I am six years old, ready to go into Grade One. We are standing on the tarmac. Me and my brothers. We are about to get on a small plane and fly four-hundred miles away from our parents. They are missionaries in Nigeria, West Africa.
The wind blows searing hot and we stand there, waiting. There are other kids there; they are waiting too. We get on that little plane and head to Kent Academy, boarding school.
I pose for the picture with my friend, Esther, she‘s older than me, but I think she was nervous too. How could we not be? Our parents are there but they stand there stoic. Back in the day, “they” frowned upon showing deep feelings to your children, especially if you were sending them off for a few months, hundreds of miles away. God forbid, they let their kids know they are scared too. That their hearts wrench and that they will miss you. So, they don’t tear up or look anxious or worried.
(I am the little girl on the right with the headband and hair curled “just so.” On my left is Esther, my friend.)
You exist in this emotional vacuum of sorts. Nothing prepares you for being slammed with grief, confusion and fear. They frown upon tears in boarding school, we must keep our chins up, be brave.
The rules at boarding school are strict. There is no wiggle room.
One of my clearest memories is this:
It’s Valentine‘s Day, and I am very sick and in the infirmary. There is no one else there, just rows of beds, a nurse at the desk and me all by myself with empty beds surrounding me. My brothers come to visit me, but the nurse says “no.” I cannot have visitors.
I remember this as if it were yesterday. I remember the horror of my brothers leaving. The panic building, the terror of being all alone, with no one to care. Really care, not just do their job. Keep that kid away from her brothers; follow those rules. My brothers are not happy, but they have to leave, what could they do? We, trapped in this other world, populated by our peers and by “Aunts and Uncles.” These adults in the guise of providing a “family” atmosphere.
(In front of our home in Lagos, Nigeria. I think I am about 6 here too or maybe a wee bit younger. Little Judy, Susan, Brian and John)
I cannot stand the isolation, the anxiety, and the absolute, complete panic boils to the surface; and I scream. And I scream and scream; a full-on, Class A tantrum. I scream so loud and so long, and no one attends to me. I am being a “bad” girl. I jump up and down, stamp my feet. I only know fear, raw and wild. I am abandoned, lost, alone. I have no voice – not one the nurse will listen to. “You calm down,” she hisses at me, and then goes back to her desk; on guard. She, the sentinel in my prison and I cannot escape.
There is nothing to do except wail and shriek; I carry on and on. Finally, exhausted beyond measure, I crawl up onto the bed; sobbing until I drop into a deep sleep.
When I awaken, later, there is a small heart-shaped container, made with red construction paper (?) lying on my bed. It is full of goodies. My Grade One teacher Miss Orsland comes to see me. She is the one bright spot in boarding school, other than my playmates. She is a kind, and loving woman. I think of her with great affection. Miss Orsland tells me she came to see me earlier, brought me my Valentine treats. She teases me gentle, saying she placed the treats right under my nose and I didn’t even wake up. Her smile twinkles at me, radiates warmth. I lap it up like a thirsty dog on the most scorching of days.
The little girl, little Judy, learns – she is alone, she is not important, and the world is not safe. Her tender heart shrinks – these lessons teach her what no one would ever intend her to learn. But, she also finds too, that kindness exists.
(All of us. Brian, Mom, Little Judy, Susan, Dad, John. Bless my parents, they were doing the best they could.)
This schooling follows me into adulthood. I must learn that I have value, I matter, and although the world is not safe, there are people whom I can trust, and who will love and hear me. This is no small task and is years in the making.
We all have hurts and wounding. Our inner dialogues need shifting. These are the things we work at, when we desire wholeness. We want freedom from the haunting of childhood. So, we do what we can to move forward.
I, over time, let my memories be less of a ruler in my life; even though the memories are important. They give clues to tease apart as we struggle with becoming. Help comes from family, friends, wise counsellors or therapists, prayers and hard work.
I think too that the change and healing I long for is a lifelong process. So, I do not give up. Memories, can be the “frenemies,” that lead to wholeness.
Do you have a childhood memory that marked you, would you care to share?