Special days are always surprisingly difficult. I expect them to be easy because there is not any teaching, but they always end up being emotionally challenging. Not always for the same reasons, but for some reason.
The music and the dancing do something to me, I realize. I am not quite sure why. They are nearly always the same songs, the same dances. Country Xers like sameness, and there is also not usually enough time to prepare. So it is always the same 3 songs with more or less the same 3 dances. In some cases, it might be tradition. In other cases, I think it might just be convenience. We know this routine. We’ll keep doing it. Anyway, I have been here for 2 years now, and I have seen the same songs and dances on four or five occasions each year, so they are echoes of one another. Yesterday’s dances were echoes of the dances at the end of last year, when I knew C was graduating from our school—which only goes up to Class 8. Last year’s dances were an echo perhaps of the first year I came, the first February, and the first time I saw them after I arrived.
They make me very sad, and I don’t know quite why exactly. I have always seen C in these dances, until this year, because she has been in the dance group since I came. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it. I think it might. She’s a very expressive dancer. I might have noticed her that first February. I can’t really remember it.
But I think these programs remind me that I am here. Much of the year maybe I am just teaching. I forget about the National Dress. I forget about the National Language and all the other languages. I forget that I am taking a stick to class and using corporal punishment. I forget my life is in so many ways radically different now. Important days remind me. I am here. I have arrived at something.
There is, I know, the pain of all the people I lost: I am reminded they are not here with me, or not at home waiting to hear all about it. There was never anyone back in the United States to joyfully describe all my new experiences to. That is one part of the sorrow. I think there is something else though. Something to do with my worth.
I have been acting to protect C, in the one way that I can, which is to get her here into a boarding school environment where she can study and maybe also where the rules will be consistent and predictable and she won’t always feel she is walking on eggshells the way she does at home. I am here because people in my childhood consistently acted to protect me. Without them, I think I would probably be dead. I am not exaggerating that. I think it is quite, quite true.
So if I am sitting with Country X teachers, looking at one of their traditional dances, then I know I am there because many people acted to protect me over a number of years. I cannot sit there and not have some feeling about the human spirit or avoid any emotional contact with the idea of the persistence of love in the face of evil. Because of C, I am now also aware that none of these protective people were my own mother. I am protective towards her in a way she understands as “mother” and a way I also understand as “mother,” but my mother did not behave that way.
I have a little voice that comes out sometimes at night—night is a big trigger—and it says it wants its mommy. I never have a clear picture of who “mommy” might be, but I think I am remembering that desire for “mommy”. I wanted to go to that warm, protective parent when I was scared, and there was sometimes no one to go to. There was sometimes no one around who behaved like a mommy. Mommy was a time-share concept, not a fixed position. There was someone I called “mommy,” but she wasn’t a real mommy. She was a pretend mommy. She and I just pretended. Mommy was anyone who behaved in a nurturing or protective manner and not a particular person.
The mommy position got left empty a lot of the time, and I think this has really given me a sense throughout my life of not belonging to anyone. My own mother did not protect me. She was not my “mommy.” I think also some of that sense I have of people being lost is of my being lost, in those times when I could not locate a protective figure. I can’t find a mommy. My mommy got lost and I cannot find her, but it isn’t a certain person who has been lost. It’s a person filling a position. As a three and four-year-old, I will understand it only as a feeling of being lost. It seems the same as a geographical sense of being lost—this is why Charlie loves maps and loves knowing where everything is. Then we can’t get lost. But the lost feeling is really a relational sense: I cannot locate anyone protective in my environment. There is no one around who seems willing to take care of me.
When C feels “lost” to me, when I don’t know where she is or who she is with, then I have that same sense of there being no one in her environment to protect her. My job as her mom is not always to be there, but to make sure a suitable substitute is available. She should be with her grandmother or the aunt she is really close to or the uncle who seems like he’s raising good kids or with her own mother. She should not be with someone who won’t look after her. When that happens, or when I don’t know where she is, I think she is “lost” and I get really worried. There is all this “lost” feeling related to dismemberment, but the trauma feeling is also about this feeling of being relationally dislocated. It’s scary for me when she is “lost” because terrible things happened when I was “lost.” I think it is not so terrible for her, but I don’t think it is necessarily good either. I think she feels “lost” at those times also, but for her it probably doesn’t feel like “lost.” I think it feels “bad,” because she does not have the maturity to always handle all of the responsibility she has or all of the decision-making she needs to do, and she fails at doing what others expect her to do. I think she feels anxiety about impending shame. She feels insecure, but it manifests itself as a different emotion for her: maybe because she feels even more alone than I did. I was never parentified, or expected to take on adult responsibilities. I didn’t let people down all the time. I just had to keep an eye out for someone to take care of me. I felt lost. She feels scared she is going to be “bad,” as though badness is a kind of virus. You can just catch it. It comes over you suddenly, and you become powerless within its grip. Then nobody loves you. Your mom gives you the silent treatment or she beats you or both.