I didn’t take home my exercise book when I was six because my story got a “C”. Instead, I threw the book into the deep gutter that ran along the side of the road between Central Primary School and my house. The town had huge gutters that filled with rushing water when it rained and where I fell off my bike more than once.
Somehow the exercise book survived the water and my mother noticed it in the gutter on the way home from a parent-teacher night. She dried the book in front of the gas heater. What happened next I can’t remember. I only remember the shame of a low mark, the shame of failing and the constant fear that if I wasn’t perfect then they would send me back. Back to the hospital, back to the nurses, back to being a number instead of a name.
I wasn’t theirs so how could they love me if I wasn’t perfect? My parents had a choice whether or not to keep me. If I wasn’t the perfect daughter, the culmination of my mother’s dreams that died with each miscarried baby, then they would no longer want me. I’d be alone, abandoned for the second time.
If I wasn’t the perfect wife I’d be abandoned for the third time. The lessons of childhood, created in my head, dictated I should keep my opinions to myself. Asking for more, expressing dissatisfaction, wanting to break free from the numbing boredom was forbidden – not by anyone else but me.
For so long I left so much unsaid. Perfect wives don’t complain, don’t want more, don’t object. In the end I could keep silent no longer. I asked for attention, for time, for more than indifference. My husband said I was needy — dependent, soft, weak — nothing about me felt that way. I spent a life time being the opposite. My mother called me fiercely independent.
“If you could have changed your own nappy,” she said “you would have.”