Once upon a time there was a peculiar woman. She had two arms and two legs. Two hands and two feet. She had long curly hair and blue eyes, two ears, one nose and a mouth that sometimes smiled.
The woman looked like anyone else on the outside, but inside she was different. Inside her lurked two people. The light and the dark.
She was Irish, she was Scottish, she was Australian, she was Tasmanian. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister, an aunty and a wife.
Once, she had been a loyal friend to a few people she truly admired but that was gone now. Now she enjoyed friendship in little crumbs that passed her way from time to time.
She had been a good daughter to her parents, a loving and loyal sister to her brothers. She would have done anything for her family. She had been a good student, completing her studies to Year 12. At the age of 18, she decided against university and instead embarked on a life of travel. She travelled to numerous countries in the world, experienced amazing places and interesting people . On her travels, she discovered her heart belonged to Ireland and since has always yearned to go back to claim it. She worked hard and lived independently. Built her own house and paid her own bills.
She had high ideals, she wanted to save the world, or at the very least, to make it a better place for her having visited. Sometimes she was very proud of what she had achieved on her life’s journey.
She chose one man to share her life journey and he chose her. She loved him and was loyal to him. He loved her but his love could be conditional. His was a difficult and disturbed childhood and in his late 20’s he was diagnosed with depression. When he was not pleased with the world, or himself, he would withdraw his love from her for days on end. He would blame her for all he despised in the world. This would hurt her very deeply and under this pressure over a period of years, something within her cracked.
Not her love for him. Not her faith in him. But after many years she came to believe that everything wrong in their world was her fault, because she was not smart enough, pretty or witty enough. In the course of a normal day, she may have done 50 little things to make him happy or his life comfortable, but if she forgot to do one thing, he would make her feel as though she were a complete failure. That she was lazy and useless. So she tried harder, and harder and harder.
He was not a cruel man. He was not always affected by the depression, but it did come upon him regularly, even when he was receiving treatment. When all was well he could be kind and compassionate, thoughtful and funny, fiercely intelligent and creative. She was the only one who knew of his dark side. He kept his depression hidden from the world and only showed his true nature when he was with her.
Together they had healthy, smart and imaginative children. She worked herself hard to provide everything they needed, day and night. Her hair went grey and thinned, her eyes became dull, her skin tired and her body went soft. When she was young, she would be complimented on her bright blue eyes often. Now, she couldn’t remember the last time anyone paid her a compliment about anything. She was no longer lovely.
She forgot herself. Who she was. Who she had been. Over time, she became just a shadow of herself, and that made him even more disappointed in her. Where was the girl he knew? She had been so quirky, bright and shiny. She was washed out with the dishwater. No longer did they talk for hours on shared interests and ideas. No longer did they laugh or just cuddle.
The cyber world became his best friend, and he tended to this world every minute the day would allow. She could not compete with this world, but she stayed as close to him as she could, in case there was a chance for conversation or friendship.
At night, when the children were asleep, she sat watching tv or writing her novel and he sat in front of the computer, just browsing the internet. Sometimes he would walk through the room on his way to the kitchen and get angry at her because he thought a program she was watching on tv was rubbish. Then he would return to his cyber world thinking she was stupid and feeling justified at leaving her alone again.
She had become the person who collected dirty clothes off the floor throughout the house. She washed clothes, hung them to dry, folded and put them away. She wiped up dirty toilet floors and dirtier toilet bowls. She wiped dirty bottoms, vacuumed and swept floors. She took the blows and punches of angry children. Washed dirty dishes 3 and 4 times a day. Cooked meals that no-one ate. Washed windows. Fed animals. Moved furniture. Bathed children, packed school lunches and ironed business shirts. She was screamed at daily, was umpire to countless arguments and took the blame for things she did not do.
Good and caring friends slipped away as she didn’t have the time to nurture them. They lived in the country, and most days, the only adult contact she had was a one minute chat with the grocery delivery man. Their budget did not allow her to attend classes, pursue hobbies or pay for childcare.
