When I was 9 years old, my father died. We come from a family whose male line rarely live beyond their mid-fifties, and my father like many of his male siblings, passed away at the age of 54.
You can imagine, at the age of 9, what did I know of a father who I could barely remember, and even now, I can still only remember a few things about him. I have memories of visiting him in the hospital from the age of 8. I remember how kind he was when I’d burnt my foot and he comforted me. I remember seeing him for the last time when he asked my mum to bring my brother, who is 2 years older than me, and myself, to see him. He probably felt that he would never see us again, he was very sick at that time, and all I remember was how yellow his skin was, and how sad his smile was, and that we never saw him alive again.
My mother died earlier this year, and her death was more devastating to me than that of my father’s. Why? Because, I knew my Mother, we had aged together. My mother wasn’t perfect; none of us are. She made mistakes; we all do. She was opinionated and selective, just as West indian families are, preferring their male children over their daughters. But that never mattered to me, because she, was my Mother.
Now, as a 9 year old, all of my siblings were older, the only sibling who was closest in age to me, was my brother. We weren’t perfect, and in part I’m not even sure whose fault that was, but at the age of 9, a child; I was abandoned by all my siblings. How, you may ask? Let me tell you.
My brother finished Primary school at the age of 11, I was 9. Yes, there is a 2 year gap between us. We’d spent every summer together; fought, played games, entertained each other. He’d avoid me if he wanted to spend time with his friends, and I didn’t care too much, I was a youngster.
When my father died, my mother, as is the case with Jamaican’s feared Obeah, Ghosts, anything to do with the dead, so her youngest children accompanied her to bed, and she slept in-between us, until my brother refused to share her bed for her comfort, which left me, to accompany her every night. I had a bed of my own, but she needed me, and it didn’t bother me.
from the age of 9, I would come home from school everyday, at 3:30 and let myself in and wait, hours, for someone else to come home. My brother who I’d grown up with, abandoned me in favour of going to my eldest sister’s house because she didn’t live far from the school he went to. He would come home after my mum, on most occasions, and never got in trouble for it, or asked why he didn’t come home and sit with his little sister, who could have burnt down the house, or any number of accidents happen to before an adult came home.
The benefit for me, I became self-suffiencent. I had no one to rely on, therefore, I relied on no one. I learnt to fend for myself, I learnt to cook, because there was no one to cook for me. I became so good at it, that at the age of 14, I would start dinner for the rest of the family, until my mum came and finished it. I felt that I was helping her out, as she had a full time job, and I was home alone, anyway.
Friends? I had none. My mother didn’t like friends and she discouraged me from having them. As a youngster, I thought that she was right, and my best friends were found in the pages of books. My mother was my friend. As stand-offish and prickly as she was, we were friends. She wasn’t the person I could tell my secrets to, but we were company for each other. I had no one else, and didn’t find anything wrong with it.
I was accused of being selfish. And I would ask, How? How can someone accuse a child of selfishness when they were abandoned first? I was forced to be selfish to preserve my sanity, against all the adversity that I faced, all the misunderstanding I felt, all the hurt and alone-ness that was heaped upon me, I ask, how would you have expected a child to deal with that, if not to become introverted and wary of showing feelings that were thrown back I at me, as being too emotional.
I thank the people I grew up around for treating me that way, because I learnt something. Now I have children of my own, I make sure they are never left alone, never abandoned and never grow up to think that no one care s about them or loves them unconditionally and without reserve. I taught them to have goals, have visions and that they had my support regardless of who they are, what they did, do or will ever do. when they are wrong, I tell them. But I will never leave them alone, how I was left.
It’s not fair, and it is even more unfair, to bring the simple sacrifices and protection of a child as a reason for decisions as an adult. But, I learnt something else.
I learnt forgiveness.