Sitting in an empty flat, with just my computer and a few kitchen utensils feels liberating. I thought I would be more upset and emotional about leaving this city, which has been my home for the past seventeen years. Instead, I feel like the 20-year-old adventurer I was when I went to work as an architect in Berlin, though hopefully a little wiser. I feel the gypsy in me that wants to be free.
I don’t feel emotional about leaving my family, my mother and three siblings. Following a number of small and big family dramas, I know I’ve been preparing for this for two years. I saw my mother at my younger sister’s birthday party a few days ago. She looked tired. I was concerned and asked her if she was all right. She simply said, ‘I’m fine.’ Stubborn as usual, while expecting me to read her mind.
‘Detachment’ from my mother has been in process for many years, and already gone through several iterations. Each time I create a little more emotional distance, the clearer I perceive the frustration and anger that resides in her, which I know she is not aware of. Her whole body is a tightly wound coil held in tension. When I hug her, she feels stiff and uncomfortable. I look into her eyes and realise I am fighting a losing battle in trying to gain her acceptance, or even a sense of celebration, for the brave choices I make in my life, like moving to a new country. It is time to let go, time to let my mother and siblings get on with their lives.
I am leaving London with no resolution regarding my sister, M, who is a year older than me. We fell out big time on New Year’s Eve and have not spoken for over six months. I made a conscious choice not to engage with her, yet I still feel heartbroken. I am aware of the innate fallacy of being ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (with regard to the reasons why we fell out) because as long as we do not communicate, there is nothing to justify. My choice, for the moment, is a selfish one, and with an assumption of what may or may not unfold in M’s life. Once I am gone on my travels, the months will pass by and any understanding of our different perspectives of the situation will slowly dissipate into a hazy memory.
Our non-communication, however, does affect the rest of our family. As a daughter, I naturally want my mother to understand my side of the argument. Though as a mother, she instinctively knows that I am the stronger one (emotionally), who no longer needs her, so she inevitably protects M, the daughter who is more fragile. It is a battle I can never ‘win’ because the story of our relationship began, in fact, in a previous century, when M and I were still toddlers.
The story that is told in my family about why my parents decided to leave me in India with my grandparents when I was a baby (while they took my other siblings back to London with them), is that M attempted to kill me a few times and they thought it was better to separate us for a little while. A ‘little while’ turned into six years, during which I had no inkling that I had a family elsewhere. Though I will never ‘get’ how my mum and dad made the decision (regardless of whether they understood the consequences or not), essentially I don’t think I will ever find the truth.
From my current perspective as an adult, there are many narratives I might adopt — abandonment, carelessness, anger, hate, etc. I could seek an apology, repentance, or blame them for all the problems I have in my life.
The narrative I choose to believe is that they saved my life!
Literally! And possibly from my own sister.
Of course, I could then blame my sister, but this does not serve me. She was just a baby herself, and my parents had their own problems and limitations. Ultimately, I must choose to do the work of ‘healing’ for my own benefit. All other judgements and expectations are simply an illusion, because from where I stand, I can only take responsibility (own my ‘ability’ to ‘respond’) for the story I choose to live.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that not being with my parents during my formative years (when the bonds of ‘attachment’ in the parent-child relationship develops), allows me a certain objectivity that my siblings do not have. I can appreciate my mother and have a good relationship with her without feeling bound to gaining her approval for what I do, or inversely, without succumbing to her ‘dramas.’ It is also easier to have disagreements with her about religion, work, money, and so on, and not take it personally. For example (though she would never admit it), I have experienced her telling a different story to each of my siblings about the same problem and then feign innocence when the situation created tension between us for no reason. This subtle (unconscious) manipulativeness allows her to be at the centre of her children’s lives, even though we are now adults with our own families to take care of.
Mothers want to be needed, no matter how grown up their children are. I often attempt to discuss with my mum the positive, expansive and freeing nature of being able to let go, to ‘detach’ herself from her children, so that she too can make choices for her future without the need to feel responsible for us. I perceive it as a way for her to release her frustration and anger for the sacrifices she has made in the past. Sadly, the more I encourage her, the tighter she clutches to her role at the centre.
At times, when I think about family, I feel suffocated in heartbreak. I see sadness and fear, including within me; fear to tell the truth, fear of being vulnerable, and a fear to live with freedom. There is also much to be heartened by, because ‘family’ is the baseline, the ground from which I can access a lifetime of learning about who I am.
Some years ago, both my grandparents died within a year of each other. At the time I received the news, I remember feeling a huge weight lifting off my shoulders and moving up towards the sky. It felt as though their spirits had finally been released from the constant pain of sickness and that I too was somehow freed to move forward with my life with lightness in my heart.