Side note to for any confusion. Mama & Baba -adopted parents (aunty and uncle). Mom & Dad – biological parents
Forgive and forget. How plausible is that?
I had an argument with my Mom recently and I said, “I may have forgiven you of your past wrongdoings but that does not mean I forgot.” Forgiving and forgetting as many would like to attempt, is unrealistic and callous. You can forgive but how likely is it to forget? Many I have talked with along with myself are similar in that the decisions we make and how we live today and in the future are shaped by our past upbringing. Whether they be traumatic or not. And in order to move on, to keep going, we cut off what/who was toxic, we forgive them and ourselves.
Growing up I was always a people pleaser. I could never let people go. Because for me to willingly do so or not fight to keep them in my life, it meant I failed again. I was not worthy. And I will be subjecting those I let go to the agony I still carry, abandoned. Throughout my childhood, my biological parents were remissed. My grandparents took me in along with my other two siblings. While they were working, my aunt and uncle who became my Mama and Baba would look after me.
My grandparents and Mama passed away too soon. All gone by the time I was 14. Baba left when I was 9 after an argument with Mama to the outer islands and asides from the one time he came to take me for a birthday party, I never saw him again for 11 agonizing years. Countless times throughout these 11 years I would sneak taxi to his brother’s place to see if they had heard any words from him. I left my number every time I visited. I asked for his number or a way I can reach him. I was desperate and mourning. How was he? Will he forgive me for not taking care of him as he did me? Does he have grey hair now? Is he able to do basic chores? I was utterly alone at 14 with my siblings. Our mom moved in with us with her partner. Both alcoholics and dysfunctional. My dad became more present than ever. An extremely intelligent man with a penchant for alcohol, TV shows, corny pick-up lines and dad jokes.
You know, people just kept leaving and those I despised became part of my everyday life. The strict and controlled environment of my grandparents that I grew up in became the demonic and chaotic space I had to shield my siblings from. At 14, they did not leave me with a manual on how to keep a family functioning. How to protect siblings. Dad’s house became my escape. He had internet and computers I would lose myself in for two hours reading Greek mythologies, stars and the galaxy, how to raise children, or copy-pasting Harlequin books to my flash drive to read later that night in my house on my own laptop for quick, happy endings. While Dad could be very harsh with his words which I learned to just smile at since I did not want to show that I was affected, our personalities and interests were more similar. He understood me better and always pushed me to be independent, never depending on anyone else. Lest they will ask you for something in return.
He did not try to control my life, force me to like him, force me to choose between him and Baba. And if I had anything going on and consulted him about, I was priority. He was adamant in me being selfish. It was nice. It felt, I felt validated. Like I mattered. For the rest of the day I was secondary to everything/one and then for the two hours I spent at his house, I was primary.
When I had crushes, he was the one I went to. Much to his dismay 🙄. “Selina I am not your sister.” I still went to him. When I got my first tattoos, he was the first one I showed. And he gave me a lopsided drunk grin while patting my head. He looked proud. When my heart felt heavy, as I reached his house, he is outside standing under his bōb(pandanus) tree. I would simply walk to him and hug him, releasing a bottomless sigh. I could feel the question in his body but he does not say anything as our neighbors stare at us. He just hugs me back quietly, with reassurance and solidness.
When I decided to stop whispering (See Giff Johnson Don’t Ever Whisper book) and be loud about social issues in the Marshall Islands, he was fanatically supportive. When I became scared at the amount of attention I started receiving, he kept me stable and humble. He was reporting people left and right who were liking posts on my social media accounts that were strangers and not in our friend lists. He never pushed himself into my much needed space. He respected that.
I hesitate to reveal this but one of my biggest fears is attracting the attention of a traditional leader in the Marshall Islands. Especially the Chiefs. In our culture and traditions, if our Chiefs wants something, then it is done. I have heard countless stories of women being given to Chief upon their asking out of respect or for fear of retribution. Usually in forms of the Chiefs family spirit cursing them to become sick and only the Chiefs family can cure them. Whenever I think about that I feel immobilized. Trapped. I would never want to put my family in that situation but was I really going to sacrifice myself? Though I am very much my own person and hate my parents making any decisions for me, I am aware that because of traditions they would be the ones approached for situations like this. Not myself. When I asked him if an Irooj(chief) tells him he wants to marry me, what will he say/do?
He reminded me I was my own agency. I decide for myself. Not him or anyone. He will turn them down. I cried. To me, that was EVERYTHING. It was through these kinds of interactions and dialogues he constantly reminded me that I had a voice and it is powerful.
When I came out with my story of being sexually abused growing up even when some of those creeps were friends of his, he did not disown me. In fact he actually told me to space out my stories and not put them all up immediately after the other. It will overwhelm my readers. My story was my own to tell.
“Nomatter short or long, you will always be my likatu(beauty).” My dad after I chopped off my butt-length hair. I was truly a disgrace to our Marshallese ways. From a babe girls are always told that the length of a woman’s hair is her beauty. And I just all but went and chopped off that beauty. Not surprisingly, the number of interested gents also depleted as well.🤗 I mean, do I dare protest? God forbid.
Again I cried at his words. I was receiving a number of backlash from friends and family. And like a knight in shining armour, he came in with words that soothed, not pained. Not many had the bond we had developed. Not many can in our society just walk up to their dad and kiss them on their cheeks without any reason and not feel embarrassed or awkward. Or give their dad’s spontaneous hugs.
