What do you see when you look in the mirror? Sometimes when I look beyond the obvious reflection, all I see are self-inflicted wounds. Some are small, but others are deep lacerations, as painful today as the day they were dispensed.
When our girls were little, I was determined to tell them ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ no matter what.
That’s right! I was steadfast in my resolve that I would always answer their questions honestly. No matter how much it hurt me to do so, no matter how much it hurt them to hear it, and no matter what the consequences.
I was very single-minded and one-eyed in this philosophy of mine and yet, in doing so, unfortunately, there were times when the truth arrived at my door hand in hand with pain. I’m not talking about a little physical sting that eventually goes away. I’m talking about the type of heartache and heartbreak that leaves permanent scars from wounds that refuse to heal, lacerations that perpetually reopen – often and when least expected.
For example, there was that brutal moment when I told our eldest daughter ‘where’ Santa Claus lived. Microseconds after the words flew out of my mouth I realised she was too young to be told he ‘lived in mummy and daddy’s hearts’ and if she stopped believing, he would ‘die’ – for real.
What was I thinking? Obviously, I wasn’t. How I wish time had miraculously ground to a halt and provided me with the opportunity to think about my answer, really think about it, before I became the sledgehammer that shattered her delicate little heart. I can still see the look on her face. It’s etched into my mind as a permanently tattooed mnemonic of what I did to her.
Rest assured though, that sledgehammer did as much, if not more damage inside my own chest and I still feel my heart panic and slam against my ribs each time I relive that fateful day driving her to school and she surprised me with her question.
Oh, how the truth can hurt. But as much as that factuality still causes me sorrow, it pales in comparison to the despair that racks me when I think about the time I didn’t tell the truth. And I didn’t just lie to one child either, I lied to all three of them, and nothing I do or say can heal the trauma that lie inflicted upon me.
– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –
Many years ago, we decided we needed another member of our family, so we got a dog. Not just any dog either. We bought a purebred Border Collie. It was a big decision and we went without many things in order to save the money to buy him from a reputable breeder. He was mainly white with a splash of black across one eye, both ears and a huge dollop over his back and rump and down his tail. He wasn’t the runt of the litter, but he wasn’t the alpha male either. We called him ‘Mike’ but he became known as ‘Mikey’ as opposed to ‘Mickey’ and he was a lovely dog; a treasured member of our family.
Our youngest, Melissa, was barely crawling when Mikey joined our family. Little more than a ball of fur with legs, he was just adorable. He had a lovely nature, as most border collies do, and quickly became the favoured ‘pillow’ to lay on when watching the television. He was so patient with our girls, especially Melissa, and never snapped or growled as they played with him as if he was a living, breathing, dolly.
(This story could get overly long, so I’ll forward to the part that cuts the deepest.)
Many years after Mikey joined our family, we struggled to keep him in our yard. He loved to jump and run, as most border collies do, and although our yard was big enough, he had spent several months on my parent’s property – a 1,000-acre ‘doggie heaven’ – and our ¼ of an acre must have felt like a prison cell.
We could ill afford a higher fence at the time, and although we tried tying him up in the backyard, this practice drove a stake through my chest every time I looked into his crestfallen eyes. So I put a stop to that and we all started the tedious process of encouraging him to stay in his own yard. Easier said than done, and easy enough to do when you are at home. Not so easy when you’re at work or in school all day. So we’d tie him up in the morning as we left for the day, and let him off when we got home.
I arrived home from work one day, knowing he’d not been tied up that morning, and he wasn’t sitting under the bay window waiting for me. “Off around the neighbourhood again,” I thought, and yet ice ran through my veins as I found the note the council’s dog catcher left in our letterbox. “Please pay a ransom of $350* or you’ll never see your dog again!” I’m sure they are not the exact words, but you get my drift and this was not the first time he’d been caught. We’d already paid the fine once before.
What followed was the most painful decision I’ve ever had to make because this time our financial situation was different. Two things had happened simultaneously:
1) I’d taken a promotion at work, and while most promotions come with a pay increase, this one came with a decrease in my pay packet. I’d been working regular overtime on shifts that attracted 30% penalties. My promotion put a stop to all of that extra work and hence, all that extra money; and
2) Our home loan ‘honeymoon’ period ended increasing our base interest rate and subsequently sending our monthly repayments skyward. We were struggling, really struggling, just keeping our heads above water making those repayments on our ‘great Australian dream’.
We had other bills to pay too, as well as school books and uniforms to purchase. We didn’t have a cupboard miraculously always full of food for a rainy day such as this. Nor did we have a family or community support system in place either. To put it quite simply, we didn’t have savings, we didn’t have a magic ‘piggy bank’, we didn’t have any money. We were living hand to mouth as they say, with no light visible at the end of (what felt like) a very long and very dark tunnel.
That we did manage to put together three square meals a day still amazes me.
And here it comes – my decision, my dilemma, my self-inflicted wound.
I could feed my children, or I could rescue our dog.
– ⋅ o ♥ o ⋅ –
All these years later I still think we may have recovered from a missed loan repayment or two (though our bank manager might have had other ideas) and we may have survived the following month without any food. We may have, and my eyes still sting, and the floodgates slam open, every time I think about not only the decision I made but what I then told our girls.
Rather than tell them the truth, I chose to tell them a lie, to ease their pain, and to take it all on board myself. I chose to inflict a wound that has never healed.
How do you tell your children choosing them over the family pet is/was the right decision to make? How do you explain the heartbreak that often comes hand in hand with financial burden? How do you explain why?
You don’t and I didn’t.
Instead of telling them the truth of what would happen to Mikey because we couldn’t pay the fine and bring him home, I told them a farmer took Mikey to live out west with his family.
(This is the third sentence I’ve written that has caused me to walk away from my computer.)
I still see their sad little eyes brimming with tears every time I think about it.
I’m so sorry Mikey. I’m so sorry girls.
I still tell my girls the truth, though over the years I’ve started telling them either the portion of the truth I want them to know or the portion that will hurt the least. One day, when they are a little older and perhaps have children of their own, I hope they never have to face the decision I did and that they forgive me for putting them first. One day I hope to forgive myself, not only for what I did but for lying to them about it. One day, perhaps, this won’t hurt so much and my reflection won’t allow me to see this wound.
For years I’ve told everyone I don’t have a pet because I’m not an animal person. Ok, so no more lies – the truth is, I couldn’t withstand another bout of this agony that comes hand in hand with having to let them go.
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
In response to the Sandbox Writing Challenge – Exercise No 1 – Reflection