We met at Sausalitos, a Mexican restaurant and bar that played La Bamba when she walked in. It was a chilly November evening, my fourth Friday in this city and I was still staying in a hotel room. I should’ve ordered a whisky to warm myself up, but a cold glass of beer sweating on the side is what I had.
My friend Arsene did the honors of handling the intros.
She has become my mother away from home. I call her Mama. She calls me kido. She has stories to tell. This is the beginning of, hopefully, many of those stories.
Over to you, Mama aka Animas.
Anima, according to Google means:
- (in Jungian psychology) the feminine part of a man’s personality.
- the part of the psyche, which is directed inwards, in touch with the subconscious. “persona and anima switch roles and merge in slow, smooth ways”.
Animas, according to my own inner search, is a mix of letters which capture my real name. And since I know myself, I have had a tom boy personality.
I can literally still hear my mum’s voice shouting at me.
“Stop being so naughty. Why can’t you behave like a girl?”
My reaction? I did what I knew best. I ignored any of the elder’s nonsense advice, regardless of how much they chased to catch me by showing me “tough love” or throwing flipflops or whatever they had at me. As they say, you need a village to raise a child. In my case, l think they needed an entire continent. Tough love was shown to me several times daily. It was like having French fries or ice-cream for breakfast, lunch, dinner.
Among my entire dysfunctional family (maternal and paternal side,) I ended being nicknamed “Şeytan” or “Dracul” (Satan, devil, demon, fiend, archenemy, daemon.) I accepted it very proudly until I started seeing, as an adult, a psychotherapist who made me understand that it was not okay for them to give me those names. I was irritated by the way she handled my stories. I always found it funny being called that way. I was “Za One’’ among my family. At each family gathering my parents would tell what craziness I had lately been up to.
I still remember my uncles and aunts nodding their heads with a shattered look in their eyes except for two people, my paternal grandparents. They always laughed about my evil-genius ideas by saying, “She’s just a child, let her enjoy the childhood. None of you were better at her age!” And of course, my Şeytan horns were growing even bigger. In some crazy ways I felt challenged and as a middle child I always wanted to capture their attention and affection even if it was physical or mental abuse.
Am I insane?
After several years of different therapists, surprisingly I am not as crazy as I thought.
Why have I started seeing a therapist? My past has brought a lot of trouble to my future. I was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety disorder (Yuck!), a small part of it was also the tough love shown to me as a child.
No one had the time or the patience to speak to me, to explain things, to make me understand why it was wrong to do certain things and why I should have done things differently. I was always considered this naughty child and my elder brother the angel, always listening to my parents and elders, never in trouble but he was the Devil disguised, always blaming me or the other kids for any trouble caused. I always ended up with a huge collection of flying flipflops.
It was like a virtual game, me being the plane and trying to avoid the crash into the mountains which were the flipflops in good occasions. So, my parents or any family extension tried to impose dictatorship on my behavior. I was doing the opposite. I hated rules, being told to behave like a girl, or told l am not allowed to do certain things. I found it obnoxious. I was a mere child. l could not comprehend why I was not allowed to do some things and no one bothered to explain to me.
Plenty times l wondered what good parenthood is. Is it what we see in movies, parents telling their kids “I love you” by holding them tight? Are you a good parent if you cook their meals and bathe them? Are you a good parent when help your child with their homework because they are struggling to finish? Are you a good parent if you provide for your child and keep them safe? Are you a good parent if you try to cage your child and make them live in your own built bubble? Are you a good parent if you are not using any physical abuse even though you have tried all the possible methods to teach them a lesson? Those are some of the questions which I could never answer to myself no matter how hard l try.
Adulthood, therapy and a vacation spent with my mum having long conversations made me understand and have some awkward answers.
Mum having tears in her eyes:
I never thought you would be this strong independent wonderful woman. Your dad and I always worried about you. We thought you would end up in jail or be killed because you always had an answer for your actions, without thinking about the consequences.
Really? I was just a kid. Mum, l am a grown person now!
As long as I am alive, you are still my daughter and child.
