I was emotionally orphaned.
My mum told me that I was a very fussy baby who’d cry nonstop. So she made sure I was fed and clean – physically cared for – and just leave me be when I cry ‘for no apparent reason’. I believe we are all born with fully formed souls and personalities and we spend life learning to accept ourselves. I think that first year when my body was cared for but my mind ignored, something within me broke. Shattered to smithereens. Because when I turned one, I changed drastically. I became reticent and quiet. Still. If I were told to sit down, I’d sit there for hours until told to get up. That’s not normal for a one year old is it? I don’t think so.
My dad was much more compassionate than mum. He was a doting father who wouldn’t let me cry. He observed my every move to try to decipher my language. He even kept a shorthand notebook for my baby babble and he’d be my translator of sorts. They really tried, my parents. I was a very sensitive and old soul and they had to improvise because I wasn’t like normal infants. I was even scared of the dark! I was merely a couple of months and I’d freak if the lights were turned off. 😀
I was 1 year and 8 months when my twin brothers were born. It threw everyone off course, because they were unplanned. Not only that, but mum almost died giving birth via c-section. She spent the first 6 months or so in and out of hospital. My dad had to work. We lived in a small southern town of Sweden where we didn’t have any relatives to help out. It was hard. I think the sudden change of dynamics where I was pushed off the only child seat and relegated to the background in the face of the clamour and mum’s illness, affected me very deeply.
One day I blurted out something that couldn’t have belonged to my mind and be spoken by my tongue. I wasn’t even 2 years yet, when I addressed my parents and a family friend who were in our midst;
‘ hooyo mid, aabe mid, aniga baabah’. Which is Somali for ‘ mum one, dad one, me nothing ‘, pointing out that my parents’ hands were occupied with both my infant twin brothers and I was left alone.
Heart wrenching and mind-boggling as it was, the family friend was utterly devastated and scooped me up immediately, sobbing at my words that I was too young for.
My mum tried to give me my time of day despite the unrelenting circumstances. She got me this little stool and tiny table where she’d draw one letter at a time for me to copy and doodle.
I was always looking around the corner with anticipation. I thought that if the clamour died down, if the twins stopped crying, that things would go back to normal. That I’d get out of the shadows and be loved once more. I’ve been waiting for over two decades.
I learnt to wait my time,to endure pain, to put aside emotions in favour of others. I learnt that if I was obedient enough and helpful enough, that I’d eventually get noticed.
I started getting bullied when I was around 5 or 6 in school and this lasted for ten years – give or take. Every morning I held onto the false hope that perhaps today I’d receive a decent serving of slack and I eventually learnt to appreciate the intermittent rewards of the absence of bullying. I came to accept bullying as status quo of life and I felt incredibly lucky if I was spared taunt for a moment.
To illustrate, I remember some mean kids that lived in the neighbourhood and would always bully and threaten me when they saw me outside. One day, they approached me and asked if they could borrow my bicycle. It was a new and orange bicycle that I used to cycle around the block. with. I asked if I let them cycle , would they play with me afterwards ? Sure they said. They were gone for an awful amount of time and when they finally came back, they threw the bike at me and laughed at my perplexed facial expression. B-but, aren’t you going to play with me now? They laughed in my face and left.
I relegated myself to the back burner and assigned myself to a life of servitude where I was begging for the right to live my life. As absurd as it sounds, it was all I knew about the world I lived in.
I was in the grips of the jaws of sharks, but I thought if I was still and unflinching that they’d turn into dolphins. I dove in volcanoes thinking that if I waited a bit, my body would get used to the heat. I trusted that the world around me had benevolent intentions and that I had to wait my turn.
I just realized that this isn’t the case. I had very porous boundaries, if any, and anyone could just barge right in and stir up a storm in my heart. I was a shadow, enmeshed with my parents and I had no identity. I did whatever was ok with everyone else and abstained from making waves.
For a couple of years now, I’ve been gradually carving out my own identity but chipping away what’s not me ( which was a huge chunk). I’ve built a nice little fence around myself and though it might not deter people from trespassing, it’s symbolic of the boundaries in the making. I still get upset when someone is angry with me, I still spread myself thin and feel incredibly guilty if I have to say no to people, but that fence reels me in and reminds me that I belong to myself alone. And that fact makes everything alright again.