47: It’s MY Life!

47: It’s MY Life!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Time to Thrive

It’s MY Life!

There came a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.

~Anaïs Nin

I’d heard the expression “jaw-dropping” before, but had never experienced it until that day. I could almost feel my chin slam into my chest with shock.

“You’re kidding, right?” I asked my father. “You’re not serious!”

He took another swig of his ever-present weekend beer before replying. His eyes were bleary, his words slurred, but there was no mistaking the stern gravity of his words.

“Do I look like I’m kidding, girl? You can attend school for one more year to get it out of your system, but then you’re taking a secretarial course.”

“But why?” I protested.

I had already been accepted into my second year of CEGEP, our version of pre-university in Quebec, Canada. I hadn’t decided on a major yet, but I was fully counting on many more years of higher education. My father’s pronouncement stunned me.

“You’re going to be married, so you’ll need a job when your husband comes here,” my father announced.

“Comes here?” I asked. “From where?”

He emptied his bottle, slammed it on the kitchen table and jerked his head toward the refrigerator, indicating I was to get him another. Too stunned to move, I could only stare wordlessly.

“Get me a drink,” he hollered, spurring me into action. I scurried to do his bidding, opened a fresh bottle and handed it to him. I watched him take a long swallow. When he was done, he continued to speak.

“It’s almost arranged. I haven’t decided which man yet, but I have four possibilities.”

A sense of dread washed over me as I recalled the many bulging envelopes that had recently been coming in the mail from Poland, Papa’s homeland. Pictures of men about my father’s age whom I didn’t know, but presumed were his cousins or brothers, littered my parents’ nightstand. Now I realized they were prospective husbands. My father was arranging a marriage for me!

It wasn’t a common practice in our small immigrant community, but it did happen. Two daughters of family friends married brothers their parents selected for them. And though they didn’t seem miserable or mistreated, there was a dull hopelessness in their eyes when they became pregnant almost immediately. They lost their zest for life and were no longer the carefree, optimistic girls with whom I’d shared whispered dreams and giggled about teenage crushes at sleepovers. Papa had never indicated he had the same plans for me. I was terrified.

Ours was not a happy home. Laughter seldom rang through it. Though my three older brothers and I were rowdy and boisterous with each other, we were all taught to be compliant and meek around our parents. If we misbehaved, the discipline was swift and painful.

I had always been a “good girl.” I never argued with Mama or Papa or crossed them in any way. I brought home the expected exemplary report cards. I was neither allowed to date nor attend extracurricular school functions, but unbeknownst to my parents, I did have a boyfriend. We had met several weeks earlier and I was already deeply in love with him. The thought of marrying an older stranger repulsed and frightened me, igniting a flame of rebellion inside me.

I realized that my father had stopped talking and was staring at me. “Go to bed now,” he commanded.

I glanced at the clock and saw it was only nine o’clock, but I obeyed. I needed to escape — to hide in my room and absorb everything — and to plan.

I waited until everyone was asleep. When I was sure it was safe, I tiptoed into the kitchen and retrieved several large empty bags from the pantry.

I didn’t have many personal possessions. I crammed all my clothing into an overnight bag I always kept under my bed. The rest of my belongings fit in the three other sacks. When I was done, I pushed everything back under my bed and lay down, fully dressed.

As soon as the sun started to rise, I opened my door and stepped into the hallway with my arms full. I came face to face with my oldest brother, who I knew had overheard the conversation the night before. Our eyes met and he stared at me for a long time, noting the possessions spilling from my arms. Without a word, he tucked a twenty-dollar bill into my pocket.

Just then my father emerged from his room. He immediately grasped the situation and strode toward us. To my utter shock, my brother barred his way, his stance rigidly confrontational, and his expression mutinous.

“Go! Get out,” he told me. “Now!” he added hoarsely, still standing defensively between my father and me.

I looked at Papa one last time before I ran. “It’s MY life,” I shouted at him defiantly for the first time ever as I left.

He couldn’t stop me. I had just turned eighteen two weeks earlier so I was legally considered an adult under Canadian law.

I didn’t go far. I walked two streets over to my best friend’s house and begged her mother to take me in. She agreed, but warned me I couldn’t stay long and that I would have to pay rent. I immediately handed her my brother’s money, leaving myself with only seven dollars to get a job and start my new life.

The next day, I used some of it to take a bus and get my tuition money back from school. Two days later, I had a job waitressing, and shortly after that, my own apartment.

Eventually, I married my boyfriend, and through hard work and determination, we built a good life together — one based on mutual love and respect.

I didn’t see my father again for almost seven years. One December, he sent a message through my brother that he wanted our entire family together again for Christmas. His stern attitude had mellowed over time, and he greeted me with open arms.

Surprisingly, he and my husband became good friends. Papa died twelve years later, but by then we had completely reconciled. He doted on his only grandson and admitted that he was proud of me, voicing his regret for not allowing me to follow my dreams to continue my education. I assured him that, after becoming a parent myself, my priorities had changed. Simply being allowed to make my own choices and mistakes was enough to ensure my happiness. I thrived on the life I was living and felt as successful as if I’d graduated college with a degree.

It took all the courage I had to stand up for my freedom and leave home that day, but by doing so I discovered an inner strength and independence I never knew I possessed. The man who tried to stifle those very characteristics in me inadvertently made them rise to the surface, freeing me to live my life exactly the way I wanted to with no regrets.

~Marya Morin

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