Me (trying to cheer her up):
Are you sure? I always thought l was mistaken at the hospital and in reality, my parents are some filthy rich people who they own oil pipes in the Emirates.
Mum (starts smiling):
Oh, you never stop hoping, do you? You used to use this line to us whenever we were arguing with you or asking you to do some errands.
Yeah, lady like behavior! Haven’t you always told me that l should behave like a girl? Well l was trying to define the easy path for it.
Oh just stop, it is either your way or the highways! I am serious, darling!
Mum (she was getting even more emotional):
I would like to apologize to you. I am deeply sorry that I beat you and constantly punished you. There is not a day that I don’t think about with regret. I am really sorry! I want to tell you that I am proud of you and l love you. I never thought that your father and I would find any comfort in you. We always thought it would be your elder brother. He seemed to be more sensitive and attached to us than you were as a kid or teenager…I am sorry.
Me (tears running over my cheeks worse than Timberlake’s song ‘’cry me a river’’ and looked straight to her eyes as I say a bigger diamond than Elizabeth Taylor’s engagement ring. The Pandora box was open.)
Mum, the damage is done, and I cannot bring back those years. l was not a perfect child either. Yes, I agree the way you treated me was never fair but I honestly don’t know what is fair or what’s normal in this life. I am still trying to figure it out. I have never thought that there would come a day when I would appreciate your punishment style, the beatings or the shoutings. It was your way of dealing with me. You didn’t know how to handle me any better, a part of it was even your age and the circumstance, a different country and no help from anyone, dad taken into the army, you stuck with two toddlers.
l didn’t know or understand why you were doing it to me. But in some odd appreciative ways, now that I am an adult and I live in a “civilized” western country, l am thankful for it. I am thankful that you taught me how to care, how to behave, how to appreciate, how to respect and how to empathize. I love you too mum and you don’t need to apologize. It is in the past. Let it go.
I did what I did because I wanted to prepare you. I wanted you to be a strong woman. Back then women were not as appreciated as they are today. I didn’t want you to end up like me, at the age of 25 with two toddlers. I wanted you to have a backbone, morals, ethics. I did not want you to be ruled by a man or roll your world around a man. I wanted you to be something that I wasn’t. I wanted you to have a successful career because l saw the glimpse and despite the anger you bought in me whenever you upset me, I was amazed by your imagination and what kind of excuses you tried to use to get away with it. Compared to your older brother, no matter how harsh the punishment was, you never stopped. You always had the mindset to brush it off and do worse the next day.
A lot of times I thought you were on a silent suicide mission whenever I saw you climbing trees or reaching the roof of the abandoned building near our house. I could never understand how the hell you managed that when the entire staircase was destroyed.
You were also the golden heart, always taking care of other kids, stealing food from home and feeding them, bringing them home behind our backs, bringing street dogs or cats, washing them and trying to sell them to some neighborhood kids, stealing the stationary that we bought for you and your brother at the beginning of the school year and selling it to your classmates, always coming up with some crazy business ideas.
I remember whenever the landline rang, I would get worried and ask myself if it was your teacher or some parent complaining about you. It was never about your grades. It was always about your behavior. Whenever you were behaving “normal” or quiet, or simply watching cartoons, we knew you were either up to something sneaky or you were sick. Your dad wasn’t around much. I was alone. I was the bad cop, he was the good cop.
You were very stubborn!
Mum, I thought you feel sorry…
Yeah, you’re right. It is in the past. I am just a bit nostalgic!
Do you want me to be that kid again?
NO, don’t push it!
We both started laughing. The dynamic between us was rocky at times. To my friends, I nicknamed her the Dictator, the Tyrant. She behaved like one at times. It took me 38 years to understand that the way she behaved towards me was simply out of love and she didn’t know how to do it better.
A lot of times while I was seeing my therapist, I wondered, if my mum had a better communication with me, would l have been different? I highly doubt.
I dedicate these words to my mental childhood and above all to my mum and to my parents, to whomever made me become who I am today.
My story will continue…