Before it all:
This is my sure shore, where the sun shines idealism onto glittering specks of sand as it has for the last eighteen years. Since the vegetation is not yet tall enough to cast any gloom, the only shadows that exist are from clouds that pass too quickly to be noticed. The ground feels solid—though newly made—built upon teachings from my family. But it is more isolated than others, more sheltered. It is constructed so safely I feel only the warmth of the sun, never even noticing the moon’s changing tides. To me, everything is still. My shape is whole, formed by clear black-and-white moral grounds laid by my parents’ example. I live too secure above the earth to pay any mind to the deep-blue expanse that surrounds me. It probably looks deeper than it is just from my assured perspective. My family is my foundation, my main basic need to serve the rest—my identity. My place is set and I know it, and I am comfortable and carefree here. The only sound I hear is my own noise, which itself is an echo of my parents’ words reverberating in romanticized air. Their voice is mine. I am happy because of privilege and nothing to be unhappy about. In this, my own world, I live surely and with ease, as a child should.
This was my island, until the waves came.
November 17, 2011:
The air was cold and dark, and ghosts of frost snaked in front of our vehicle as we sped down the Whitemud. The roads were quiet and the sky was still. At a red light, he peered through the shadows on my face with heavy eyes to say, “There’s something I’d like to tell you.”
From the words that passed next, my life would change forever. Strangely enough, I cannot actually recall what he said to express that he and Mom were separating, perhaps because I was listening to something else.
It was the sound of the first crash of a shattering truth: everything was about to become different. The facts dragged me from my contented idealistic tower into a deep mess, just to roll me back to reassess all I thought I knew so well.
That day I heard a voice telling me it was time to grow up.
I’ve been hearing voices ever since.
Later that night:
“Take a leap of faith with me,” he said.
Her eyes were glazed over, and tears stained her cheeks. Her mind was hidden, tucked away from the confrontation, protected by an impassable barrier his words could not cross. To me she was not even present, seated like an empty shell on the couch.
“Try! Failure could be an attempt we could grow from,” he urged.
The words surged like an overwhelming be-all-end-all option and crashed dead into her already made-up mind.
With half a heart, she nodded.
It was at that moment I knew their time had come to an end. They must have known it then too.
I had no part in the conversation other than to listen. In one swift motion, their solution crumbled and overflowed into my awareness. My vision of real-life fairy tales was sucked into the deep abyss of a childhood now over. My ideal of romance, embodied in my parents’ marriage, was washed away—scattered fragments to be used in a new idea.
The following month:
All but three inhabitants of the house carried on as if nothing was different, because to them, life was as it always was. My grandma, a side casualty in the whole event, sat on the couch, headphones blasting plugged into her iPad. She mumbled something or other, probably foreshadowing the impending instability she never asked for or deserved.
For my two younger brothers, it was eat, play, sleep, repeat, with little interest for much else. Boys will be boys, and children live in a realm that is completely their own. I knew this.
They didn’t notice, or couldn’t expect that the base under them was slowly shifting, the safeguard around them losing shape.
The façade of trying was not as obvious to them as it was to me. The ground around me was eroding so quickly I could hardly stand upright. What was passed off as the relationship my parents always had —a lame attempt that was somehow undetectable to anyone else—was an utter lie to me. I avoided being home to be less subject to their vacant expressions, forced interaction, and empty “How was your day?” small talk.
While everyone else had been fooled by the calm before the storm, I floated with my parents in limbo. It felt pathetic.
They had drowned my idealism in a pool of harsh reality that a supposed “50% of marriages” eventually face. What’s worse is that for a brief moment they introduced some small hope through an idea.
For a month, I watched painfully as my father’s belief—a reset, a fresh start, a leap of faith, a transcendent solution—did not translate to my mother. For a month, I watched them fake an attempt to fix things, and for a month I felt a stagnant pool of discomfort in my gut.
I also made the mistake of seeking to understand the idea, and it pulled me down with it.
One night after a teary-eyed conversation in the car:
I could be his legacy.
I could understand.
It could be me to triumph, their phoenix, their flame.
He dives full might, splashes,
the floating debris transformed,
Imagine, he prompts,
And the wise caresses my cheek.
This is for you.
A gift, pupils dilate at my core,
Humble and heavy,
but please see,
A few days before Christmas:
All of us sat in a silence no one had the words to break. Dad was moving out. Our family as we had always known it would never be the same.
My baby brother asked “Why?” and the sound of his voice, asking a question no answer could rightly justify, sorely rang in our ears, weakened our hearts, and seemed to challenge the powerful force of the separation of our family’s two pillars.
We held one another, as if we could somehow, just for one extra moment, contain the flow of change that was already gushing.
A part of who I was felt as if it drifted away, and the remainder stayed asking to be re-arranged. I wasn’t prepared to have my identity, which was harvested out of my stable notion of family, shift with no place to go.
