Something came to my memory. I remembered an August afternoon in 1993 as an 11 year old girl getting hit by a car and the impact that had on me.
I remembered that I went to play at the park with a friend (that my mother had forbid me from being around). As was my usual style I’d had a deep need for company and on this day after school I had gone to the park with this particular friend and we’d been playing with a ball. At some point the ball had rolled down the hill and apparently I chased after it, it had rolled so far that it had reached a really busy road and I had crossed the road, retrieved the ball and on my way back to the park had been hit by a speeding car. The ambulance had been called and the driver had sped off. I don’t remember any of the events which had occurred leading up to the accident nor the accident itself. The last memory I had was going to the park with my friend and enjoying the openness and freedom of being outdoors. The rest of the details were later filled in by the friend I was with. The only thing I remember was waking up to a really bright fluorescent light directly above my head, I then remember feeling extremely cold. At that point I had not even realized that anything was wrong, all I really thought was that I had fallen asleep and was simply now waking from a deep sleep. It hadn’t occurred to me that I had been in an accident and was now in the hospital or that I had severe injuries and had lost consciousness. As far as I was concerned I was simply in the early phase of waking up from being asleep and was just beginning to orientate my senses. Before I could think any further I remember my mother leaning over me as I was lying there looking at the bright light and shouting her head off at me, telling me how she had warned me not to play with that particular friend I was with at the park and how she had to be dragged from work because I had got myself hit by a car and how my little sister had been stuck at crèche with the teacher with no one to pick her up (it was my duty to fetch my sister from crèche and at the time she was around 2 years old).
I remember the first sight of seeing my mother and hearing her screaming shocked me to insistently wanting to jump up at which point my dad showed up and told my mother to cool it and gently pushed my shoulders back down onto the stretcher. It was around then that I realized I was in some kind of pain. I later realized that aside from a concussion and losing consciousness I had suffered a fractured pelvis and broken knee which later required surgery.
I spent many weeks at the hospital recovering from my injuries and I remember vividly the warmth and kindness and nurturing of all the staff at that hospital. It was as though I was on an amazing holiday with sweet, wonderful people around me 24/7 taking care of me, listening to me and making me a priority. Being at the hospital was such a contrast to the life I led at home.
In 1993 as an 11 year old girl my home-life consisted of taking care of my family. My mother was a strict tyrant, a domineering tormentor and uncaring bully who made it her quest to ensure that my childhood was pure hell. I can’t put it more mildly than that. At that time in my life I had no right to being a child. What was expected of me was simple: have no childhood and take care of my mother, father and sister. My life consisted of taking my sister to crèche in the mornings then going to school, coming home after school, cleaning the house, doing the household laundry by hand, cooking dinner, fetching my 2 year old sister from crèche, feeding her, bathing her and waiting for my mother to come home to criticize and punish me for anything that she deemed I hadn’t done or done to her satisfaction. Besides being in the role of maid and servant to my mother she also always laid down strict rules which I was to adhere to. I was not allowed to spend any time with friends, they were not allowed to visit me and I was not allowed to visit them, I was strictly not allowed to participate in any activities or hobbies that I enjoyed because that would take time away from the real important work of mothering my sister and being maid and servant in our house which is all that my mother expected me to be. Of course there were many times I disobeyed and was harshly punished. Aside from her verbal abuse she was also physically violent. I got beatings often and I can remember once getting beaten to the point that I ran out of the flat and spent the night sleeping on the staircase in our apartment building. I must have been no older than 10 years old. I was quite a creative child and enjoyed creating art from discarded materials, like making little baskets by decorating old margarine containers. I remember once using some plastic flowers my mother had thrown away for decorating my bedroom door and looking at how pretty the door looked with all those bright colors. However my handy work was quickly crushed when my mother flew into a fit of rage over something or other and made a point of letting me know how my art was a waste of time. It wasn’t enough that she criticized me as a human being she also criticized anything that I loved, that mattered to me.
