The Belt Lashes Were Less Painful.
Physical Vs. Psychological Abuse.
I remember the sting of the belt very well, but the most painful thing about the experience was not at all physical.
I did try to straighten the clothes, right after I pulled the pajama pair from the bottom of the piles (my mom used to put the pajama tops in a pile and the pants in another). I could not get the piles back to their original state, all I could accomplish were crooked piles. I knew that my mother would get upset if she saw the mess I made, especially since she had recently reorganized my wardrobe, so I took the garments out and tried to put them back one by one, like I had seen my mother do. I made it worse. As I removed the garments they got unfolded. My folding skills were awful, I was only four years old. I did my best, and put the clothes back, but the end result was messy piles of pajamas.
I should have closed the closet before getting dressed, but I did not. My mom saw the clothes and freaked out. She started screaming about how she had spent three hours earlier today cleaning the room, she then proceeded to say “curse the day I have given birth to you”.
I foolishly said that it was not fair that she was so angry, because I really did try to clean. I knew I should not have said that, but I felt compelled to. As I anticipated, my words made her more angry, and she picked up a hanger and walked closer to me, I kept retreating until my back hit the balcony’s door and I had nowhere else to go. With her piercing eyes looking down straight into mine, she asked angrily “You dare talk back to your mother?”
I tried to stop her hand before she hit me with the hanger. She then screamed “You dare raise your hand to your mother.” I was shocked she would say such a thing, because I would never try to hit her so I said that I did not want her to hit me, that angered her more, so she hit me with the hanger until it broke.
When my father came home from work, she told him what I had done. The fact that she did upset me so much, even before I received his punishment; because I hardly saw my father, and I wanted him to think I was a good girl.
My father took off his dark brown leather belt immediately, and started aiming it at my tiny body. Every lash hit a different body part, the first hit my legs, the second my behind, I think I then blacked-out for a bit, because what I remember next is my father farther away, standing behind the bed, and throwing his leather slippers at my face. I screamed that it was unfair, and earned the second flying slipper, but I dodged that one.
I have mentioned in my previous blog post the derealization/depersonalization episodes that used to take over me when I experience physical pain, or fear. I remember not feeling the pain as my mom beat me, it was as if I was hardly there within my body. My awareness was slight. When the hanger broke on my shoulder, I remember becoming more alert, and hoping that she does not pick another one.
Although, I did not feel much pain. Time felt slower when she was standing over me. It felt that everything was happening in slow motion. I stared at the spit drops escaping her angry lips and making their way to my head and face for a while before they landed. Her lips moved slowly and purposefully and I could see every muscle flinch in her face clearly. Loud words came out from her mouth, but I could not follow what she was saying. I just accepted the beatings, and did not cry. I cried much later when she was not there anymore.
My father’s belt was not close to being as scary as my mother’s angry eyes. In fact, nothing is scarier than my mother’s angry eyes.
When I think about my parents, I always feel like my mother is the most terrifying, although my father did beat me way more and harder than she had ever had or even could.
He beat me either because my mother asked him to discipline or punish me, or because he thought that I was too outspoken to be marriage material. He wanted to tame me. He used to say that no man would want to be married to someone with a big mouth like mine. He also wanted to teach me “my place”, because I did not seem to know it. He also beat me, because he thought that my head was in the clouds too much and needed grounding. He also beat me, because I did not know how to act like my gender. Also, the site of me generally angered him, so if he had a bad day, chances are he would beat me, for one reason or the other.
Still, my mother is the bigger abuser in my opinion, and not because she hit me, it is because of the things she used to say, and the way she made me feel.
I have always felt like she hated my sister and I. She said things, like “curse the day I gave birth to you,” or “Allah, what have I done to deserve daughters like you”, or “why can’t you be more like your cousins?” I have always strived to be like my cousins, hoping that she would like me. So, I used to inquire about why she thought my cousins were better, she used to reply that they were cleaner, more helpful and just perfect. So I became obsessive about my hygiene and used to race to try and clean the dishes, but she’d say something a long the lines of “go away, you will just make a mess.” However, she’d let me wash the dishes at my aunts’ houses, and then she’d say out loud how much of a good girl I was.
The fact that she constantly compared me to my cousins hurt to no end. I often wondered if they were in fact better.
When it came to my mom’s bullying, my sister got the shorter end of the stick. My mom would always call her "Owl" for always frowning. When I’d hear my mother say that, I’d quickly remember to smile. I believe that is why until today people think that I am strangely cheerful most of the time, but the truth is, when I frown around people, I feel strangely afraid.
It is extremely hard for me to not wear a fake smile in public, because of that little voice in my head that whispers “if you stop smiling, people will find you unlikeable and hurt you.”
My mother would also shame my sister in other ways too. Ways that I do not want to mention, because they were so cruel and humiliating. My mother’s shaming affected my sister so much, that my sister learned to be very secretive and over protective of whatever she cared about.
When I was twelve and my sister was eleven, we were in the process of relocating to a new apartment and I discovered drawings hidden in a drawer behind some books. I asked my sister if they were hers and she said that yes they were. When I asked why she had hidden them, she said “because drawing is your thing, I did not want anyone to compare my drawings to yours.” That broke my heart.
I can’t speak for my sister, but for me, the emotional pain my mother inflicted on me growing up was way worse than the physical pain my father inflicted. To this day, I am trying to recover from thinking that something is wrong with me. And when the thought “I am unlovable” pops in my mind, I do not think of my father, I think of my mother’s words.
“Sticks and bones will break my bones, but words will never break me.” I vehemently dislike this quote and whatever lessons people attempt to convey when they use it allegorically. It is criminally misleading especially to young people. Because my experience is more like: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will destroy me.
My mother’s words convinced me I was so unlovable. I thought I needed to give people incentives to stay with me, and until today I am still struggling to understand what a healthy relationship looks like.
I am writing this because I am trying to stop minimizing the turmoil I have been put through, and I am publishing it because I want to help people stop minimizing their traumas, because that is an important step to healing.
Traumas can be invisible, and can even be caused by the absence of some words, like the absence of an “I love you” from the person who brought you to this world.