April 2006, Nigeria: Tragedy, Terror, and Panic

it’s at this point that i have to let it all hang out. this is where you’ll start to see how my brain works. this is where it comes down to the core parts of my being that i’m scared to show. but these experiences were integral to my trip – it’s impossible to tell about the trip without them.

maybe it’s too much starting over (sweet lord how i miss that show!!), maybe it’s a hidden wanting to believe in some sort of mysticism or something, but i’m working on this theory that my life began out of an incredibly sad and tragic situation and i feel like i somehow, in my youngest years, internalized that and took it on as my worldview. i’m constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop, and that stops me sometimes from participating in life.

my dad saved all of the letters that my mom ever wrote to him, and let me tell you, it was a stack about three or four inches thick. he first brought them out just to look for some documents about the last time he applied for a visa. the first time i saw them, i only read a couple of my grandmother’s cards and saw my birth telegram and some other things. here’s what i wrote that day:

“i really liked today and i feel like i’m learning to cope with the heat a little better. that and the relational fatigue. it’s so tough for me to pay attention and stay engaged with people and not want to just zone out on the television or run away. but today was better. i’m learning not to give so much power to the panicked terror that comes when things aren’t going as i want them to go.

“the terror. i feel like i’m at the point with it that ralee talked about where it was hidden away in a box and now i’ve taken it out, put it on the table, and look at it sideways. i didn’t realize how tied i was to it and how the way i presented it made it ok for people to let me have it.”

that part sounds really abstract, even to me rereading it, so feel free to be confused…

“but i don’t want to live that way forever. but some of it i realized could very well be based in my childhood. i’ll have to look once again at trust-vs-mistrust and that stuff. reading over grama’s letters today made me realize just what a sad time it was, how tragic, how devastating for everyone. it’s awful. and from those young memories i have with my mom’s terror and tragedy, it’s no wonder i took it on and made it my worldview.

“to think… there was a plan at one time for my mom and i to move to nigeria… and that my mom was taking those art classes not only for herself, but to help dad with his business. all of that is just so heartbreaking. and i know that God doesn’t make mistakes, but that sure was a lot of shit that got dumped in my lap. i feel like the brunt, the biggest loser, in all of this and it really sucks. but then what about mom? she got her life flushed down the toilet, too. it really is so tragic. and that’s what i came out of…”

ok, i need to do a sidebar and say this: it’s really hard to edit and organize a journal. when i write, it’s very stream-of-consciousness. so i have to figure out what to omit, what to include. what goes in a different conversation. i worry a lot about being understood, yet i’m so guarded. so i don’t know what kind of background information to give. it’s tough. but i’ll say this: i’ve been dealing with depression over the past year. i don’t believe it’s chemical, i believe that my past is getting in my way and screaming to be re-examined (i.e. – why do i look at life as tragic?). it has caused a lot of tension with my mom because i have ill feelings toward her from childhood that i need to figure out. and it was a huge factor – if not the sole factor – in making this trip. i knew i’d never move on with my life if i didn’t get to see my dad and nigeria.

“i need to give myself a break. and i need to give my mom a break, too. i guess she told bari (my uncle) that she was scared that i was going to meet my dad and like him better than her. on the one hand, way to make it about yourself again, mom. on the other hand, she has a point. he and i get along great and i like him a lot. i don’t like her so much sometimes. but i love her. and i’m starting to allow myself some true compassion for her…

“i’ve also been thinking about letting go of the past. another cliche making supersense now. it’s linked to getting to the depths of the ‘tragedy’ and seeing all the many ways i only look for proof of rejection/hate/making fun of me/ thinking i’m stupid/ugly/unlovable. that’s me reacting to how i felt when i was little. i know i’m worth loving and i’m making efforts to rebuild my self esteem and confidence and peace. so i have to find new ways to react to those thoughts. and in doing that i’ll slowly let go of the past.”

well, i wanted to just copy what i wrote about reading my mom’s letters but in looking through it, those are words i want to keep just for me. but the jist is that i got to sit down next to my dad and read all of the letters my mom wrote to him. i got to see her optimism (“if we just keep on trying and don’t give up, things will work out for us”), her unrestrained love for my dad, her vulnerability. i read so many of those letters… i started to skip some because they were all alike from certain time periods. gradually i started looking for the dates. i wanted to find the ones toward the end, i was searching for something. and i found it. i found the letter where she broke. i found the letter where she lost hope and became more monotone and hopeless, accepting reality, and telling my dad that if it wasn’t going to work out that she wanted to be granted a divorce so she could look for someone who wanted to be my father. tragedy.

in reading those letters i knew i was looking for a specific letter, but i was really looking for a way to forgive my mother for the person she became. and in forgiving her, i had to look at myself. and forgive myself for reacting to her the way i did. something in her made me want to shut down and self-protect and be invisible. to only worry about whether she was happy, pleasing her, doing anything so i didn’t have to deal with any anger or frustration. terror and panic. but my mom was not a beast. she’s just a woman who took a risk and got her heart broken and world shattered and had to keep going.

it was that night that i had to face the fact that i was wrong about a lot of things. it’s what i was talking about that one time when i wrote from nigeria that my foundation was shaken.

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