I knew when I was 8 years old and I put my face in the water for the first time.
I had been terrified of water for years, but the instructor taught me to hold my breath, put my face in the water, then turn my head to the side so I could take another breath. It was a revelation, thrilling. We went home and he asked how my lesson went. She told him I was hopeless, I hadn’t even put my whole head under.
I knew when I was 8 and having trouble eating.
She took me to the doctor to “prove there was nothing wrong” with me. The doctor put me straight in hospital to have my tonsils removed the next day. She left me there that night and didn’t return until after the operation. I was shocked and frightened, but she couldn’t stay. She had things to do.
I knew when I was 10 and we were at the movies with their friends.
A woman was shot on screen and fell over the cliff to her death. I burst into tears, shaken by the unexpected violence and cruelty. She snapped at me to sit up and stop being so stupid.
I knew when I was 11 and I asked for an envelope.
She snatched the letter to my penpal right out of my hand and read it. She sobbed and shouted, then showed it to him. He sat it on the dining room table to shame me during meals and threatened to show it to the headmaster. I found that letter when I visited as an adult, she’d kept it through 15 years and two interstate moves – her trophy. In it, amongst talk about pop stars and friends and pets, I had said ‘she’s a bitch, she won’t let me get my ears pierced’.
I knew when I was 12 and her brother was too familiar with me.
I tried not to object because I wanted to be polite. I have no doubt I was being groomed. On the drive home from visiting him, she told me it was clear I loved my uncle more than I loved my father and that she would tell my father this. We continued to visit.
I knew when I was 13 and she spent a whole week not acknowledging my existence.
She looked right through me when we passed in the corridor. She ignored me at meals and would not respond when I spoke to her. I cried and begged but she never responded. After a week he told her it was enough. A decade later I was still asking why, and she was still saying I knew exactly why. I still don’t.
I knew when I was 17 and she thumped me in the back so I fell into the wardrobe.
After years of silently absorbing her physical and emotional battering, something finally snapped. I whirled around and backhanded her, screaming at her to leave me alone. I was taller than her by then. It was the last time she ever hit me.
I knew many other times as well. I knew my mother was not treating me with love and respect. Others told me she was, that what I was experiencing wasn’t happening, that I had misunderstood, that I should try harder to get along.
Later when I was in relationships with others who didn’t treat me with love and respect, I tried harder. I told myself I had misunderstood. And I stayed because I couldn’t trust my own judgment.
But I knew. Deep down we always know, even when we can’t afford to know. Until the time comes when we can’t afford not to know any longer.
John 8:32 says “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” I was taught to bury the truth, sweep it under the rug, pretend it didn’t exist, ignore it.
But I chose otherwise, painful and costly though it was. I saw the truth:
- that I am not responsible for the behaviour of others
- that I was unloved, but not unlovable
- that some people around me had projected their own shadows on to me
- that I am worth so much more than had ever been reflected to me.
And when I let myself know this, I knew I could be free.
Maybe deep down you know too.Share