I received a response to a recent post from a person very dear to me, which commented on how strong I am, and feel the need to respond.
Because, unfortunately, this has become the medium on which we communicate, while he ministers to someone who presents herself as not strong but with whom I have very much in common.
I’m not strong, but I’ve been an actor so I can easily appear to be. Cut me, I bleed; hurt me, I bruise; break my heart, it breaks.
I watched my mother be cut, hurt and bruised by the world, and eventually broken, and I vowed never to have that happen to me. (Apologies to siblings and family, I know we don’t talk about this, but I’m a writer, so that’s what I do.)
I remember coming home at around age 8, and there was an ambulance outside my house loading my mother inside. She had locked the door to the bathroom and slit her wrists in the bathtub. The first responders put my brother (age 10) through the bathroom window to unlock the door – I’ll forgive him anything for that.
The Aunties rallied, as they do, and took us away. I had already seen the bathroom covered in blood, but when they told me my mother was in hospital with flu, I believed it. We were very good at keeping secrets in my family.
Mum came home, life went back to as normal as our life ever was, but her suicide attempts continued. She was an amazing woman who didn’t get that fact. She was also part of the generation that grew up being told being Maori was something to be ashamed of, and she took that on board. Wrong place, wrong time for her – as I travel, I wish she were with me often.
I was teaching a morning business class in Korea when I answered a call from a brother I barely spoke to. “Mum’s passed,” he said. (For the record, I hate that term – what did she pass? Her university exam? Kidney stones?) He was telling me she was dead, at her own hand. I dismissed my class, went home, then went to the United States to stay with a dear friend and not talk for three months (significant, if you know me). I was too angry with my mother to go home for the funeral, others in the family are still angry at me that I didn’t. I also needed to deal with my guilt at the relief I felt that the regular crises were finally over.
Not that something like that is ever truly over as it leaves scars on all those who remain behind.
So, no, I’m not strong. I am stubborn though, and probably brave (defining bravery as being scared of what life might put in your path but forging ahead anyway). I have seen and experienced some of the worst the world can do (I’m not for a moment comparing my experience to the worst the world can do, but I’m also not sharing the worst of my experiences here), I’ve seen it break a wonderful woman, and I vowed at an early age I would not allow it to do that to me.
It won’t. That doesn’t mean I don’t bruise, bleed and hurt. But I will endure.
I’ve also seen and experienced how wonderful the world can be. I never forget that. I only wish I could have shared that with my mother.