January, and throughout the following year:
Sound waves carrying the voices of others in different amplitudes and frequencies struck my ears in an unharmonious tune. The opinions of society had no place in my renewal of who I was, but each word spoken was spurt in my face as I tried to redefine family and manage the changes. The raging emotions of a confused world toyed with my progress to identify myself in relation to it all.
“But they were the golden standard couple! If they couldn’t make it, we don’t stand a chance.”
“Your parents are so courageous, not everyone can make that decision.”
“Some people who shouldn’t be married still are, and other couples who could make it work, don’t.”
“I’m here for you.”
“Think of the children. They should have at least waited until the little one was older.”
“It’s not that big of a deal. Being all ‘woe is me’ is pretty selfish.”
“This must be so hard on you. I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Relationships don’t last.”
Each thought that was not my own would recede out of my mind only to return as an insecurity or uncertainty and pound against my understanding of what it all meant. I was trying to see the world’s rights and wrongs as grey, with exceptions to the rules I once strictly adhered to.
Within a few weeks, my dad had already started another serious relationship, my mom lived in denial imagining the situation as temporary, and my brothers just floated on like nothing happened. They were each on their own strange journey through uncharted seas, while I eroded beneath them.
The truth that my parents weren’t perfect flooded my whole being with instability. Seeing my guiding lights unpolished and human awoke a new perspective in me. Their imperfections shed light on my own, and for the first time with a buoyant force, I decided to take my happiness into my own hands. I found creative outlets with art, music, and nature, and learned to have fun by myself. I no longer saw the world through rose-coloured glasses because I realized that it didn’t have to be a perfect place to be beautiful.
Fear and anger and sadness with words contradicting words and actions. This was my mom, with bipolar anxiety and depression.
I watched her mental struggle, her fight trying to integrate her reality into the real world. I received the brunt of it all. Time and time again, the repeat act of the same conversations, the same emotions vented, the same level of understanding achieved, hit me like a taunt.
No battle can be won against brain chemistry perpetuated by personal belief. Will power can’t be as strong as it seems. I can’t help her. Give up. Incapable. Impossible.
The rough texture of months of frustration sloughed my patience and pushed my limits of compassion and understanding.
That is, until I found courage.
For a long time the grand idea of love that was once inspired in me was tucked away, but not forgotten. I had buried it and fought it, but couldn’t help but imagine that something better could exist for me and for all relationships. Though it could not save my parents, I believed it could still exist.
They had been able to harness the courage to make the right choice, even though it was not easy. I still wanted to follow their example, and make my own mark. I wanted to learn from their triumphs and their failure, so I sought the courage to give up something comfortable to grow. I let go of my own boyfriend of three years, for the dream of something greater I couldn’t help but believe.
I also decided to try. My mother, who transformed in my eyes too many times to count, would still always be my mother. I loved her, in her light and her darkness. I pledged I would take care of her even when I didn’t understand her, because I wouldn’t be who I am without her.
The summer of 2013:
With my newly formed shore, I was building myself up again. My faith in the world around me cycled with my newfound courage, and I began to speak a voice of confidence and truth. I sought learning and wasn’t afraid of honesty, of trying new things, or of breaking out of comfort zones to grow. I left home to live in another continent with half of the extravagances I have always been spoiled with. I climbed the world’s largest free-standing mountain, and pushed myself to extremes of mental fortitude. I came down to the earth I was raised up from to finally understand what it meant to be a part of the place I always belonged.
I was slowly letting go of my parents’ hands to forge my own path, and to recreate my own paradise.
The months till now:
Change is a constant. I feel the fluctuating highs and lows of optimism and cynicism as life goes on and people, knowledge, memories, and ideas flow in and out. I feel the push and pull of the stresses of school, work, and other responsibilities balancing with my growing self-awareness. My child-like dreams resurface and adjust to the harsh reality of adulthood, and I still seek my own true love despite it all.
So I am now who I always was and was meant to be, but with an inner voice that will only grow louder each day. My beliefs are the identity to which I have tethered myself to float with the changes. My own voice—a unity and diversity of the voices of all those around me —will respond to the changing world. It is challenged daily, and often confronted with second thoughts, and has more room to grow. But these waves of adversity I had never experienced before were the truths I needed to hear to mature. I heard them well because of my family, who will always remain at the core of who I am.
I can surely say that my parents’ separation is the best thing that ever happened to me. The edges of my world that were weak have been washed away by the crashing waves of reality. My overconfident island of childhood has now reformed into a landmass that knows a reaffirmed truth, and will keep growing as the waves keep rolling in.
This piece was originally written for Write 298 Creative Non-Fiction at the University of Alberta.
It was published in the summer 2014 issue of Glass Buffalo Magazine, and won the University of Alberta Bookstore WRITE 298 Prize in Non-Fiction Writing in 2014.