My name is Seun Adams. I turned 23 today and I should be excited about it but I’m not. I’m not because exactly 10 years ago today, on my 13th birthday to be precise, my life as I knew it changed.
I come from a regular Christian family of five; father, mother, two siblings. I’m the first child and only son. My family was very normal and loving. Being the only son (and the spitting image of my father), I was loved by both my parents especially my mother. Not like I was a spoiled brat or anything, cause believe me, I got just the right amount of spankings (from my father though; mum could never quite bring herself to hit me) to keep me in check. There was a lot of love in my home, everybody loved everybody else and we didn’t have any major problems except that my mum had a skin condition that made her go to the hospital a bit frequently. It wasn’t that serious though as she was never hospitalised; whenever the symptoms arose(bruises, cracks, dark marks), she’d go to the hospital and come back with her medication and salve for the bruises and in a couple of days she’d be as good as new. Any other issues we had were solved through prayers and discussion. Basically, we were the perfect family, if such a thing exists. Or so I thought.
It was a normal day, or as normal as it could be considering that it was my thirteenth birthday and we were all excited, I especially. I mean it’s not every day that one officially becomes a teenager. Plus birthdays were really special in my house. I woke up that morning by 4.am (over excitement) which is way early for me as I usually have to be dragged or threatened out of bed and after tossing and turning on my bed for about 5mins, I decided to surprise my parents and wake them up for a change. As I crossed the sitting room that separated their rooms from ours, I heard muffled sounds meaning they were up already and my bubble burst a bit. Okay, so I wouldn’t wake them up but the fact that I was up would still surprise them. As I moved closer, the muffled sounds grew louder and I could distinctly make out my mom’s voice. It sounded like she was whimpering. Okay, maybe I should just go back to my room, I thought. I was a year older today yes, but I definitely wasn’t old enough to walk in on my parents making love. Gross. No child should ever have to witness that I thought, smiling to myself and turning back.
And then I heard the piercing scream. That didn’t sound like pleasure. That was pain. My mother’s pain. As I charged into the room, the sight that greeted me is one that I will never forget. My mother was crouched on the floor, stark naked with blood streaming from more places than I care to think about. She was almost unrecognisable with all the bruises and stripes that covered her body. My father hovered over her, eyes gleaming, like a hunter about to pounce on its prey. His left hand was wound tightly around the end of a leather belt, the metal head dangling. His right hand. In his right hand, he held a blood smeared razor blade. I’ll never forget the look in my mother’s eyes that morning. She looked like a wounded soldier begging. Begging for her life. It was that look that jolted me out of my shock. I ran to her and put myself between her and my father. Then I looked up at him, silently daring him to touch either of us. I didn’t know what I would do but I was sure the rage in my eyes matched the one I could see in his. He looked like an animal. Like he was actually considering tearing me apart. And then he faltered. His hand dropped, the blade falling to the ground as if in slow motion. I’ll never forget the sound of the blade hitting the ground. Yes, I heard the sound. And then he, my father, grabbed his car keys and left. And that was the last we ever saw of him.
That was also the beginning of my horror.
It wasn’t until much later that I learnt that my mother’s skin condition wasn’t medical at all like we’d been told. What I witnessed was the last of beatings that were almost as old as I was. They had started with a slap or two now and then ‘to keep her in check’ and like everything else, they escalated over the years. But the ‘blade mechanism’ I witnessed was a premiere and I was privileged to have a front row seat.
After the incident, my mum became very distant. I figured she just needed her space to get over the horror of it all. But I began to notice that she was distant to only me. My sisters, who didn’t know the whole story where closer to her than ever. I thought maybe she was a bit embarrassed that I witnessed the incident but when she started keeping my sisters away from me, I knew there was a problem. Like she was protecting them from me. I tried to ask her about it but she dismissed it as a figment of my imagination. I didn’t know what to do. We’d never been close to my extended family so there was really no one I could turn to. So I continued in silence. After a while my sisters and I were almost strangers. It felt like they had something against me.
On the day I turned 14, the anniversary of the day my father left, my mother acted like nothing was happening. I had to remind my sisters that it was my birthday. After passing my mother for the umpteenth time, waiting in vain for her to wish me a happy birthday at least, I decided to confront her. I could understand that she would have mixed feelings but I was her son for crying out loud…
“It’s 7th of July. My birthday.”
“Oh. Happy birthday.”
“Oh happy birthday? Is that all you can say? Mom for crying out loud it’s my birthday!!!”
And then jumping out of her chair with so much venom and hatred in her eyes that I shrunk, she screamed at me…
“SO WHAT? IT’S YOUR BIRTHDAY, SO WHAT? You drove him away! You drove your father away a year ago! And you want me to celebrate? Celebrate what exactly? CELEBRATE WHAT?”
“DON’T YOU DARE! Who is your mother? Me…?”
At this point I’m stunned. This woman. This screaming woman in front of me is my mother. My mother! I took a step towards her in an attempt to calm her down and she suddenly retreated and raised her hands in defense. As if trying to shield a blow.
“For God’s sake mom…”
“No please. Stay away”, she whimpers. “Please no. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it. Please don’t hit me…please”
And then it dawned on me. She saw me as my father. And that was when the nightmare really began.
From that day, my mother alternated between thinking I was my father and blaming me for his departure. The departure of her beloved husband. She made my sisters scared of me, telling them how I could beat them up. During the periods when she blamed me, she would punish me by denying me food, money and sometimes shelter. When she thought I was him, she would be scared and would make sure she and my sisters didn’t come in contact with me. I guess at such times, it didn’t help that I was the spitting image of him. But was I to blame for that? It really hurt that my own mother would think me capable of being like that man. Or maybe I was? He is my father after all. I was living in a nightmare. Living with a deranged mother. Plagued by self-doubt. The church couldn’t do much and my mother vehemently refused medical help. When I turned 16, I decided that I’d had enough. I packed the little I had and left my house.
Now I’m 23. I haven’t done too badly for myself. I hustled my way through the rest of school and even have a small business of my own. I haven’t been able to sustain a relationship though. I’ve never really allowed myself to love. Everytime I start to have real feelings for a girl, I run. What if I’m truly like my father and I end up hurting her like he did my mother? What if I get married and my child witnesses what I witnessed as a child? That can’t happen; I won’t let it. And so I run as far and as fast as my legs would carry me.
But I want to go home. I love my mum and my sisters and I miss them very much. But I can’t. And every year, on my birthday, I’m reminded of that dreadful day.
Someone please tell my mum. I am not my father.