A Case of Apathy

Even extreme grief may ultimately vent itself in violence–but more generally takes the form of apathy.

                                                                         ~Joseph Conrad

Being neglected doesn’t seem as destructive to a child as physical abuse. There are no visible scars to hide from prying eyes. But neglect is just as hazardous to the nutriment of a child. At least it was in my case.

My mother was gone, night after night. Sometimes, the loneliness was more than I could bear. I had my brothers. Their warmth and ardor couldn’t possibly have been a replacement for that emotional and psychological attachment that is needed for a child to bond with her parent. There aren’t even photos of my mother holding me. There are photos of us separately, but not together, bonding we should have been. With this thought, I am sad for Baby Me.

There is something you must always remember:  You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. 

                                                                        ~Winne the Pooh  

There were nights that I cried because of the lack of human contact; I choose to discount my brothers’ licking of his hand and wiping it on forehead, one of his tormenting annoyances, as real human contact. I yearned for the arms of my mother to encircle me, to stoke my hair as I fell asleep, to sing me a lullaby. As I grew, I’ve found these yearnings to be more and more infrequent. My prayers were full of, “Please send my mommy home…” Those prayers were rarely answered. It is safe to assume that these prayers have been altered into a different benediction: one that is beseeching for love and compassion for my mother, an unexpected twist of fate.

When she was home, my mother did not seek physical contact with her children. I often tried hugging her, but she didn’t hug back. I attempted to climb onto her lap, but she would cross her legs and push me away. I don’t ever remember her kissing me or my brothers. At night when she was home (without a man) we’d go into her bedroom to talk to her. We weren’t allowed to sit on her bed. If we did, she would make us move, and she would sweep the sheet with her hand, disinfecting the area where our small bodies rested.


Even today my mother has difficulty with human contact. I often times thought that there must be something wrong with me that would compel my mother to push me away. I must have been a dirty little girl, even after I’d taken a bath and felt squeaky clean, if my mother felt obliged to sweep away my germs from her satin sheets. I must have been unworthy of a mother’s care, the way I cared for my baby dolls, if my mother did not want to keep me close to her. I must have been displeasing in her eyes, even though I excelled in school, kept my room immaculately clean, and never complained about her actions or the abuse I endured.

But in retrospect, I would venture to guess that it was my mother who felt dirty, who felt uncleaned, who felt unsanitary. It was my mother who did not feel she was worthy of the affection of her children. Having harbored these feelings of pain and confusion for over forty years, I am apathetic. What a tremendous sense of self-loathing she must have had to not relish in the adulation of her own beloved kith. My heart no longer begs for her affection, but cries for her anguish, as I am certain that it will never leave her as long as she is here on this earth.


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