8. Looking Forward, Looking Back

8. Looking Forward, Looking Back

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Looking Forward, Looking Back

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.

~Maria Robinson

Blood dripped from my knees, elbow and face as I limped home whimpering in pain that day. I’d taken a dive and had fallen face down trying to rescue my team at a game of base invasion. I was about eight and to expect sympathy for my injuries was a delusion. In fact, as soon as Mother saw the state I was in, she grabbed me by my hair and shook me like a rag doll. That was just the introduction to the beatings that followed. “How many times do I have to tell you not to run,” she hollered.

Violence was something I was used to as a child. I was raised in a family that saw nothing wrong in physically assaulting kids to put them in line. Child battering was a tried and true system. It was passed on from generation to generation. As far as my family was concerned, no one had been seriously harmed by it. The fact that no one turned out to be a criminal or a junkie in our clan was testimony to its effectiveness. So why stop a disciplinary method that proved to work? Great-grandma beat Grandma and Grandma beat Mother. In our case, since my father died when I was two, Grandma and Auntie gave Mother a hand in raising my sisters and me; that meant two more pairs of hands to beat us.

It was no secret. I remember Grandma always bragged about how well behaved her six children were. And it was because they weren’t spared the rod.

In my generation, there were many ways by which beatings were delivered: by hand, with the handle of a broom, a slipper or a wooden rod. As to what infractions justified a beating, there were no clear-cut rules. Aside from running, I was bashed with a wooden rod for walking barefoot in the house. I also earned it for doing terrible things such as answering back (oh yes, that was on top of the list) or throwing mud on the neighbor’s porch. At times I was bashed for doing something wrong. At other times I was bashed for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Depending on the mood of my punisher (Mother, Grandma or Auntie), I received a blow to any part of my body with any of the above-mentioned instruments — no matter where or with whom I was.

I endured so many beatings in my childhood, my mother wondered if I developed immunity to pain like certain bacteria developed resistance to antibiotics. Eventually, it wasn’t the physical punishment that hurt me the most.

When I was eleven, Mother left to work and never came back except for biennial visits. That shattered my heart beyond repair. I kept her picture under my pillow and cried every night for at least a month. The wound remained open long after the tears dried.

Left to the mercy of Grandma and Auntie, the beatings continued. But it was Auntie’s scathing tongue that wrecked my self-confidence the most. Auntie loved to pick on my appearance for her personal entertainment. She called me names and didn’t miss a chance to make snide remarks. She’d say, “I bet you think you look very pretty wearing those earrings, don’t you?” Or “I can just imagine how you’d look dancing — like watching a corpse haul itself out of its grave and make an eager attempt to wiggle before finally crumbling into pieces.” A resounding witch-like laugh often following her comments to give them an extra bite.

And she knew exactly how to pack a punch. My education meant the world to me. It was my exit route from misery and poverty. At school, I felt confident about what I could achieve. But Auntie didn’t even give me that. She wrung that last drop of hope that kept me going with a constant reminder — “Do you really think you have any chance of going to college? Uh-uh, not with the kind of money your mother sends.”

During those times when everything in life seemed bleak, I took strength in believing that good things would happen to me in the future. I believed that every time a person was wronged, God made sure to make it up to that person one way or another. I clung to that belief like it was my lifesaver in an open sea with no boat in sight.

Many a night, I lay in bed wide awake, staring at the silhouette of a santol tree through our flimsy curtain. Amidst the darkness, the shadows cast on the walls and the whirring of the oscillating electric fan, I ruminated about my grievances: those that I wasn’t allowed to voice to those who treated me unfairly. It was during one of these moments that I realized that Mother, Grandma, Auntie and I all had one thing in common — we were all victims of the same upbringing. Would I be just like them when I had my own children? I vowed to do everything in my power not to. I promised to break the tradition of mistreatment that ran in our family. “My children won’t go through this,” I swore.

Since nothing in the present looked rosy, I looked forward to the future: when I would no longer be poor, no longer be mistreated and no longer be helpless. After I filled my mind with positive thoughts about what would happen, I woke up in the morning ready to face another day.

The day came when the blessing I was waiting for came true. At thirteen, I took a national competitive exam that earned me a scholarship to one of the most prestigious high schools in my country. The scholarship provided for my board and lodging— my ticket out of the house. As for college, it was true that my mother couldn’t afford to send me. It turned out that she didn’t need to spend a dime. I qualified for a scholarship that enabled me to earn a bachelor’s degree from one of the best universities in the nation. After graduation, I landed a sought-after job that opened me to a world of opportunities.

Many years later, mother confided in me how she regretted beating us when we were kids. “If only I knew then what I know now,” she said. I often wondered how my life would have turned out if I had a better childhood. But that doesn’t really matter much, does it? What matters more is that I survived in spite of my childhood and I’m stronger because of it.

Now that I have a child of my own, I struggle to keep the vow I made as a child. Despite my best efforts to be a loving parent, I erupt sometimes and act like all those women who raised me.

Come to think of it, it’s ironic how life pans out. As a child I found inner strength by looking forward to the future. Now as an adult, I’ve learned that the only way I can overcome my struggle is by looking back. It’s only by healing the wounds I sustained as a child that I can become a happier person and a better parent to my child.

~Jacqueline Lauri

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