I build walls | Reality Check

When I was 4 years old, my father left us in pursuit of a single life. My parents weren’t getting along for a few years and three kids hadn’t helped the situation. But when my father left, he left his children as well as his wife.

I always imagined that a good father would be there for his kids regardless of his relationship status. That he wouldn’t put down their mother or trick them into believing that he was being forced to move away, just to see them cry. He wouldn’t give them a puppy each and send them back home to beg to be allowed to keep them when he knew well that the mortgage was a struggle and that some dinners consisted of mashed potato and tomato sauce. And he certainly wouldn’t have left them standing at the front gate, excited to see their father for the first time in a month, but forget to tell them that his new girlfriend’s clothing needs were more important and that he couldn’t see them.

And so the disappointment became a pattern and slowly, but surely, we learned to expect it. A kept promise was a rare gift. So I built up a wall because I expected to be let down repeatedly.

Then my stepfather came on the scene. He promised us the world at the beginning but quickly pulled out the rug as soon as the wedding certificate was signed. When his son came to live with us, I learned that stepchildren are tolerated at best but can never be loved in the same way as a biological child. Favouritism occurred and we were left to learn that again love was being withheld from us, that we were not good enough for another paternal figure.

I watched my mother beaten by her new husband, the man who had promised to love her forever. So that was love? I knew I didn’t want that, so up went another wall. But it didn’t end there. The arguments were just as bad and I saw my mother feel worthless, less than human. There was such hatred, such malice to the words that he used that we huddled scared in our beds at night and dreaded coming home from school. And on those occasions that we did escape, he managed to talk us back and promised that he had change. But he didn’t, he was incapable of change. And so I learned that men always lie and another wall went up.

At 13 years old, my stepfather threatened to kill me because I claimed a packet of rice crackers as my own. This was the second such threat (the first was when I finally got the courage to call the police one argument and he caught me in the hallway) and I learned that my good grades, quiet nature and the help I provided around home could still mean that I was blamed for the break up of a marriage. In reality, he didn’t know how to handle the fact that I didn’t believe the stories he spun my mother. He would never understand (or even know) that I still wake up at night, terrified that he has managed to talk my mother around again.

So I know that I have put up a lot of walls, and behind each one is a story. I know that I am scared and that it has definitely influenced the way that I interact with men today. I know that I fear being hurt and that I have not pursued opportunities because of this. But I don’t know how to change this because, although I may be lonely on occasion, I have not been scarred by a partner of my own. It is my survival mechanism but I fear that maybe my ‘one’ has gotten away because I needed to preserve myself.

My walls protect me, but they also isolate me.

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