Thursday, January 3, 2008

My Childhood

One of my earliest childhood memories is embedded with the smell of wet cats, the kind of fear that shields you from paralyzing pain and the horror of finding out that you are covered with blood. I must have been about four years old. I slept under a broken window, on a small mattress, laid on the linoleum floor of my mom’s small bedroom, in my oldest aunt’s house. It was an ordinary night and as usual, I laid there, in innocent slumber, happy and unaware of life and its treacherousness. I clearly remember slowly waking up to the sound of two or more cats fighting on the roof, above us. This was a familiar sound that I would grow up to not only love, but also find comfort in. without warning, one of the cats falls through the barely standing shutters, lands on me, rips my shirt and scratches my entire shoulder, exposing my flesh in the process. He was as terrified as I was. Then there were quickly wiped tears, relief from my mother’s embrace and muffled laughter that accompanied my step-in-dad’s futile attempts to get the now furious cat to peacefully surrender. There were 13 of us living in a 4 bedroom house yet, we lived quite comfortably. We weren’t poor or hungry by any standards.My father is over 15 years older than my mother and what she ever saw in him, I cannot understand. I know little of him, because he chose to share little with me. I can barely remember his face because I want to erase him from my memory; I want to hate him into oblivion. Yet all the lies, all the un-kept promises he made, I cannot forget.
My mother is a beautiful. The kind of women others envy for their long hair, smooth skin, graceful ways, pearly smiles, and subtle power over men that makes them deadly. Had she been born in another place, another time, she could have been an Oprah Winfrey, a celebrated news anchor or at least, a flight attendant. But she is African and like most women from poor countries, she had to submit to her father, then her husband.
My parents divorced even before I was old enough to remember them being together. Shortly there after, she met the man whom I’d grow up to know and love as my father. My step-in-dad was always kind and loving towards me. He treated me better than the children my mother bore him. I remember staying up late, as I waited for him to return from work because he never came home empty-handed and the first thing he would always do was to lift me up in his arms and ask about my day. We washed his golden Mercedes on Saturdays and rode around town, on Sundays. He was a great father! He is the one I looked up to. I remember him buying me a doll that was the same height as I was. She was white as snow, had long blonde hair, rosy cheeks, and a permanently happy smile. The only thing we had in common, were the two small dimples on our lower backs. But I loved her; she was my friend, my most prized possession. She made me the envy of the whole neighborhood and everyone wanted to befriend me, just so that they too could play with my domoo toubab. Bliss seemed to have lasted forever. But less than two years later, it suddenly ended.One day, as my mother was hospitalized, my dad came home with a handful of plastic covered suits. With the help of my youngest aunt, he packed a suitcase, hugged me really tight, and gave me a coin. He was so excited, so happy. He left in a yellow and black taxi, the second person to ever leave me. I would be 15 years old before I would ever see him again. Shortly thereafter, my life crumbled.
Life went on as usual with the drama that never fails to arise when married sisters with children share a house, until the day my oldest aunt accepted a job offer that required her to move to another state. I watched as she and her kids packed and left. Soon, we found out that the house was to be rented. The day my mom, aunt, sister, cousin and I landed at my grandparents’ house was the best and worse day of my life. I remember my grandfather, giving us his bedroom and moving into a dilapidated section of the house. One made of rusty aluminum, grim wires and wood that seemed to have given up on rotting any longer. Like most grandparents, mine spoiled me rotten. Each one insisted that I, the newly crowned princess, ate with them, and it was ordered that lunch be cooked, ready and served by 1pm, so that I wouldn’t starve. My grandparents took me everywhere with them. They protected me and always defended me against everyone, including my mom. I could do no wrong. Two years later, my grandfather fell sick and had to be hospitalized. I never saw him again. I was 6 years old, the day my grandfather and protector died. It is then, that I lost my innocence and was forced to keep secrets that weren’t mine...


Anonymous said...

That was beautifully written. Did this all happen in Senegal?

Ibrahim said...

Unbelievable story , gave me a heartache... you are doing the right think by talking about it . It helps a lot , trust me . I'm a man who grew up in Dakar and i was sexually abused by two hired maids who were supposed to take care of me(give me baths , feed me...) when i was about 5 years old.I was a cute little boy. And for years i was embarrassed to talk about it until recently and i'm 31 years old now. So i deeply sympathize with you. Take care.

Sayuri Jane said...

@Jangalekat: Yes, it all happened there.

@Ibrahim: I am so sorry for all you've been through. When boys are sexualled abused by women, society tends to just brush it off. But I know that is as painful to them as it is to girls. Thanks for you honesty and know that you, the victim, have nothing to be embarrassed about.