The Problem Child
On growing up as the oldest daughter from an abusive family
I am seven years old and unsightly: overflowing cheeks and burnt skin from being made to swim everyday. Dad wants me to be a boy. He makes me dress like one, act like one, eat like one and live like one. I am stout and silent from abuse, obedient yet frustrated. I participate in outdoor activities I do not care about.
This is the world I live in.
Dresses and cute things are not for me. They are wrong and I will get scolded for liking them.
“You are ugly,” Mother tells me. “You will never amount to anything.”
I want to go out and play. My mother hits me for wanting this.
She calls me a brat, a perverted girl who will one day grow up to be a whore. She kicks me in the ribs and stomps on my back when I tell her I cannot find my Nintendo.
My dad hits me on my thigh. He just got home from work. He enters the bathroom where I am and hit me after I said something that made him angry. Hot tears fall down my cheeks, and I feel pathetic and dirty. I sit on the toilet half naked.
It is morning and the house maid is braiding my hair. I am clean and content and fat. I am eating a packet of Oreos. Some of the crumbs get on my shirt. I try to wipe them off but my fingers are dirty.
The black crumbs get smudged on the cotton.
My mother catches me. She stalks towards me and screams, “You fucking pig. You filthy dirty brat. What are you doing?”
I meet her eyes. My mother snatches the packet of Oreos out of my hand and slaps me hard across the face. She hits me again on my arm, and again on my thigh. She drags me out of the chair and throws me onto the floor. She brings out a long wooden ruler and sits down on the sofa in front of me.
“Get up, you wretch,” she says and prods me with the ruler.
I get up.
“Strip,” she says.
I cry and take off my clothes. I am standing in front of the house. The door is open and the neighbours are watching.
“Why did you wipe the crumbs on your shirt?” she says.
“It was dirty so I tried to clean it,” I say.
“You brat! Of course it’s dirty. You wiped your filthy hands on it! I am not giving you clothes again. I will make you stay naked, you fat fuck.”
I sob. I am fat and ugly and naked. I want to die.
“I was wiping my shirt because it was dirty,” I cry.
My mother smacks the ruler on the tiles, and I jump at the sound. My skin crawls.
“Why did you wipe it on your shirt?” she says.
I fumble for words and choke. My mother isn’t listening. No matter how many times I try to explain, she doesn’t want to hear the truth. I cry harder and louder because I cannot reason with someone whose only goal is to humiliate her own daughter. I am ugly and hated. I am standing in front of the house naked, and my mother makes sure I know that I am disgusting.
I am seven years old, and I want to die.
Now eight years old, I am at the park buying ice cream for my mother and I. A group of grown ups sitting on a picnic mat laugh at me.
“Look at that kid,” says a young beautiful woman, “That kid’s eating two ice creams!”
My face flushes with embarrassment and I want to tell them that one of the ice cream is for my mother. My eyes sting. I need them to know that I am not a pig, that I am not disgusting, but I’m too scared to talk to people, especially to stranger who hate me on sight. I want to cry.
I walk away, pretending I never heard them. I don’t want to eat my ice cream, but as I approach my mother, I know I must or she will hit me again. I feel fat and disgusting, and the sweetness of the ice cream burn down my throat, the iciness is like nails raking through my insides. I try not to cry.
I am twelve years old and my mother tries to fit me into a traditional costume. I was voted by my classmates to represent them at the festival. I think they are mocking me; they entered me into a beauty contest.
I am ugly, tan and my arms are big. My legs are short and fat. I am at least two heads shorter than anybody my age. I am a crater in every class photo. I am a thick row of sausages, a meat bag.
My mother is forcing me into the costume and is yanking at my arms. I try not to cry. She stares at me through the mirror and the disgust shows in her eyes. “Fat fuck,” she mumbles under her breath. Her nails dig into my skin.
I look in the mirror and I hate myself.
I am thirteen years old. It is 2007. I am abroad studying at an all-girls boarding school. I miss home. I miss my mother and I miss my sister. I am still short and still tan. In the rectangular mirror in my cubicle, I stare at myself and I can feel my ribs under my hands. I can see my collarbones poking out. My face is still chubby. I have only eaten one green apple that day. I weigh 33 kg.
I am not hungry.
I am fourteen years old and I am visiting my old school. I meet the upperclassmen who always ignored me because I was an ugly kid. I try to stay away from them and pretend I don’t notice them. My old crush is watching me.
My hands are sweating and my face heats up with shame. Where is my art teacher Ms Platt? I want to see her. I miss her.
“Hey, come back here,” one of the upperclassmen call after me. “We want to talk to you.”
I turn to meet them.
They are popular, have always been, and I don’t know what to do with myself. I am shaking. The most popular boy is a tall upperclassman with pale skin, slick dark hair and he is giving me a sideway glance. He smiles at me.
“You’ve got a lot cuter,” he says, “how have you been?”
I fist my skirt and say nothing. Where do I start? My appearance has changed since then. I barely eat anything nowadays, and I suffer from fainting spells. A glass of milk and a green apple, and I still hate myself.
Sometimes I throw up the apple.
Should I be proud? Should I be happy? A popular boy is talking to me. All I feel is upset. I don’t remember what I said to them, I don’t remember answering them. My head is somewhere else. I wonder why happiness feels so heavy.
My scale must be broken.
I am fifteen years old and my mother drags me out of the car by my hair. She throws me into the house. She is screaming things that are not for children to hear. Her nails dig into my scalp and I try to break free.
“You dare?” she screams. “You dare to fight back? You unfilial brat, you are going to Hell for this!”
She slaps me across the face and disappears into the kitchen. I am sprawled on the ground. My eyes sting. My mother stalks back with a pair of scissors clutched tight in her hand.
I back away, crawling on the cold tiles like an animal.
“You want to go out with your friends? You think you are so popular?” she screams, “If I scar your fucking face, let’s see if the boys will fancy you, you whore.”
I raise my arms to cover my face.
My mother raises the scissors, yanking my hair with her other hand.
I shove her away and run for the stairs.
“You dare push me? You ungrateful whore!” she says, “You devil child. You are going to burn in Hell!”
I scramble up the stairs, barge into my room and slam the door shut on her curses. From the porch outside, my little sister watches everything with detached interest.
This is the Hell in which I grew up.
Originally published on B.OMOU.ME