I grew up in an asylum. My mother was a cowering, slip of a woman who always spoke in a whisper. I think, I must have been almost ten before I heard her speak properly. She was always afraid. The fear was palpable. We, my brothers and I were raised in fear. My father was the originator of our fears. We never knew what could lead to an explosion. He was quick with his fist…..on my mother, mostly. She always walked with a stoop. I hated him as a child. But as I grew older, my hatred for him extended to her. Her weakness and doleful brown eyes, which were usually surrounded by a bruise; her inability to protect herself and us from him.
I have no memory of being happy as a child. Rather, a feeling of constant despondency.No one ever visited us. We were the outsiders in the community. Our house was located at the end of town. Perhaps he chose the location, so no one could hear our screams.As a teenager, I remember being a loner. I was a good looking kid but sullen,a sullenness mostly misunderstood as arrogance. My father had a thriving business and so we appeared to have all money could buy, our family on the outside looking in, was picturesque.
Eventually, my mother died, a victim of an aneurysm. I was fifteen, the oldest and the only one that did not shed a tear. I spent my days taking care of my brothers, especially Luke, the youngest.
My father cried most days after her passing.He would make to start conversations with me,then stop mid sentence and walk away. He cried for a long time, which I frankly found preposterous because of the abuse she suffered. She always seemed to be trying so hard to get some kind of approval from him and he always responded in cruelty. How they made three children was a mystery. I was never going to be like him, or her I had decided long before her demise. I was never going to let another victimize me.
The days after her passing I barely remember.I felt like I was holding on to a precipice….I would have dreams of climbing a steep hill and then my grip would slip and I would fall into a dark abyss. I would wake up always around midnight, shaking, cold and covered with sweat.My father stopped hitting us. I wondered why. He seemed to slump within himself. He did his bit: made sure we always had clothing, paid our fees, put food on the table but was emotionally and most of the time physically absent…which was fine. My mother was gone, having him lurking around was a reminder he was responsible. My brothers and I seemed to find ourselves in ourselves after Mama passed. They flourished under my tutelage. I tried hard to play both roles. And I guess to a large extent within all the murk and madness, some good had transcended into me. They did well in school and all left home, one after the other. But I stayed behind. Which is laughable because of the three of us, I was the one who hated the house most.My grades were good and I went on to college and became a doctor.
Ministering to the physically broken; listening to their problems; albeit distantly. It was as if I was frozen in time. I had physically grown up but somewhere deep inside, I was stunted. I knew people wondered about me. The lack of interest in the growing female admirers did not help my reputation much. Oh, I dated from time to time. I satisfied my sexual curiosities. In fact, I was sure the stories my conquests shared among their peers contributed to the crowd of fawning female admirers. They found varying reasons to visit the doctor. I did not mind. They paid for my time and I knew right off the bat those who needed a physical exam genuinely from those who just wanted to show off their goods for appraisal.
My only friend was my vocation. I had a social group that claimed me as theirs but beyond our sharing a monthly comradeship, they had no hold over me. I was the epitome of small-town success….yet defective. I knew something was wrong with me. Something was broken and for the life of me, I did not know how to fix it.
I seemed to survive in this limbo of existence. An old girlfriend once said I worked like a dog. She said I spent so much time with my patients; I didn’t have anything left to offer her…..well apart from the few moments of intimacy during the weekends when my partners were on call. It was convenient for me to have a slew of girlfriends anyway, than to have a constant fixture. I was not ready for that kind of commitment. In fact, I didn’t think I was built to offer any kind of emotional succor to the opposite sex. And honestly, women were a tad irritating. With their constant demands for emotional connection; their inability to just enjoy snatches of intimacy without attaching meanings to everything a man does. My recreational bliss playing golf with my erstwhile social group of yuppies in the country club was always interrupted listening to a friend’s marital woes: “I don’t know what’s wrong with Phyllis.She always used to enjoy………now she says I don’t respond to her emotionally. You don’t know how lucky you are”. I hid a smile and made a mental note to tell his wife at our next rendezvous I needed space.
I was seated in my office that day, waiting for my next patient to be called in when I heard a bit of a raucous outside my door, at the reception. I opened the door to see what was going on. She had two little children with her. The youngest must have been about four. A beautiful looking lad, whose face was all grubby from tears and snot. She was an unusually beautiful woman. Her short afro was a dark mass of curly ringlets. A stark contrast to her chocolate complexion. The little boy refused to let his mother leave. She was my next appointment. The older child sat quietly obviously engrossed with the mother’s cell phone, playing a game.
But the youngest refused to let go of her jacket. She looked thoroughly embarrassed. My office assistant continued to insist “Children are not allowed in the consultation room”.
I ushered them in. And with the curl of my lower lip stilled my staff’s protest. The mother thanked me profusely. My office was big enough. I helped settle her children in one corner. I had a supply of coloring books, crayons and candies I kept handy. Experience had taught me children suffered from separation anxieties at times when in unfamiliar environments with their primary care givers.
I asked her routine questions while peering at her history. I tried very hard not to stare…peering at her through my gold rimmed glasses as I routinely typed on my computer. She was of African descent,recently relocated here with her family. I felt my stomach churn when she smiled. I eyed the golden band that circled her left finger. Her eyes sparkled when she mentioned her husband and from time to time looked over to where her children played in the corner.
I washed my hands and did her examination. The professional kicked in and I tried very hard to keep my eyes and ears on the job and not my swollen phallus. My hands were sweaty and my throat was dry.I couldn’t remember when last I felt such a need for another. She said her name was Ameze.
Long after she had left my office and long after I had closed for the day; I declined drinks with my friends and ignored several calls and voice messages left by my current “girlfriend”, I still thought about her. I remembered the way she smiled when she spoke of her husband. For the first time in my life…I wanted that. I wanted someone to make me smile like that. I wanted to have someone hold onto me the way her youngest held on to her. I wanted that light I saw in her eyes. I deliberately avoided her after that. She continued to be a patient in my clinic but I was never her GP.
I started to take a deeper look at my life, my choices and the ache I had in my heart. The ache I tried hard to dull with alcohol and sex. The ache that refused to go away for twenty six long years…after my Mama died. I had tried to cover my pain for so long,I didn’t realize I wore it like a toga. And then the nightmares started again, the same night mares I had when I lost my mother. These time, I would wake up covered in sweat and I would scream out for my Mama. I couldn’t function any more, I couldn’t eat and was loosing weight…..I knew I had to do something. I was after all a practical man. I made an appointment to meet with a colleague whose specialty was psychiatry. After listening to me, he encouraged me to join his grief counseling support group.
For the first time in almost twenty six years I grieved for my mother. I cried and cried till I was hoarse.I grieved for the past, for the boy I was and the boy that was lost. I grieved for the life my mother never had because of her choices. I thought about the pain we experienced through a kaleidoscope of regret. I pulled the stops on hating my father. I realized if I was going to be whole, I had to let go of his throat.
I stopped sleeping with married women and having casual liaisons . I stopped playing golf and started riding a bicycle. I avoided the familiar watering holes and started treating my body with dignity and took time to really get to know my patients.
From time to time, I would see her when she came for appointments….at times with her husband. I saw the gentle way he looked at her. The light in his eyes when she wasn’t looking. Its amazing how meeting a person albeit briefly can change one’s direction, one’s desire to do better, to want more. I found myself after I met her.