Living With Me

So, I thought today I'd describe what life is like living with me.

Are you still there? Good. I promise not to be full of myself (well, maybe just a little bit), going on and on about how wonderful I am, how amazingly considerate I am at all times, how generous I am with my time and love, and how gorgeous I look even first thing in the morning. And my breath smells like roses.

That was fun. Now the real story.

I come from a broken, Polish family. And not just any old broken, Polish family. Those are a dime a dozen these days. No, mine is different. Special. One-of-a-kind really. Actually, I can't believe I just wrote that. Of course no family is a dime a dozen. Don't listen to a word I say.

My parents met on a blind date back in the early '50s, after they both arrived on separate ships from Europe in an attempt to start their lives over after the Second World War. They both ended up in Germany once the war ended, my mother with the family of a German judge, my dad in a German-run work camp. They both had very different experiences, and I won't go into them here. I'll tell you about that another day when I feel like being extremely depressed instead of just quite depressed.

So, they met, fell in love (or maybe lust), and got married soon after. My brother, George, was born soon after that, and then nine years later, I arrived. Just over a year later, my younger brother, Leonard, arrived on the scene, and our family, as it were, was complete.

My father worked hard. He came to Canada and worked on a few farms before ending up working for the city as a labourer. He worked hard to make sure his family never needed anything. We had a warm home, a car, lots of food, and enough clothing. My mother stayed home and raised us.

Days spent at home were interesting, I guess I will say. No day was boring. My mother was the usual mom of the '50s and '60s: apron tied around her waist, hair coiffed, cooking food, cleaning floors, washing clothes, sewing up holes. The difference was you never knew what kind of mood she would be in, and what that meant for you. Some days, she would be singing in the kitchen, some opera or Mario Lanza soliloque. Those were usually good days. You knew she was happy and that she'd be in relatively good spirits, so you could let your guard down a bit and maybe make more noise than you normally would. Most days, however, she wore a frown, reminiscent of the Grinch's (I'm not kidding), her brow furrowed, her eyes focused on the task at hand, ignoring all else.

My mother was never officially diagnosed with any mental illness, but any professional I've ever talked to is sure she suffered from major depression or even bipolar disorder, and probably paranoia. She always felt the world was against her, even her own family was against her, and there was no way in hell she was going to let anyone hurt her. As a result, she built this wall around herself that no one could penetrate. No one except Leonard, and even then, sometimes not even him. And she made sure it stayed that way.

There was a lot of screaming, hitting, nasty words, and silence in our home. There were weeks when my mother would not get out of bed. We kids were left to fend for ourselves. She wouldn't eat or speak or acknowledge our existence.

However, she always had time and energy and smiles for Leonard, the youngest. To this day, I don't know why, but he had a special place in her heart. Possibly because he was the youngest, and she felt he needed protection. Who knows. I do know that she didn't feel that way about George or me. It was pretty much the opposite. We were a thorn in her side most of the time, a pain in her rear. George, being much older than me, basically went on with his life, scarred as he was by his experience with our mother. But he was old enough to manage not to be around her most of the time, and he was independent enough that he eventually just avoided her altogether. I, however, was not. It was tough in that house. I never felt safe or loved (except when my dad came home from work). I never knew when the next blow to my head would come, or when I would not be offered any food at dinnertime, or shunned entirely and met with complete silence. I was alone and I knew it. It was pretty clear.

As a result, I learned to trust no one, to take care of myself, and to feel like it was me against the world. I always felt on edge, like a wild animal, fight or flight at the ready. And that is how I was. Until I met Mr. Handsome.

Mr. Handsome and I spent lots and lots of time together. We grew close and fell in love. We ended up moving in together a year later into a one-bedroom apartment by the river. And that is when Mr. Handsome noticed that all was not right with me. I would hide in my shell whenever we had a disagreement, or what I would perceive as a disagreement, something I had learned at my mother's right hand. This is how she dealt with my dad when they fought, which was often. Nothing was ever resolved because she would close down and shrivel up. And that would be that. That is all I knew about arguing and disagreeing. And I also believed to my core that if Mr. Handsome and I fought, or if he just looked at me crooked, it obviously meant he thought I was an idiot, a loser, and worth so much less than he.

One day, Mr. Handsome and I had argued, god knows what about. It was probably something serious, like I said, "Boy, it's sunny out," and he said, "You think?" Anyway, I ended up in the fetal position on the couch for two days straight. I didn't speak to him or acknowledge his existence. He came home one night, sat down beside me, took my hand in his, and said I had to get help or we were over. He couldn't live this way. And honestly, neither could I.

Mr. Handsome was so right. I needed counselling. I needed to learn ways to deal with my low self-esteem, my hatred for myself, to stop the endless tape in my head that told me I was stupid, ugly, worthless. I also needed to realize (which was really difficult to do) that Mr. Handsome was not my enemy. I had to let my guard down and let him in, trust him not to hurt me.

It's taken years of counselling, medication, and hard hard work. I still fight those demons, still have days where I hate myself, hate everyone, feel all alone, the words of hatred filling my head and overflowing. It will be something I will be dealing with for the rest of my days. But I have done a lot of work to learn how to better deal with these emotions, these sometimes
very overwhelming feelings. And I have Mr. Handsome, two amazing kids and my wonderful friends to help me remember my worth.

Mr. Handsome has to be the most patient man on earth to have stuck it out with me. Honestly. He saw something more in me, the true me hiding underneath layers and layers of grey and black sadness. And with his patience and his support, I slowly started climbing out and smiling again, and believing that I was someone, I was worth something, that my opinions and my feelings count as much as anyone else's. He wasn't always there for me, that wouldn't be humanly possible. He also had to protect himself when my proverbial knives came out and tried to strike, slashing at him and at anyone who came near me. But he was and is there when it counts, and that's what matters.

I have to say that if it weren't for my dad and Mr. Handsome, I probably wouldn't be here today. And I wouldn't be the person I am today if it weren't for Mr. Handsome. We have many more good days than bad now, we understand each other, love each other fiercely, and know that at the end of the day, we're there for each other come thick or thin. And, when I'm feeling particularly down and hating myself, Mr. Handsome reminds me to peel the layers and bring the real me out again.


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