My Hopes, Memories and Dreams

A Birthday Surprise

EMW9WJYNBAKN The moment I alighted the family station wagon that sunny morning of the 6th of October 1982, I had no choice but to succumb to the senses of hearing and touch in order to access clues to my environment. I allowed my feet to take my body in the direction I was being lead and became conscious of the stony gravel crunching under the soles of my sandals. Some even managed to slip through the gaps in the leather between my toes where dusty sand began to gather. A warm sea breeze played cheekily with my hair, which flipped about in a pony tail tied loosely at the back of my neck. Excited tones of children’s voices lapped at my ears and my heart rose in my chest with the anticipation of all that was to come.

My inner voice was particularly audible in this moment, perhaps due to the loss of one particular all-consuming sense that otherwise took centre stage. The presence of the blindfold, a thick woolen scarf that was successfully meeting its obligation of blackening out the scenery before me, suddenly gave permission to that inner voice to leap forth in my consciousness.

“Just be prepared, alright…that’s all I’m saying”.

I swallowed hard. I knew it. I knew this was too good to be true.  There was always a catch….always a let down. Where there was enjoyment, the claws of disappointment lay waiting for it’s prey. Me. My stomach was in knots by now. The ride was over. Metaphorical kicks landed in my gut…pound, pound, pound.

“Why did you allow yourself to feel it?”, the inner critic scowled at me like I was a silly child.

Well…I was a child…a child excited at the prospect of a surprise birthday party organized by her parents.

“Gee, sorry for wanting some well-intentioned excitement to materialize in my life!”, I retorted despondently.

After all, I hadn’t been completely naive. Nagging thoughts had plagued me that something was not right with this scenario unfolding before me, ever since it was first suggested by my mother a couple of weeks earlier. I had simply shoved them to the back corner of my mind and dumped a few piles of hopefulness on top to keep their muffled screams stifled for a while. A kid’s allowed to have some fun surely!

Even whilst I meticulously addressed each hand written invitation to the eight or so children I had mustered up the courage to invite to my seventh birthday party, I had watched my hand become uncharacteristically shaky as it swapped between rainbow colored scented pens. Reality was never really far from the surface despite my longing to slip into a world of Brady Bunch like contentment. I could not help but ask myself the questions.

Why was she doing this, I pondered with bewilderment and awe. Why would my mother be acting with such sickly sweet generosity ? I gave up long ago on any attempts to decipher her motivation behind such uncharacteristic behaviour. This time she had suggested that she would arrange a birthday party at a surprise location and that I may invite eight of my friends. The laughter filled hub of activity that now surrounded me was materializing as the unidentifiable location, and I was terrified. It felt as if one more step forward on my behalf would be all that was needed to smash though the trip wire that I knew was an inevitable obstacle in my path.

It was time. I felt hands maneuvering behind my head as the tightly bound scarf was given reprieve from its task. I chimed in on the tail end of its’ own sigh of relief, however once my eyes focused on the scene before me, my breath escalated to a high-pitched gasp. I covered my mouth with my hands in shock as my eyes darted over to my mother in disbelief and then back again to make sense of what lay before me. All the other seven-year-old children who were gathered around squealed in delight and giggled in response to my reaction. I could not share their enthusiasm.

Before me stood the tallest, most ominous looking slippery slide I had ever seen. Standing at the base it towered above me, its’ rainbow coloured paint-work shining rapturously in the bright morning sun. But I knew, just like the colourful costume that clowns wear, this was simply a façade that served as an entrapment to an unsuspecting child as they raced up the stairs clutching their heshen sack. I however, saw straight through to the harsh metal base, the perfect conductor for the brutal Australian heat. It glared down at me, causing a chill to run down my legs that were now wobbling beneath me like jelly.

My eyes darted back to my mother and I stared at her intently in disbelief. Then I promptly burst into tears. They knew I was terrified of slides. She knew I was terrified of slides. All slides…any slides…anything to do with slides. Even the local park variety of slide installed within me the greatest terror. I’m not sure how the fear originated but I do recall even as young as four years of age, crying and attempting to resist the coaxing of my older brothers to join them on a water slide at a water park we were visiting during a family holiday. At the time, the thought of the combination of height, speed and rushing water was just too much to contemplate, and in hindsight, understandably so. However, my participation appeared to be a mandatory clause I had somehow overlooked when signing on for this family, and so my father forcibly sat me on his lap and down I went. Once was enough. Apparently this was all that was needed to ingrain the terror in me a little deeper.

And here I found myself once more, with the same urge to run and nowhere to go. Backing out was not an option, despite the copious tears that drenched my party dress. I looked up at my parents in disbelief. Why would they plan this knowing full well of my fear? How could this plan ever be envisaged as the perfect celebration to brighten my birthday and fill me with joy and delight? Oh, that’s right…ofcourse…This was the catch. Again I stared intently into my mother’s eyes and recognized the signs of satisfaction…almost glee, that she seemed to obtain from orchestrating another’s heart-ache. Forgive me if I am sounding melodramatic, but this terror was real and demonstrated previously on countless occasions that made it impossible for anyone who knew me closely, particularly my parents…to deny. And here I stood in a dusty suburban theme park, having been lead specifically to the Magic Mountain of Slides. To me, this was no “Fun Park”.

And then I also had to contend with being confronted by the shame and embarrassment I felt in this moment as my peers and their parents stared at me in confusion. This was a scenario that would haunt me in similar social situations throughout my childhood as I found myself caught in the predicament of rationalizing my responses as my parents stood perfectly composed, presenting their well-rehearsed middle-class niceties, seemingly bewildered by my behaviour. Unable to explain my distress through muffled sobs, I was left looking like a spoilt little brat who was not pleased with her birthday surprise. As my mother tightened the grip on my arm whilst still smiling through her red lipstick, she lowered her mouth to my ear and in inaudible tones to the rest of the gathering, she ordered me to join the other children on the climb to the top of the stairs.

