My story is not a new one, it’s not original. It is the story of many women, through time, in this small place. From my grandmother’s bare floored wattle house, to my mother’s’ modest wooden two bedroom nestled between the coconut trees of Old road and then in my house, modern and picturesque still among the coconut trees, still touched by sweet sea breezes. It’s not a unique story.
I saw my mother give her life to a man, my father. A man who managed to be absent even in his presence. Stoic, unapproachable and rough.
I watched my mother wilt, from vibrancy to defeat. Her eyes grew sunken and sullen, the light of youthful exuberance gone even before she was properly forty. I saw her smile become a rare thing sometimes sliding off her face to be replaced by a look of miserable resignation when she heard heavy construction boots on the gallery in the afternoon, or the pitter patter and laughter of the little feet of his other children. The ones he had charged her with raising. I saw her skin take on a pallid waxy tone as if life itself was sucked from her bones by this ogre, who only spoke to command or criticize.
I never saw softness pass between them. In fact, what little of them in private I gleaned, was heavy breathing, grunting and then sobs punctuated by snoring heard through the thin wooden walls when I was supposed to be asleep. It was the way of things, and so I tried to accept that this was the way for me.
Until that day. The day I heard a stranger’s impassioned moans from my bedroom. Standing in the hallway, gazing into the mirror, looking at skin beginning to turn that pallid cast, and eyes and lip that had forgotten how to smile. I touched that face with hands ten years older than the rest of me. I was looking at my mother, as her cries echoed with the rhythm of loving that I could never remember being so inflamed by. A testament to pure pleasure I’m not sure I knew how to relate to. On my sheets. My scent was still on those sheets, his scent was still on me!
She cried and his voice joined hers in release. On my sheets! In my Bed! In this house meant to be our home!
“I love you.” His spent murmur. Word I had forgotten he could say.
While my mind played a myriad of memories. That used condom under the sofa, the lipstick on his collar, the smell of cheap perfume and smoke. The indifferent looks. The pregnant silences. The hunger for him to just touch my skin. The feel of my cold bed at 2 am, hoping and dreading that this would be the night he wouldn’t come home. I had not known, as I watched my mother that anyone could be so humiliated with an audience of only herself.
No, my story is not unique in it’s beginning, and in it’s end I traded one type of incarceration for another. This one is a choice and not a legacy, and perhaps the best cautionary tale I could give my daughter.