avoid the questioner but the question. Otherwise, I’d have no choice but to mention something about my past that I don’t like to think or talk about.
I never turn my back to the exit in any room, and I’m always aware of where all windows and doors are located. When anyone walks in the room quietly and unannounced I jump. 12 years later, my heart still leaps to my throat when I am startled. 9 years later, I still feel claustrophobic in small enclosures and being in close proximity to people. The word guilty, that sent me into a whirlwind down memory lane. Guilt is an ugly word, especially when it’s felt wrongfully.
My guilt was being born in a Sri Lankan family, as the oldest grandchild and the only granddaughter for nearly two decades. The golden child turned black sheep, and I didn’t choose this path. I have never had anyone use that word towards me, but it reminded me of the thoughts that went through my mind and held me captive after the incident that stole several years of my life.
Guilty was what I felt, when I woke up in pain, with bruises and tears, completely unaware in a grimy, dirty motel at merely 16. Guilty was what I felt when I tried to convince myself that it hadn’t truly happened, and when I shut my mouth and didn’t tell a soul what was done to me. Guilty was what I believed I was when the man who took three years of my life, lied and denied, protested and then continuously abused me everyday. Guilty was written all over me when I tried forcing myself to love someone who I couldn’t bare to look at and tried to accept him as the only possible future left for me. Guilty was what I was taught believe I was for doing absolutely nothing to deserve it.
Guilty is what I felt because I am a Sri Lankan-specifically Tamil- woman, who was brought up sheltered and told that I had to stay pure for the one man I’ll someday marry, while I watched the boys I grew up with and men all around being free to live as they please and do as the please. I was guilty of being born female in the wrong culture. Guilty by birthright.
The one thing that put me on the pedestal, as the princess of the house and the golden child, being the only girl of all my siblings and cousins, was also what deemed me guilty and shunned me out of the family and community when I had a child out of wedlock. Assaulted, abused, taken advantage of, were out of the question. Tainted was a more accurate description. Once priceless, now damaged goods.
As I stood there, slightly shuddering from the impact of the word and how much I hated it, I thought to myself, perhaps it’s time I separated my past from my present and future. Perhaps it’s time to tell it as experiences rather than the story. And so I put the thoughts on paper.
My name is Rose, and this is my story…
To be continued…
R. A. Newton
September 30, 2016.