It happens every time I see the name in my inbox. Like whispers, words from long ago come back to me.
I want no part of your life if you marry him.
You're a slut.
Or when I see the name on my call display.
You can't marry him, he's sick and will die, leaving you alone
Living together is living in sin.
If you marry him, we want nothing to do with you.
You're not good enough.
We are disappointed in you.
The barely audible whispers at night, in the dark corners of my head whenever I'm feeling depressed or anxious. They come with the e-mails, the phone calls, and cards in the mail. A cloud grows over me and follows for days, clawing at me to give in while I fight to move on. At night in my dreams, the nightmares come and I see desperate situations long since past over and over.
Trapped in a bathroom with her as she rages at me, screaming that my innocent act of baking cookies for my boss really was a bid to steal him from his wife. What is she talking about? I'd never do that, I was just being kind.
Lying in bed after being convinced that to keep my family I must leave the man I love, and eying the window wondering if I can escape but, I have nowhere to go. The drama has affected my job, I've been moved from my apartment, and I'm not sure he'll want me back. Why would he? People comment enough on our age difference. Would the fact that my family has already been judge and jury without even meeting him be the final straw?
In my dreams I'm strong and confident. I tell them that I don't need them and walk away. The truth is, I was once so desperate to be loved, and be accepted, I was willing to do anything, even sacrifice myself. I've never been the child in trouble. Never drank. Never slept around, never swore, did drugs, or even broke curfew. I was the good child, the one that never defied authority. That is, until I fell in love. In their eyes he was everything wrong and abhorrent, this person who was stealing their innocent daughter. In mine, he was everything that I had ever hoped for, but wasn't sure I'd ever find.
I was 21 then, living on my own in the city and supporting myself. Surely old enough to make my own decisions, but not in their eyes. As they sat in his living room they told him about the boys I dated in high school, making me sound like fickle and unreliable child. They rolled their eyes and mentioned I don't do housework well, and that they thought I couldn't make decisions for myself. My own parents, listing every reason why I was unlovable, unfit to be a wife, and trying to talk him out of loving me. Instead he sat there, green eyes looking at me sadly, hand stroking his coffee cup. Suddenly his eyes narrowed and he met their gaze evenly.
"You are entitled to your opinion, but I don't agree."
For the first time in my life, against the tirade that I so feared, someone was standing up for me. Not just that day, but every day thereafter. Someone who saw the best in me and encouraged me to reach for whatever made me happy. Someone who began to change the voices...
I believe in you
You can do this
You are special
You are smart
You are so, so loved. No matter what.
Years later, finally a mother myself, she turned to me and explained,
"Now that you're a mother, " she paused, "You'll understand."
She's wrong. I don't understand. I will never, ever, understand.
As I see my own child, now a teenager struggle to find himself and grow into the man he'll eventually become, I pass on different voices:
I believe in you.
You can do this
I will never leave you
I may not always agree with your choices, but you'll always have my support
You are smart, special...
.....and you are so, so, SO loved. No matter what.
It's been 16 years, and every now and then I hear the voices in the dark corners at night. They lurk in the words in e-mails, in the envelopes of the letters, and over the phone. The clouds try to chase me, reaching out their hands to drag me back into a hole of depression that was so familiar. The words drum loudly occasionally, and I fight to shut them out.
It's been 16 years.
Finally, something is happening.
My own voice, once so small and meek.... is now the strongest one of all.