Or, Forgiveness Part I
The rumor was that the woman my father married used to be a prostitute. “Look her up,” someone apparently said, giving father a note as he prepared to leave my mother at home and fly to New York. “She’ll show you a good time.” Wink, wink.
I couldn’t care less about race, class, or social status. And anyway, I wonder now about the word “prostitute.” If the person speaking English also speaks Yoruba, perhaps they are referring to another meaning. The Yoruba translation for prostitute is ashewo which also means woman with loose morals. Maybe my father’s set just didn’t like her.
My prejudices generally lie around things like pronouncing nuclear NUKE-U-LAR. I also never got over the guy who put his fork and his knife in his mouth at dinner. I probably didn’t look too good myself as my mouth fell open with food in it!
So, with my father’s wife, the real problem for me was the way I was treated. My parents had had serious issues but I always knew I belonged in our home. When father moved his girlfriend in from New York, my life became a daily diet of “How dare you open the fridge without my permission?!” Or, “This house is not big enough for the two of us. One of us is going to have to move out and it’s not going to be me.”
I was nine or ten years old and believed her. I thought I was going to end up on the streets with nobody to care for me. When other children on the playground at school asked who the big, dark man was, I shrugged. But he was the private detective father had hired to prevent me from being kidnapped. My father and mother were fighting to the death for custody of me in the middle of a spectacular divorce. Yet he didn’t protect me from his girlfriend. In fact, he allowed himself to be manipulated into following her lead.
I didn’t know anymore whether I was coming or going. I became like one of those laboratory animals that go insane because they’ve been subjected to random, ongoing electric shocks and can’t figure out any pattern to the pain in order to avoid it. I’d gone from princess to lab rat in an instant.
Most interestingly as I investigate the roots of my current condition, I didn’t go crazy on the outside. I may have been crying my eyes out at home but I kept up appearances elsewhere. My grades slipped from brilliant to very good. Other than the audible gasps in my classroom when the teacher announced that I had come 5th in something – I usually came 1st – nobody said anything. Not to me anyway.
I find that most people with CFS/FMS are mega-type-A overachievers. As a group, our sensitivity and intuitive abilities are high. We often had low self-esteem as children, and tended to seek approval, sometimes from someone who was simply not going to give it.
— Jacob Teitelbaum, M.D. From Fatigued to Fantastic!
In my last year before leaving for boarding school in England at 15, I innocently decided to get confirmed with two friends. I’m still amazed at the maelstrom that ensued. My stepmother convinced my father that it was wrong for me to be confirmed in the denomination of my mother. Then she began taking her children to church and complaining about having to take me to a different church. I didn’t dare say a word when I found myself alone on an empty street waiting for her to pick me up from my long concluded confirmation class. On the Sundays with my mother, I got teased about my new desire. Then my father and stepmother enrolled me in confirmation classes at a different church where I didn’t know anyone. I had never seen father attend a service but my confirmation had become territory for battle.
Eventually, I spoke to my dad alone and pointed out that I had chosen St. Saviour’s because I had friends there. I had little experience of religion and hadn’t known that both my mother and my chosen church were Anglican. Soon, cooler heads prevailed. I got confirmed with my friends, my mother got me a cake, my father and 5-year-old half-sister attended. Looking at the picture perfect celebration, you could never have guessed what had come before.
Next week, Forgiveness Part II. The seeds of emotional healing are planted.