I spent my formative years watching my parents negotiate their way though a very difficult time in their marriage. And as a result of one too many harsh comments and unnecessary fights, I developed an interminable fear of my parents. Actually, it was more of a distance, an inability to communicate, that had come to exist between us.
In some ways, I imagine they were afraid of me too. I was their first child and perhaps, they didn't know what to say or if they should say anything. Perhaps they hoped that the famous resilience of all children would protect me and their arguments would not become my battles.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen and I grew up alone.
We existed in bubbles of solitude in the same house and some days, it hardly seemed like anything was wrong. We would hold our own lives together and even though every now and again something would slip through the cracks and it would seem for a moment like we were about to confess our thoughts to each other, it never happened. And when I reached high school, I could sense that a different relationship existed between my parents and I and between them and my sisters.
By the time my sisters had reached an age at which family politics could affect them, our own family drama had long since been buried. Unfortunately, I was still young enough to be mislead by my own feelings and I directed them towards my sisters in the form of jealousy and resentment. That distance that had broken my relationship with my parents began to threaten my relationship with my sisters.
I suppose on some level, every child has a slight fear of their parents and an inability to communicate everything they want to. But mine was so far entrenched that I found myself retreating into my own world. Turning down birthday party invitations and dates and opportunities that I now regret not going though with, simply because I couldn't ask my parents for anything. I couldn't bring myself to speak to them without fear. It seems so trivial now but as a teenager, it was an overwhelming feeling.
I felt extraordinarily excluded from family life. Whereas I often had to push through things on my own, my sisters never were alone. Whereas those images of picturesque parents helping their children with school projects were completely foreign to me, they were the norm for my siblings. In an effort to stay out of the house for as long as I could, I would stay at school. Sometimes for no reason other than to be with people I knew I could connect with.
When my sisters were afforded experiences I was too afraid to ask for, I felt angry. At myself mostly. But also at my parents, for not realising that I was trapped and alone.
Today, I'm 21 and although, I have not bridged the gaps in my family entirely, I have learnt to make the best of what we are. When I made the decision to leave home, the distance lessened somewhat. We were forced to actively work on our relationships because of the separation. But it was a long time before I came to accept that my family would never be the same as others.
My little sister is in her final year of school and I feel a slight tinge of jealousy when I compare the life she has lead to mine. She has done things and experienced things that I foolishly gave up. And whilst I am incredibly proud of her, I wish I could change my life. I wish I had been as strong then as I am now. I wish I had found my voice sooner. Things might have been so different.
This is the first time I have ever written these words down. It seems strange that the first place I should communicate them is on the internet but I feel far safer armed with a laptop than with just my voice. I wish my family nothing but the best. And in a twisted way, the burden of my childhood transformed me into someone I am proud of. As I pack all my childhood memories away, even the painful ones appear tinged pink with nostalgia. The past is always more magical in memory than it was in reality. Remembering mine certainly seems more poetic than I know it was.
I wonder if it is the same for my parents...