For as long as I can remember, I was somebody else. My driving factors were love, approval, and being wanted, for who I was. That never came, in part due to the fact that in my work to achieve my goals I molded who I was to others’ specifications. As a result, I am trying to figure out who I am, even though I’m now an adult. Even now, it is easy to slip into the role that I deem others expect of me. It is hard to summon up the strength to remove the mask I’ve become so good at wearing, out of fear of reproach and backlash.
Ultimately, I was to be the perfect daughter. My family had to appear as the model family, and my parents worked hard to make sure that each of us looked and acted the part, at least when we were around the public eye. To this end, we were constantly drilled on what was right and what was wrong. We memorized Bible verses pertaining to each sin we committed, and were forced to recite them upon our wrongdoing. It didn’t matter whether we were alone or in a crowd of people, if we did something my parents didn’t approve of, we had to confess what we did wrong and recite our Bible verse. My father took great pride in this, and liked to show it off to those around him. If we were so much as to utter a “But, Daddy…” he would immediately look at us and say, “Ephesians 6:1-3.” Whereupon any culprit in question solemnly repeated, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother,” which is the first commandment with promise: “that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.”
I had no choice but to be the perfect daughter. It wasn’t just because my parents said so, or even just because God said so. If I wanted to grow up and get married, I had to be the perfect daughter, so that I could better be the perfect wife. To this end, my “training” began at a very early age. I had to help around the house a lot, ever since I was very young, but around my mother’s sixth pregnancy, I really became de-facto mother at the age of ten. That time she had twins, and so she was bedridden for quite some time, both before and after the babies were born. My ten-year-old mind didn’t understand it. I was expected to cook and clean and watch over my other four siblings. I had to make sure that we got our schoolwork done, and that the house was picked up before Daddy got home. I had to make sure that dinner was made, and people were eating, and in bed at a reasonable hour. I had to make sure that my brothers didn’t sneak onto the computer when they weren’t supposed to. Failure to do so was met with swift punishment, so that I might learn from my mistakes and bad habits wouldn’t be formed. But I didn’t understand why I was expected to do things Mommy didn’t even do when she was up (yes, that does mean we didn’t have a perfect family life!).
It was my job to help out. I was the oldest, and so I should be happy to do what is needed to help the family. Cleaning the house and making the meals and doing the dishes were just part of our chores, anyway. Even after Mom recovered from that pregnancy (and the ones that followed), we still did all the dishes, and cooking, and cleaning. Doing schoolwork with my younger siblings was just what was expected of me… it would be selfish to not help out where I could. And helping out didn’t even stop when I went to bed. More often than not I spent my nights sleeping with one (and sometimes two, with the twins) baby next to me, so that Mom might get some rest. I was petrified every night that I would roll onto them and kill them, or that I wouldn’t wake up when I heard them crying. If I didn’t wake up, then Mom or Dad probably would, and they’d come in and be angry with me for not waking up and bringing Mom the baby.
That was when the charade really began. Part of me didn’t even know I was putting on a mask, because part of me really believed it was both necessary, and what I wanted. The other part fought and tried to refuse to go along. That was the part that made up stories about how I was a strong kick-ass woman who was doing dishes because she was undercover on a mission. My imagination made things bearable, and until now, I didn’t realize that what I pretended spoke volumes about how I felt. In the words of Mulan and Christina Aguilera, I want to start by telling that ten-year-old me… that I don’t have to pretend to be someone else for all time. I can be me, and I don’t need to worry about living up to other people’s expectations… only my own.