She lost her passion. Her passion for him and her passion for life. She was too tired to feel passion and he hated her for it. He punished her for it, withdrawing all affection. He wouldn’t touch her, wouldn’t soothe her. He wouldn’t talk to her or look her in the eye. When she tried to talk to him, he would pretend to listen as he busied himself doing something else or walking out of the room.
She tried to find herself, to feel passionate about the universe again. She tried many new things, becoming heavily involved in community events, teaching herself to sew and knit. She wrote a fictional novel, grew food and tended her flower garden. All things she could do at the home, close to the children and him.
In her heart she wished she could sing, dance, paint or illustrate, speak in languages other than her own or write something so meaningful it would make the world a better place. But she had no talent for these things. She desperately wished to discover some creativity in herself, hoping if she had something to offer the world, her life might be worthwhile after all.
She tried very hard to make new friends, although she felt she was a fraud. Smiling, laughing, sharing anecdotes and chatting about local happenings, all the while knowing she was worthless and boring and only doing it so that her children would have people to care for them in the community if something should happen to her. After visiting with people, she would be exhausted at the effort of pretence. She wondered why anyone would want to talk to her and was not surprised when the phone never rang. Few invitations came her way. Some days she disconnected the phone so she didn’t have to talk to anyone in the outside world.
She went to her GP and told him that she felt she wanted to drive her car over the mountain cliff. That she felt her family would be better off without her, that they would no longer carry the burden of their useless mother and partner.
The GP gave her some tablets to make her feel better.
The tablets helped, and she had more good days than bad, but sometimes she still felt like driving off the mountain or getting in the car and driving away from everyone forever.
BUT… there was one thing that always stopped her from leaving, even briefly. One thing so deeply ingrained in her psyche that would not allow her to leave her children however desperate she felt. Her father. The memory of her father. This immensely talented man, sacrificed greatness to provide for his family and be a strong, reliable and honourable father. He left school at age 15 to provide for his mother and sisters. He should have gone to university, he could have been so many things, an illustrator, a painter, a writer, an engineer, a boat builder, a teacher or doctor, but he wasn’t, he was a bus driver and a wise man. A self-taught man, reading books constantly throughout his life to gain the knowledge he did not achieve through schooling. He was not in the least bitter for his losses. He was the most gentle, modest and compassionate of men. All went to him for advice and solace in times of trouble and for knowledge of all things great and small. He suffered from depression in his later years but did not want to ‘burden’ others with his pain. He worked hard his entire life and provided for his children who each grew to make positive contributions to society.
The lessons she learned from her father were countless and cosmic and even though he had been dead for 10 long years, his memory encouraged her on dark days to keep putting all the pieces of herself back together.
For all the emptiness she felt in herself, she loved her life. It was difficult to understand, how in such emptiness one could feel so fortunate. How, even on the blackest of days, she can still know how wonderful her life is. She can know it, but not feel it.
She loved her home and her community, and was thankful every day for her good fortune. For all the years of living with his depression, she loved and respected her mate. She would keep her promise to stay faithful to him until her dying day.
In her confusion, one thing she knew for certain, her love for her children was immeasurable. She would do anything for them, give anything of herself for them, and most of all, she would never let them down.
She makes the most of good days, laughing and playing with the kids and providing a strong role model for them. Contributing to their community, helping people, working hard in the garden and teaching them life skills and resilience.
She tells herself…
a loving mother who is crying while chopping veges for dinner is better than no mother at all.
a loving mother who does not have the self-confidence to volunteer at the school canteen is still better than no mother at all.
a loving mother with grey hair and sad eyes is still better than no mother at all.
an imperfect mother is better than no mother at all.
So, from one generation to the next, and like her father before her, she will try every day to be the best person she can be and hope to leave a legacy to her children of resilience, integrity and compassion.
Written in 2010