The first step to efficiently deal with any situation, good or bad, practical or emotional, pressing or trivial, is to face facts. This is why I write; To say things as they are, I am forced to accept that the situation is more than my perspective of it and to submit my vision to the opinion of strangers, helps me deal with it on a level I otherwise couldn’t.
You probably should stop reading here, I don’t think you’ll enjoy it. You might think it’s attention-seeking whining, overly dramatic, irrelevant, or uninteresting. I can promise you that it won’t mean as much to you as it does to me.
I think it will help me grow as a person to write this down publicly. Bear with me.
I was a difficult child. I was diagnosed with AD/HD after extensive tests, I wet my bed far longer than most kids, and had a lazy eye. I was very difficult to handle and tended to do the opposite of what my parents asked. Today, I still hear echoes of that when my family talks about that time. They won’t say it directly, but as I am slowly beginning to see the bigger picture, it is becoming obvious that my mother had a very difficult time raising me.
My mother loved me though, I know that much. Which is good, because I was the kind of kid only a mother could love. Some of my earliest memories involve her, and if I see them in perspective now, I can imagine I put a lot of stress on my mother.
I remember her crying in the hallway, asking my father why her son had to be like that. I remember her telling me the reason why we didn’t go swimming more often was because I wouldn’t behave. I remember her trying to punish me, bribe me, or get me to help her deal with the practical difficulties of having me around. They all seem like awful memories, but let me state again that even in the worst of them, I don’t remember feeling unloved for a second. There’s plenty of good memories too, mind, though I have to admit, nowadays they don’t feel so great as before.
I developed slowly, slower than my classmates, which I why they failed me in 3rd grade despite above-average grades. Doing the same year twice reinforced the effect of having to study very little because of my natural curiosity, which in turn caused me to hit a wall when the limits of that curiosity were reached and I never learned to give a damn. In 4th and 5th grade, my grades dropped dramatically, putting even more pressure on my mother.
It was a Saturday when they told me my mother was sick. I know that because my father just picked me up from the boy scouts. What is more, I remember his words in the car, to the letter:
“Your mother is sick because of the way you act.”
Two days later, we were dropped off with our next door neighbor while my father went to visit my mother in the hospital. I hadn’t seen her since that Friday, when we had another one of our big arguments about my grades. When he returned, we asked when we would get to see our mother. My father hugged us and said we wouldn’t. I think it was the first day I saw him cry, I remembered that for some reason.
My mother died because of a cerebral hemorrhage and a following stroke, 3 days after we had fought and she ran out on me, 2 days after my father blamed me for her illness.
I don’t know how to describe how it feels for a 10-year old to be in this situation. To be honest, I don’t think I truly recall how it actually felt. The one thing your whole life is pretty much based upon, that you take for granted day in day out, is gone, and things are terrible, and there’s no reason why they would ever get better. The terror begins and you don’t even know how you will survive without your mother.
Our whole family was in pieces. My father was grieving but found the strength to apologize about what he said in the car, and 10 years old, I told him it was okay. It felt like he apologized to a fat person about calling them fat.
With our lives shattered, I now see why my father stepped into the next relationship so soon after. I think it only took a few months, and then I just did not get it, how he could dream to replace our mother so quickly. Veerle was her name, and she had a daughter named Kim. She brought stability in the house, so all things considered, she was pretty welcome in our household a few months later.
We got off fine, but a few things started to choke. Veerle was a pretty bad-ass woman, used to caring for her daughter and no one else. She didn’t have the patience and love my mother had for my behavior, and it quickly turned sour between us. I froze up and stopped communicating, which was my strength before that. I remember tying my shoelaces, ever so slowly, with her screaming down at me, asking if I was being so slow deliberately. I just couldn’t help it, every move was difficult.
This projected onto her relationship with my father. He would often get comments like “Look at your children, what they did now” and before long, it just… cracked. One time, during the last couple days of Veerle and Kim staying with us, my father was driving us somewhere and suddenly started crying, cursing and hitting the steering wheel. And I got that feeling again, that every thing in the world was bad, and things would never be right.
As hard as he tried, my father failed on every level to raise us. I understand now that there is no book anywhere on how to be a good father (and Maynard knows, my father read dozens of books on parenting) and I forgave him long ago, but then I really blamed him for it. In my mind, he was responsible for a lot of the trouble we were in, including the parts that I caused directly.
At the end of his wit, my father sent me to boarding school when I was 15. One year in the “Onze Lieve Vrouwe Presentatie Ledeberg” and two years in EDUGO Oostakker. The first year was probably the worst year of my life.
Before, I had always imagined boarding schools to be vast and terrifying, with mean staff and a sadistic nun leading the place. More like a jail than a place for students, with freedom used as a bargaining chip for children to fall in line. It turned out, I was completely right.
