Unedited excerpt of my memoir – ©2019 Sylvaine Francine
So, this is the way I live. On one hand, managing my busy schedule leaves me breathless. I pay for my lodging, every Franc, earned honestly. Every Franc costs me my nails which I chew at the end of every month and the intensity of my college curriculum makes me tired and feel helpless. I dread my end of the year exams. Will I pass them? I can’t prove my father right. I remember his exact words.
He got off his chair. He stood taller than me, adding weight to his
sentence, cold eyes plunged into mine, undermined me, his words, cut through me:
”Poor girl… You are crazier than I thought …You believe you can go to the USA. and study… How smart, do you think you are?”
Already, he had turned around and left the kitchen. I was dismissed. End of the conversation. “The hell with you!” was what I wished I could have told him. I knew I couldn’t. I stared at my hands folded on my lap, drew some abstract design on my nails then turned toward my mother and whispered, “Mom?” She sat at the kitchen table, remained quiet. She sighed.
In that moment, I really understood who he was and with who I was dealing with. His words and body language struck me as a hard fist in the pit of my stomach. I accessed the shock and dealt with it with as much poise as I could. Now, I could see myself through his eyes. What a gift. His few words revealed the reasons why, when growing up, I had experienced a constant state of fear. Fear that something nasty was impending. How will he react? How cutting his words will be? What will be the sentencing? A constant sense of fear and doom that had left me confused and terribly depressed. He gave me a gift that day. A gift because I saw myself through his eyes. Now, the confusion had cleared. I knew what to expect and what to do.
After that, I stopped existing. Erased from his family. He did not talk to me for two years. In some way, it was an improvement. I must pass those exams. I will show him. I am so tired. How will I manage everything as time draws closer? My precarious financial state worries me every day. A lot of time I am hungry, but I need to save money for my monthly rent and the utility bills, due every three months. My busy life didn’t leave me time or the energy to be angry at my father. After all, that was anticipated—to receive my father’s wrath was part of life, and to not be angry was expected of me. The anger came much later. I flash forward, I surprised him that day.
I was thirty-five years old. I held in one arm my second born, already three months old. A happy baby who was acquiring on Buddha features, he was taking a lot of my attention, but it was my parent’s first visit ever, and I was trying to do my best. Among meals made from scratch, I served them quiche and they discover eggplant Parmesan, cornbread and Mexican dishes. My husband even made a New York cheese cake, his specialty. We went to the expense of buying expensive French cheeses and one day, I decided to bake my best cookies. Made of almond meal and oat, and sweetened with maple syrup, they cook with a bit of jam in the middle. My family’s favorite. I serve them for dessert. My father commented on how dry they were, they needed more sugar too. He grimaced. My mother found them delicious and asked me for my recipe. My husband and older son ate them, a smile on their faces— in the past I had never baked enough of them.
The next day, I served the last dozen with fresh home-made apple sauce. A simple but home-made dessert. My father’s critical mood surfaced and relentlessly, bashed my home-made cookies for the second time. I guess once was not enough. My new-born gently bouncing on my arm, suddenly feeling anger rising inside me, I get up. Then, I grabbed the plate of cookies with my free hand and intently looked at my father across the table from me. Slowly and in those exact terms I warned him:
“Dad, if you comment one more time on my cookies, I warn you that not only, will you be receiving them on your face, but also the plate.” With that, I moved the plate as if I was ready to smash my target. Truly, I believe that for the time in his life, he realized how powerfully negative his comments were. Frozen faced, he recognized I would not put up with his bashing anymore. By the same token, I admitted to the same conclusion.
I could see my mother, next to him, she glanced at me, amused and smiley. My husband slipped away. (I found him later in the kitchen laughing as quietly as possible.) My older son, almost nine at the time, fluent in French had slid himself under the table. Only my new-born was happily bouncing on my arm. I stared at my father’s face and held his gaze for as long as I needed to make my point across. Then, I added: “I hope I made it clear?” After this episode, the remaining of their first stay with us went smoothly.
Photo Credits: Maxstreaen from Morguefile.com
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