As a child, I shared a room with my younger sister in the basement. Our flat was in a London townhouse and had three floors. On the ground floor was the TV room and kitchen, and on the top floor was another reception room and my parents’ room.
I remember as a child being very scared, especially on the nights when it was the weekend. I thought about a lot of big topics, like how I was going to die and how the world was going to end after the sun exploded. These thoughts loomed large and monstrous as I struggled to fall asleep, especially if we had stayed up late to watch American Idol. I dreaded marching downstairs into the basement when it was bedtime. I remember how cold and dark it was there. Our room had grates on the windows, and a door that was locked but led right out onto the street. I would toss and turn, all the while wanting to go upstairs to the comfort of my parents, where my little brother and sister slept on futons on the floor in their room. As the oldest child, nothing was fair.
But I knew that going up to my parents’ room was never easy. My father has a terrible temper. Sometimes, many times, when I couldn’t sleep I’d go knock on the door to their room. Then he’d come out in his boxers, grumpy and angry, and shout at me. It’s painful for me to think about now. I think he was also angry at my younger siblings too at different times. But I feel like I somehow added more fuel to the fire. I needed things my parents hadn’t anticipated.
Looking back on my childhood self now, I can put these issues into words. Medium to severe emotional neglect. My dad was focused on providing for us financially, but he only has two emotions: a positive, jokey state, and anger. For a lot of my life, I internalized his anger. I did recently, even. When he shouts at me, I feel it rocking myself to the very core. He shouted at me just last week, after I told him that I didn’t like the way that he kept questioning my decisions as an adult. He didn’t want to hear that, so he got very angry.
This last time, it hurt me. It even got me down for about an hour. But then, as I sat next to my mum in the car taking my youngest sister back to university, I realized something new. His anger, his shouting, it was his negative energy. It wasn’t mine. That energy did not belong to me. And I began, after a while, to let myself be set free. I’ve been harboring a lot of things. People in my family don’t express emotions much to begin with. But I have been looking at this all critically and seeing that I just want to release it all out of me. I don’t need to hold on to this negative energy anymore. It was never mine. It was never intended for me. It was never intended to be mine. And rather than sequestering it, I can let it pass through me.
I hate my role in my family. I hate my father’s reactions because unfortunately I feel like I learnt from most of his habits. I can get angry and frustrated easily, especially around my family. But I am starting to realize that it doesn’t have to be this way. I don’t have to respond to comments from others with passive aggression. I can respond calmly. I can self-soothe. I can notice how I’m feeling. My siblings see my emotion as off-putting, as a sign of weakness. But I am choosing to let myself feel things, so I can release them. So that I can let go.I guess none of us make it to adulthood without being fucked up in some way. I need a long break from my family. I need time to heal on my own and process all the things we dug up in family therapy. I’m determined to do the work on myself, so that I don’t use my father’s behavior as an excuse for how I treat other people. And I am determined to never end up with a partner who has two emotional states, and who has the emotional capacity of a five year old. Financial nurturing for a child is not enough. A child needs emotional nurturing too. A child needs love, not just praise for doing well in school.
This piece was from my first time in the UnMute writing series, led by Ann Randolph, January 2022.