Shh… Different

MemoriesThis post follows on from here, continuing the journey. This has been part of a search for answers, to help me understand my past, heal and move on. It’s not a “woe is me” kind of thing. Anyway, this time… why did my brother make it years ago and I crumbled?

My brother escaped our family when he went to university. He plotted to go to a university outside of Canberra, mainly so he would be able to change his studies to what he wanted to do instead of what our father wanted of him. The move was freedom for him. In many ways he thrived.

Our young lives were very similar… I was born a few months after my family immigrated to Australia. My brother and I had the same problems starting school… we couldn’t speak a word of English, we started a year early, repeated a year since we would have been too young to start highschool. We had similar issues of fitting in, as neither of us really fit into the Australian culture or the Finnish culture. My brother went through everything I did, just 3 years earlier than me. Yet, he was able to connect and make friends in primary school that he kept well into adulthood, unlike me who used to withdraw from friends over and over again. So why did I crumble? Why did I seem to change friends with the seasons? Why did my brother finish university and I left school before finishing year 10? Why did he belong and I didn’t?

I always felt like an outsider. I never felt I belonged anywhere, or that I would belong. School didn’t create this belief within me. The experiences echoed what I would grow up believing about my life. Belonging was transient. Achieving didn’t mean anything. Things, friends would be lost anyway, so why hold on. Get rid of them, give up on them before they were lost. I didn’t know how to adapt in a healthy way. I didn’t have the support system at home that I needed and my family had made certain that I couldn’t seek support elsewhere. The conflicting rules we learned made certain of that.

So, why did my brother thrive while I crumbled?

When I started school, my mother was embarrassed that I couldn’t speak English, so they decided that they would only speak English at home with my brother and I. My father spoke little English at the time, but even so, would go fishing and do father-son things with my brother. He didn’t know what to do with a little girl, so it was years before he would spend any quality time with me again.

I remember one family camping trip my father spent time playfully teasing me, calling me his little… mustalainen, or something like that. It roughly translated to his little gypsy girl. It’s one of the few camping trips where I can look back at the photos and remember parts of the trip.

When my brother or I were in trouble, my mother would ask my father to give us the belt. Other than punishments I was mostly ignored by him. On the weekends he would take my brother fishing, hunting, or to work with him. It seemed that I only existed for my father when I was in trouble. While my brother behaved well, I would begin making trouble. I didn’t understand why I behaved like that at the time. I didn’t want to be punished. I remember one particular day, when I was around 10, I had received I think four lashes of the belt already. My father had a strong-arm and I screamed out… “ONE MORE IS CHILD ABUSE!!” My father paused, I waited, he gave me one more. Five. It was better than the dozen I would have received.

I don’t remember receiving the belt after that occasion. Instead my parents sat me down to… talk to me. This was very confusing for me. They had never talked to me before. I cried and apologised over my misbehaviour and felt in my little heart that I would never do it again. Whatever it was is gone in my memories. For the first time they saw me and they talked to me.

The next time I got into trouble, they again sat me down to talk to me. I began crying before they began to talk. This time they used guilt. Now here was something I was used to feeling. This wasn’t confusing at all. I was a bad girl. I was a problem. It was my fault. The tears stopped. It was around this time that I started to wish I could die. Future talks always included guilt, since that seemed to have an impact on me. Yes, it affected me. It pushed a young girl into depression. Depressed children don’t really have the energy to misbehave. It was in my teenage years that my lethargy turned to anger and frustration.

Tears filled my eyes, but I held them back “I won’t. I won’t. I won’t be a baby and cry”. My dress dripped with soda unnoticed. My chest hurt where the glass hit and I refused to rub the spot. As my mother helped me pick up the pieces of glass that had shattered on the concrete, she whispered… “Shh, don’t cry, he doesn’t know how to treat little girls. You should leave him alone while he’s working”. Age 7.

My father had a temper.

“We didn’t want your brother to be an only child and be spoiled.”
“Another son would have been better.”
“Girls are trouble”
“I didn’t want to come here, but I can’t go home now.”
“Your brother would be okay in Finland, but you…”
“If we went back to Finland, what would we do with you.”

My mother was working long hours, dealing with depression, as well as a jealous husband with a temper, while living in a strange new country that she never wanted to come to… and we can’t forget she now had a young daughter that made it impossible to go back home.

So, although we had similar experiences growing up, the difference in treatment my brother and I received from our parents was what made the difference. He grew up feeling wanted by both parents and was able to build an almost normal relationship with both of them. I was… well, I was a problem and never learned that I was anything else.

I understand that both my parents were damaged people themselves. I don’t hate them for their past treatment of me. I don’t like their current behaviour and I know it’s up to me to create the distance between us and stop letting them treat me as they’ve always done. It’s up to me to stop taking the guilt on, to stop feeling the guilt. This I’m already getting somewhere with. I sometimes wonder if they even realise what they do, or has it become habit for them to take it out on me when they’re unhappy?

Onwards? Of course the next part of the journey answers… what happened afterwards? Leaving school, leaving my family, becoming an ‘adult’. That should have freed me of the past. How did I let myself get involved with my son’s father? The journey continues here.


Image Credit: © Dana Rothstein |


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