As a child, I was the target of my mother’s wrath. Verbally, emotionally and physically abused, I was sent to bed without dinner because I wasn’t smiling at the dinner table. No tamales for me. I got the silent treatment, the cold shoulder, the emotional blackmail. On a good day, I was left alone. On a bad day, it was…plain awful. I had no empathy nor support at home. I was bullied at school? “Deal with it, it’s your problem.” I was sexually molested? “Keep quiet, it’s probably your fault anyway.”
I was either “too much” or “not enough.” I seemed to provoke my mother’s demons. She had a few. Was I the constant reminder of my mother’s failed dreams, unmet expectations and ongoing frustrations in their new life in America? My mother’s love was conditional, her mood highly unpredictable. Her temper was volatile. I learned to carefully read my mother’s body language and facial cues. I became a master at tiptoeing around the house. I became silent, I became invisible. I never talked back.
I’m not sure what I was to my father. A burden? An enigma? He never told me he was proud. He never said “I love you.” He was a stranger in his own house. He too had his own demons. It was not his fault if he couldn’t control his drinking.
To my younger brother, I was a bitch, he told me in no uncertain terms. I can’t believe what he called our mother. I avoided him and his tattooed, pot- smoking friends. I stayed away from the house when they gathered to drink and play video games. It was not my crowd.
Things got a bit better when I got a scholarship and went to community college. San Diego was far enough. No one would bother me. I made it to the basketball team. I trained hard, ate healthy, didn’t party. I had a few friends and I met Matt.
The first year, I went back for Easter break but my parents weren’t thrilled to see me. To them, I was an arrogant ingrate, how could I forget my roots? “What roots?” I scoffed. My mother slapped me. “Don’t bother coming back. Ever” she hissed. I drove back to San Diego the same night.
My parents didn’t bother attending my graduation. It was too far, too expensive, and what was the point? I was a disloyal brat. I spoke English only. I was dating an affluent gringo. I was putting on airs. “Who do you think you are?” my mother asked. “Bitch!” said my brother. My father kept silent.
Two years later, I heard about my brother’s accident from a distant cousin. He was drunk driving on the highway. Five other people died in the crash. My mother’s demons went nuts. She drank herself into oblivion. She was abusive to the neighbors, she assaulted the USPS guy. My father called me, I had to come home. They needed me. I listened. I cried, silently. Then I hung up.
There was nothing I could do. Nothing I wanted to do. I was no longer “too much” or “not enough.” I was simply and unequivocally me, with all my strengths and weaknesses. With all my inner scars. The unloved child, the reluctant daughter. The scapegoat, the punching bag.
“Everything ok, honey?” asked Matt. I turned and smiled to my husband.
“Yes, sweetie. I am finally enough.”