I grew up with a terrible fear of holidays. No one ever knew what to expect, least of all the children who were pulled in so many different directions. The only happy memories are those spent with my grandparents and aunt. But as the holidays are approaching this year, I can’t help but reflect on those days of my childhood. This usually lulls on a deep state of depression as I muddle through looking for the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The new me doesn’t want to be sucked into the self-pity, but the child in me that still exists wants to have that TV Christmas where everything ends with harmony, even if a pack of dogs ate the turkey and I almost shot my eye out.
Thanksgiving was the worst. In school we spent so much time learning about pilgrims and how they were thankful to God for all their bounty despite the hard times they’ve had. Our teachers made us write letters, lists, draw pictures, glue words of thanks onto cornucopia showcasing of all the things we were thankful for, but my heart seldom felt thankful. Mostly, I felt emptiness and sadness, wishing and waiting, planning for my escape. At school, I just copied what other children wrote and felt a terrible sense of guilt that I often wished my mother dead. I wasn’t at all thankful for that feeling.
Invention, it must be humbly admitted, does not consist in creating out of void but out of chaos.
Every year, we went to my grandparents, and every year chaos ensued. My mother would be upset with her sister because she said she used too much salt in the mashed potatoes. My uncle bragged about their child’s report card, which in turn made my aunt very upset when it was not so good because she was supposed to have the perfect child. Our family was in constant competition to outdo each other in every aspect of life. My mother would yell at us because we spilled out milk, got our clothes dirty, or forgot to wash our hands. My grandfather would go into his bedroom to get away from it all because once the chaos ensued, it only stopped when everyone went their separate ways.
Someone always got angry and stormed out, dragging their hungry children behind them. The victors would gloat and boast over winning that match of the war that continued, and still continues to this day. The fiasco that was supposed to be a day of thanks was a family brawl, and one person whom I loved with all my heart, my granny, ended up crying. She, like me, she desired normalcy and serenity, and lived her entire life with very little of it.
But there came a time when I realized how much worse my life could have been. A girl who was about my age was abducted in my hometown. She was walking to the store with her umbrella by herself, just as I had done many times. A car pulled along side her and a man grabbed her, pulling her into the car as she kicked and screamed. Some kids witnessed it.
Although I often wished that my mother would have given away, I felt safer in my own home; the home of chaos and confusion; the home where I was abused, neglected, molested, and betrayed by my own mother. Yet, I’d rather live in that hell than discover a new one. I spent a great deal of time worrying about this girl as I saw her face on the news every night and heard her crying parents plea for her safe return. I wondered, if that happened to me, how my mother would react. I wondered how long it would take for her to realize I was even gone. It made my existence seemed even more minute that ever.
I started feeling gratitude for my life when I knew that, although it was a very scary place, it was familiar. In the past, I was thankful for the kindness that I was shown from time to time, like when my step-father bought me a bicycle when he was high. He bought it with drug money that he was supposed to give to his suppliers, a detail I discovered much later in life. Another time that I felt grateful was when my mother was too tired to yell at me because I had pushed my brother off the swing. That was a blessing in disguise for me. But even in retrospect, the gratefulness I experienced does not seem genuine for those things.
I recently read a book about Jaycee Lee Dugard and her abduction which led to eighteen years in captivity. Her veracity was inspiring, yet she had endured a chaos unfathomable. Her reliance of spirit made me ashamed of the self-pity I had been wallowing in. In comparing my life with someone in similar or worse situation not only makes me grateful for what I have, it also helps me understand why I do the things I do. I not only learned sincere gratitude from the disappearance of a little girl who was the same age as me, I learned a great deal about empathy. I became thankful to simply be alive, even when I was in the abuse. That poor nameless child, walking to the store with her bright red umbrella, would have gladly changed places with me but never could, for she died at the hand of her abductor and abuser. Even though I suffered, there were times that I lived, and lived well. Those times can not go unrecognized.
The English writer, John Rushkin, once said, “Out of suffering comes the serious mind; out of salvation, the grateful heart; out of endurance, fortitude; out of deliverance, faith.” My resolution comes from my suffering at the hands of people who were supposed to protect me. True gratitude comes with my emancipation. I am free of the bonds of neglect and abuse that tied me to those people. But I am not entirely free of the effects of their actions. The continuity of my metamorphosis has begun, but where does that leave me at this very moment? It leaves me with the gratitude that were it not for the malfeasance that I endured, I would not be who I am today. There are facets of my life in which I am vastly proud. Those attributes were conceived entirely by me and not by my parents. The lengthy process of change is ensuing instead of chaos. And for that I give many thanks.