It was a prison. Instead of a good place for children to grow up in, like the school presented itself, it was a warzone between them and us, of getting beaten up by classmates, of destroying things, of being destroyed gradually with every weekend they would keep us locked in there for some trivial thing we did wrong. Anyone who has never been in prison or boarding school, can’t imagine what it’s like to have that fundamental freedom robbed from you so violently.
So I protested, quietly. I wouldn’t be contained, only sporadically did things wrong but did it consistently, regardless of punishment. I would accept that without question and carry on what I was doing.
One of those things was grow my hair long, which was forbidden. My father kind of forgot to make me cut it, because he was free of the burden of raising me, and I wouldn’t listen to the staff. When the nun threatened to cut it while I was asleep, I calmly threatened to cut her the moment she set foot in my room. I remember her face like it was yesterday. Another weekend of detention.
When the school year ended, they threw me out of the school. There were far worse cases than me there, some were regular psychopaths, but at least they would pretend to behave when reprimanded. I never would, and they couldn’t handle it. My father, angry as he was, showed remarkable understanding. We’ve always respected each other much more between people, than between father and son.
Around this time, I was regularly seeing therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I think saw about 5 or 6 in total. I stopped taking the ritalin (relatine here) without anyone knowing because it made me nauseous. As for the shrinks, they could go fuck themselves.
I had my relationship with a girl down the street, and the rest of the world could go to hell. I leaned heavily on her and I’m sure she must have felt it, at times, but she bore with it like a champ. Getting kicked out of Ledeberg though, marked the start of changes that are still ongoing today.
My father got into a new relationship around this time. Again, it started off all sweet but soon it started to show that she hated us as much as we hated her. My father didn’t want to pick sides so an outright war began, this time in our home, while I was, lucky for me, usually elsewhere. My sister took most of it.
I changed boarding schools, to a much more open, livable place. I couldn’t believe they didn’t just own a TV and fucking Playstation, but actually let us play it on a daily basis. After 16 months, we finished Sonic the Hedgehog with no save card. We were ecstatic.
In Ledeberg, writing to my girlfriend was one of my many ways of escaping. During the countless hours in that hall, I think I maybe spent 4 of them studying, and the rest of them writing her. It didn’t take long before my adolescent mind began molding these letters into works of perverse fantasy several pages long. There was a mailbox on the way to school, so she would get her letter, like clockwork, every Thursday.
There wasn’t a mailbox in Oostakker but I would still write to her. The subject changed though, now that my mind had a little more freedom to roam. I began to wonder about the big questions in life: How, and why, why, and why. I wrote books asking questions and seeking the answers. Instead of studying what I was supposed to, I studied my own mind, my perception on reality, and where I could be wrong. And then, I got stuck, on one single issue: The meaning of life.
I was seeing my 6th shrink around that time: A family therapist by the name of Stone. His real name was Eddy but he hated that name so he was nicknamed Stone. Like, an actual rock.
My father had hired him to save what was left of our family, but I couldn’t give a shit. As far as I was concerned, I hardly had a family. This made him different from the others though, because he was less concerned with what I was thinking, and more with what I had to say and ask. In the few weeks that I saw him before he too gave up, he changed my life.
I came to him with my question, which I am sure you will find if you can retrace my “supertheory of supereverything” blog post, and he said a few things that eventually gave me the answer posted there. From that point on, I knew the meaning of life and never had to wonder again, freeing me to explore further worlds of thought and wonder.
But what might be even more important, is what he said when I started talking to him about my mother. Because all of the above, all those years, were colored my the paralyzing guilt that I felt about being responsible for her death.
“Give it a try,” he said. “Try to tell yourself that it’s not your fault. Just try”
Not a stranger to thought experiments by then, I immediately did so, and was flooded by a brand new feeling. It was literally as if a weight fell off my shoulders. It was an experiment I repeated often after that, until the point where I no longer had to think about it and I could finally move on.
I refrain from visiting my mother’s grave, these days. I just don’t know what to tell her. I’m still not sure if I directly or indirectly cause her death, although I promised myself not to live by that question. But would she see that I have changed? Did I even change enough to make a difference? Would she understand my choices, or see my laziness underneath?
Shoulda, woulda, coulda. There’s no point fretting about questions you can’t answer, but they still haunt me. My mother today is little more than a faded memory, but still her presence in my life is huge. I don’t think of her all that often, let alone wonder how she would feel about all this. But that is largely because I avoid the subject altogether- Part of me still fears that while she would love me, she would still disapprove of what I am. I try not to give her any reason to do so, but in all honesty, I doubt this is what she intended me to become.
It’s bad to think of your own life in terms of what is expected of you by others, but it happens to be my heritage. I don’t know any other way to deal with it and it’s such a huge thing, such a dangerous train of thought to be carried away by, that I just leave it at that. Even if I really am guilty of her death, her disappointment then and my failure today, there’s no way of knowing.
I just hope I am not, and move on.
(Thank you Angel for walking me through this)