Content warning: Please please read with extreme care.
“Who is your mother?”
“Call me your mother or else I will leave you all.”
My biological mother demands of me as we stood in the girl’s room glaring at each other. My adopted Mama’s grave just outside the window.
“What about the kids? They need you.” I don’t need you, I left unsaid. With fury and hatred I had never felt before, I thought she cannot do this to me. Of all things she has done to me, not the right to claim her as my mother. She cannot use my siblings to do this to me.
“I don’t care. If you don’t call me your mother, I leave. You kids are on your own then. Whatever happens to the kids, it’s all on you.” I was just a freshman in high school. Still too young to get a job. How was I to care and provide for my siblings who’ve likened themselves to a tail I cannot escape from. How was I to care for my grandparent’s house that was withering day by day in it’s current occupants hands. I do not know if she meant it but I could not risk her actually leaving my siblings.
Swallowing all the feelings that was knifing my heart, sending a plea of forgiveness to my deceased Mama, I deadpanned, “Yes, you are my mother.”
Satisfied, she left. I stood there, hands fisted. Looking at blue walls that I wanted to hit with a passion till my hands bleed. A brown door that I wanted to kick down to pieces. At least they would look like how I felt inside. Whatever battle we were fighting, I had lost. But at least, my siblings were taken cared of. I refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing she got to me, so I stayed muted and still. The tears came later that night when the lights turned off and the shadows of that house slumbered into Hypnos.
Now that I am gaining recognition and praise for my academic and social endeavors, I suddenly became their child.
Several mornings later, my siblings wake me up, “Selina, we are hungry.”
I asked where the parents were. They said they had no idea. They probably were out all night again, drunk. I opened my pink backpack and handed them money from the $50 some I was getting every week from interning at the Marshall Islands Journal. My supervisor must have seen I needed money so they hired me, except they were paying me out of their pocket.
“Go get us some bread.” If they had leftovers, then I would eat. If not, another empty tummy day. Sometimes I wake up and note I have less or no money in my bag and I knew one of my family members had taken it. I get upset, but I know they also need it. So I seldom say anything about it.
But I thought, this could not keep going. We needed money and whatever we had was being depleted by our parents in their drunken galore. They were grieving, I could see. Our mother lost her mother, her father, her stepdad, and her older sister.
I wanted to say, I lost too. The people who raised me, I lost them all. I lost my grandma, my grandpa, and my adopted Mama. But we have children whose limbs are malnourished and they need us.
During one of my field work with my colleague, I learned from him of child prostitution on Majuro.
“How much do they make? Are the men gentle? How long can I be one until I get enough fundings for my siblings to be set for life? Where do they meet? Will God be disappointed in me, His child, for being sinful and not trusting Him?”
Were all the questions I wanted to ask out loud. I started asking around. At night, I would practice. I would imagine a man’s body on me as he tries to take me and immediately I felt my stepdad, uncles, brother, and cousins weight on me. I would have an internal fight to shake off the feeling from me. I wanted to scream for help but I could not. There were only devils in my house. I started punching my head, my face, scratching my arms, pinching my thighs, anything to get me out of my internal nightmares, my trauma.
If I was successful I would fall asleep in the wee hours of the morning and off to school the next day with red, swollen eyes. My classmates saw and commented on it, but never asked why. They just knew I had trouble at home.
I hated myself for not being brave enough. For being a horrible older sister. My siblings needed food, water, clothings. My body and trauma should be nothing compared to their suffering. So I practiced night after night after night after night. And each day, I felt like dying. Twice, I tried to commit suicide. Behind the straight A’s, perfect attendance, properly attired and always neat, debate national champion, and the list goes on, I was losing my mind. What was the use of it all when I could not even provide for my siblings.
For being a weakling, poor excuse of a sister, ungrateful daughter, disobedient granddaughter. I did promise grandpa before he passed that I would take care of my siblings.
I will be a prostitute, I tell myself. I will sell my body and make a living for my siblings out of that. I just need to practice more at night.