Desperation might have led me to latch onto Dad. It started out with deep resentment and pain. Coming to the point where we were was not easy. Both of us born and raised in a society that does not encourage communicating emotions, much less interaction between men and women, forget that you both are related. Though he was very open-minded compared to people his age, there were moments I still had to remind him, “Baba before you are a man, you are my dad. And that is it. Don’t tell me otherwise.”
I remember how much I despised him. I remember his harsh words and how much they hurt. Though it did not look like it with how I was excelling in school, winning national competitions, great group of friends, I was miserable inside. I was a troubled child. I sought counseling at 16 when I had my first panic attack. Thank God I was in Germany by then and the school I was attending was equipped with a proper counselor and they actually talk. The foreign faces around me talked about emotions and feelings. That became my silver lining. It was grueling having to relive past traumas and put them on the table but once I got past that stage, everything felt lighter. And I thought how can I teach this to my loved ones? How can I apply it to my everyday life?
Hence, my communications with Dad became more intimate and personal. I will be honest, I was embarrassed to do it. It felt akin to losing my pride. I was admitting I was weak and showing incredible vulnerability to a person capable of wielding that as a knife to my heart and cut me a thousand times. How many more smiles would I have to bestow upon him to hide my pain? But I made myself do it.
It started with what I am beginning to see with many people is the not so simple admission, “I am having a bad day.” He did not ask why. He gave words of encouragement instead. So I changed tactics.
Dad: How are you?
Selina: I am so tired. I feel like I am not good enough. Incapable of doing this. I don’t know what to do. I feel lost and I want to cry. Today I was walking and I saw how beautiful the leaves were, they had all turned brown-reddish and then all of a sudden I just started tearing up and felt incredibly sad. Do you think I deserve all this?
You can imagine how he felt/was. Overwhelmed. Did not know how to respond to emotions that were not his closest of friends but his own daughter. A family kin. I kept pushing.
You might ask why did I decide now was the time to do something? I wanted to give thanks to God. Though I never frequented church, when I was younger I read the Bible on a daily basis. I was determined to finish it. I also went to Bible studies at our Chieftess’s house. And many of God’s words spoke to me. Helped me dive into my tangled mess, buffered. His words taught me love, empathy, strength, and kindness towards those around me. It was only when I started on the journey of forgiveness with my dad that I learned love, empathy, strength, and kindness towards myself.
Before I had left to Germany to finish high school, I had already attempted to commit suicide twice. One by drowning and two by cutting myself. I was scared for my siblings. Because if I succeeded, who would be there for them? So I prayed hard for an escape, healing. That came in the form of a scholarship to study for two years in Germany. Where I focused on myself. Spoke about myself. Made friends who cared for me, holistically. Lived for the first time in years without fear of anything happening, but still in fear of memories. I am eternally grateful for everything I experienced there and I wanted to repay God by loving myself more and that meant forgiving or cutting off people.
Because I know how it feels to be abandoned, I chose to forgive. Dad was there but never pushing so it was slightly easier to work on our relationship first. I think I was an enigma to my dad. That I was consulting with him rather than my sisters or girlfriends. That brought us closer in the end. When I expressed pain and discontent at things he had said and done, he listened, reflected, and respected. Though he was confused at first, he was never judgmental. I was as transparent with him as can be and he became so as well.
When I forgave him and told him, all the knot started unraveling. What weight me down, uplifted me. I did not forget though. I remember words and pain. They are etched forever. If he starts going into that territory again, I call him out on it. I know how I do not want to be treated and I will not have it again. I did not want a continuous cycle. If I do or say something wrong, I make certain I apologise. Dad was not one to apologise if he was wrong. At least to me. I had to humble myself to him, “I am sorry.” in order to make an example to him. At times I did not want to. I just wanted to be petty and hold him accountable but that was not going to get us anywhere. We would go back to ground zero. So I apologise. Then, “I love you. Thank you so much ____________________.” And I think that surprised him many times but he did not take advantage of that. Though he never said I am sorry or Thank you, he used other ways to communicate that. And given his generation’s upbringing, that was more than enough. It warmed my heart immensely.
Unlike my grandparents and Mama when they passed, I was filled with so much anger, resentment, and pain because I was never given a chance to take care of them as they had me, to ask for forgiveness for times I had been inconsiderate of them. Especially dear Mama when I had an argument with her and told her she was not my Mama anymore and few days later called her Mama again. I can only imagine how much pain she must have been in when I, in a childish tantrum, gunned her. I was shackled for years with grief.
When Baba passed last year, it was a light parting. I was sad. Scared. Disheartened my bestfriend was leaving. The days I was taking care of him in the hospital, I was determined to smile for him therefore I never showed him a smile quivering or eyes leaking. I kept smiling. I decided to be selfish. How? By being there for him. Caring for him. Sleeping at the hospital with him. This was the greatest gift I can give to him. My last parting gift. The chance I never gave to my grandparents and Mama.
And of course my daily bright smiles and exasperated comments that he made sure to remark about. I was determined that my smiles and smart remarks would be his last memories of me. That when he departs the living world, he would take the smiles and comments with him as treasures. From the day he passed till the day of his funeral, I cried a little and remembered he was looking at me and he would not want me sad. So I smiled and enjoyed what I could for those days. I gave a speech at his funeral, with tears this time and lots of gummy and teethy smiles.
Happy one year old man. Kissmorning and go flirt. 💜