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22 responses

  1. Our Mothers were twins, I swear. When’s her birthday? I had your seven year old reaction in my gut while I was reading. Just knew something painful was going to happen before the end. With me it was a roller coaster at Encanto Park. You are something in your willingness to share. It gives permission for those who hurt to share as well. You have an amazingly generous heart.

    I’m looking to the right on your sidebar – Arizona, Thailand, Victoria, Sweden, California, Queensland, Kansas. All in the past hour. So many people and places you touch with your words. Yeah for you!

    March 9, 2010 at 4:15 pm

    • Hi Sara, You know I’ve blocked that detail out of my memory…I think it was May…Anyway, I had been thinking this morning …”Gee my stories are sounding pretty morose.” Plus I know there are children who have suffered and are suffering much greater hurt than what I did. Funny isn’t it ? It’s like there is still a voice inside telling me it’s not ok to share my story. It’s the “What do you have to complain about ?” voice. I heard that regularly.

      So I have had to remind myself that each of our stories is unique and worth talking about. Plus, the insidious nature of emotional neglect is one that does not always garner as much attention as other more overt forms of abuse. The scars can run just as deep.

      As always, I appreciate your words of support.

      March 9, 2010 at 11:01 pm

  2. Sharing stories like these is what separate you from the rest and make you the best… You’re talking about the real you, real life and I love that

    March 9, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    • Thank you so much for your lovely comment. As I commented to Sara above, I have been grappling a little bit with doubts as to whether I should be focusing on my own experience when many others are enduring much worse situations. Your vote of confidence that it is helpful for me to share, means a lot to me today.

      Thank you and take care

      Colleen

      March 9, 2010 at 11:04 pm

      • My Mother’s was May 10th. A therapist friend once said it doesn’t matter who else hurts, it’s how you feel. Kind of like having a paper cut or a splinter. The whole body feels terrific but your thumb still aches if you have a splinter you can’t get out. It keeps reminding you all day. Telling, the process of telling is what shifts everything. Not just for yourself, but those reading as well. Rest assured you are helping many.

        March 10, 2010 at 1:34 am

      • May huh ? Well. And, thank you Sara for your words. You know they always keep me on track.

        March 10, 2010 at 1:40 am

  3. blissbait

    Jesus God, Colleen. Astounding. Crazy. Mean. Sick. Twisted. You took me there. I was one of the kids in the car.

    This was NOT melodramatic. This was strong and articulate and, AGAIN, naked and raw and honest. You have got to pick a through-line….You have MANY to choose from…and write a book. You’re SOOO gifted at this sharing. I believe it would be a service to other’s who lived this kind of childhood. I walk away wishing I could hug You and tell You to Your face how LOVELY and BRAVE You are. Namaste, Beauty. 🙂

    March 10, 2010 at 4:15 am

    • Bliss, you just brought a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. Thank you so much to you and Sara and SoulDose for voicing your interest and support. You’ve no idea how much it means ! I’m hugging you right back !

      March 10, 2010 at 4:19 am

      • See I’m not the only one who thinks so. “Forgive Me Mother For I Have Sinned” in a seven year old voice. Chills, I have chills just writing the title.

        March 10, 2010 at 5:27 am

  4. I would like to be surprised someday in the same way. 🙂
    I like the way you describe all these moments,my dear friend!
    I’m sure that it was a special day!

    Enjoy the moment!!!! 😉 🙂

    March 10, 2010 at 10:10 am

  5. My mom was a force to be reconed with too. We are not victims; rather we are survivors! Don’t forget it! Remember, what don’t kill you makes you stronger. Stay strong and continue to share your stories…. In writing them, you will gain even more insight and strength. And, you will surely let someone know that they are certainly not alone.

    Blessings, Colleen!

    March 10, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    • Hi Cordie, Yes you are correct, writing out the stories is a great way for me to honour the little girl inside and gain greater insight into her strengths. I’m so happy my stories can also be of some benefit to others who can recognise their own story of survival is worth championing too. Thanks for your kind words ! x

      March 10, 2010 at 10:15 pm

  6. dustus

    Hi Colleen. I find pain as well as catharsis throughout your lines Thanks for sharing 🙂
    adam

    March 11, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    • Hi Adam,

      Yes its a double edged sword this process…initially I feel strength from giving a voice to this inner child, then I typically feel sadness for her that sometimes even brings me to tears. And then I resolve to keep allowing her to tell her story.

      You’re most welcome here,

      Thank you for visiting me.

      March 12, 2010 at 8:15 am

  7. Bob

    Colleen,

    Your writing is always very compelling and draws me in every time I visit. All of your fans benefit from your willingness to share your story, especially because you make it so easy to see inside your world.

    Thank you.

    Bob

    March 12, 2010 at 6:52 am

    • Hi Bob,

      I always feel inspired each and every time someone lets me know they appreciate me sharing my story. Thank you for letting me know !

      Colleen

      March 12, 2010 at 8:17 am

  8. Wow. What a nightmare of an experience, Colleen.

    Beautifully written. 🙂

    March 13, 2010 at 8:48 pm

    • Yes, it is a bit nightmarish when I read my own story ! Glad you enjoyed reading it Paul.

      March 13, 2010 at 11:29 pm

  9. Excellent writing, raw, descriptive and captivating. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey.

    March 18, 2010 at 1:36 pm

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