After spending a considerable amount of time getting well the moment came when I had recovered enough to be discharged from hospital. I remember the sinking feeling I felt when the nurses and doctors told me their “good news”. From being wheeled around in a wheelchair the nurses started helping me use crutches in preparation for my return home, all I could think was “oh no why do I have to leave? I don’t want to leave, I want to be here with these perfect strangers who are so kind to me”. I knew what was awaiting me at home and I dreaded it down to the fibers of my young being. I did not realize at the time that what I was so drawn to at the hospital was the fact that the grown-ups around me were nurturing me and caring for me like a child needs. It didn’t dawn on me ever that in fact I was a child. All I knew was how great it felt to be in a caring environment and I couldn’t understand why everyone made it seem wonderful that I was getting to go home. I really never understood that. When I eventually did leave the hospital and go home, I had a cast on my leg and getting around using crutches. I can remember my mother leaving me to go to work the next day and me being home alone and deliberately attempting to break my other leg using the crutches in the hopes that I could return back to that pediatrics ward of the hospital. I couldn’t break my other leg of course but the desperation was clear in my actions. Needless to say my mother did not have any compassion for me upon my return home. The fact that I had a cast on my leg and hopping around on crutches extremely irritated her because it made it quite difficult for me to do things around the house. The criticism, the shaming, the verbal abuse came thick and fast. In her eyes I was a liability now and no matter how hard I attempted to appease her and please her by doing things for her that for me were physically very difficult to do it was the same as if I’d done nothing at all. All the warm, caring people of the hospital quickly became a distant memory as if someone had played some sick joke on me. The reality of my life was back in full force, I braced for the impact that came. It was back to status quo.
Even as a grown woman I can’t stress how deeply it hurts me to know that I went through that. So many years later and with all the skills and language to identify that nothing was my fault I can’t help but feel a deep sorrow for that little girl that I was, that was running herself ragged trying to be at a place of peace with her mother but all the while just suffering with no end in sight.
My mother passed away from cancer at age 39 when I was 18 years old. All in all I spent little time with her, her life was short. I struggle with the dynamics of the relationship between her and I because almost all the memories I have of her are so blatantly negative. She instilled in me a deep fear of her and mothered with an iron fist that still sends cold shivers down my spine. It’s also baffling to me to realize that the time my mother had on this earth was so incredibly limited and she chose to spend it being a horrific mother to me. I’m not sad about that fact for myself because I know that was her choice. I am sad about that fact because she missed out on mothering a really good daughter. She missed out on having a good relationship with a good daughter. She chose that for herself. She chose to alienate and mistreat a daughter that had nothing but good intentions and a loving nature who would walk to the ends of the earth for anyone that needed it. Maybe my mother hated herself so much that she had to express it by hating me. I’m just speculating, I don’t know her reasons. What I do know is that life is short and that I cannot waste it creating bad memories with those around me, because that’s all they’ll remember when I am no longer here to make amends.
This incident of the accident is one of many examples of the dysfunction of my childhood inflicted on me by my mother, however I am grateful for buffers that I was fortunate enough to have had. My grandmother is my greatest gratitude because she did the wonderful work of raising me from infancy to age 7. And without her influence, her love and nurture during those critical years I dread to think what I would have become in the hands of my mother. My grandmother taught me the fundamental lesson of unconditional love. I did not ever have to earn my grandmother’s love and might I add she loved me abundantly. Her love was an energy of warmth that immersed me like a thick, warm, cosy blanket on a cold winter’s night. It felt so good and so natural that all was well in the world when I was around my granny. I attribute any goodness in me to her. She taught me how good it felt to be loved and that has always made me want others to have that feeling.
Portia loves swimming. Her ultimate goal is to swim the English Channel. She believes: I’m nothing without adventure. I am curious beyond words and my theme in life is Self-Discovery.
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