The dragon

My mind has always been chaotic. But I guess growing up in chaos will do that to a person. I could write countless chapters about the relationship with mother, but it still wouldn’t even cover half of it. I guess I’ll have to start at the beginning. Growing up I was always quite protective of my mother. My early childhood memories mostly consisted of her crying, yelling or sleeping for days on end. I guess now that I’m older it would be quite easy to understand that she was depressed, but as a kid I didn’t really have much understanding of her behavior. However, I knew she was sad. Really sad. There was nothing really worse than seeing her cry. So I always did my best to comfort her. The first time I saw her cry as I previously mentioned was after Grandma had died. Our whole lives shifted after that. 

The first time my mother laid hands on me was the first time my heart broke. I was heartbroken because my mother was the love of my life. I had placed her on a pedestal that was higher than life itself. My sisters had eachother and friends to do activities with, but not me. I had my mum. I would much rather go to the grocery store with her than to play with anyone really. I loved holding her hand when crossing the street, listening to her gossip with her friends on the phone. My mum often jokes about that. How I used to copy her language on the phone, and how I learned most of my somalian from listening to those chats. I used to learn her favorite somalian songs so we could sing them together. Not because I actually liked the songs or in any way understood what they were singing about, but because I loved the sense of pride she would feel when I sang them. Her somalian daughter, born and raised in norway, but embracing her somalian culture. I suppose that’s why she enjoyed my impulsive performances. I used to always say that I was going to be a lawyer when I grew up. I don’t think I actually ever wanted to be a lawyer, I just loved how my mom would tell all her friends and brag about how she was gonna have a daughter who would be a lawyer. I used to say that I was gonna get rich and buy her a house one day, and she would always smile when she heard it. Once, the mother of the girl next door, who I sometimes played with, gave us each money to go buy snacks at the mall since it was valentines day. I remember I came back home with a necklace for my mother, and how excited she was when I gave it to her. She still reminds me of this sometimes, how I bought her a gift instead of candy. You have to understand that I was a maniac for candy, so this was a really big confession of love. I made her cards constantly, reminding her that she was “the best mom ever”. I’d give her these cards even on the days when she would swing a chair at me. It was like this ongoing battle. Maybe if I showed her how much I loved her, she wouldn’t get mad at me, or sad, or too tired to come to my parent teacher meetings. My sisters, who were much older than me, would often fight back or run away to their friends, being gone for days or weeks sometimes. As soon as they would leave my mother’s anger would just dissolve and she would crumble to the floor with a kind of sadness that still leaves me weak. She would scream and cuss at them to leave her house, but fall apart as soon as they did. I couldn’t understand why she would make them leave if she wanted them to stay. It was like solving a puzzle that had pieces missing. The only person that could provide me the answers I was looking for was the one person I was too scared to ask. So I would just lay with her on the floor. My tiny arms wrapped around her, reassuring her that she had me. But she would just finish crying, get up and go to bed. Staying there for days, sometimes weeks.

 My first years of primary school I would make my own lunch for school and breakfast for my mom at the same time. I’d bring it to her room with a cup of tea. Sometimes she would eat, but usually I would find it untouched when returning from school. I don’t even know what part I felt was worse. When she was angry at us, or when she would disappear. I used to refer to the mean side of my mom as the dragon. I made this story in my head where it wasn’t my mom who hurt us, it was the dragon inside of her. Forcing her to do mean things. Cause when my mom was happy, oh she would light up the whole room. She has such a great laugh and the most beautiful smile. Making my mom laugh was like winning the lottery to me. She would just be so happy and take us shopping and talk about trips we were gonna take. I remember once, I came home from school and she said we were gonna go to Paris and live in disneyland. Disneyland was my biggest dream so I was over the moon. My sisters were staying with one of their friends, so it was just me and her. I started packing immediately and kept telling my mum how excited I was to take all of the rides. I asked her when we were gonna go and she said we were gonna go the next week. I talked about Disneyland everyday that week. But for each day that passed my mom was less and less responsive to my excitement. I had told everyone at school that me and my mum were gonna go to Disneyland, and they were all super jealous. But as my mom became less and less excited I started talking about it less and less at school. Several weeks went by, and I remember I unpacked my bag and never mentioned Disneyland to her again.  Till this day I don’t even know if she ever even got the tickets. 

Looking back at this I have so much sympathy for my mom. She was a single mom, in a foreign country trying to raise three daughters. Not to mention that she had not long before fled from her hometown being bombed, watching what used to be her neighbors and friends crushed under the ruins. Put being alienated by your own family on top of that and you have a recipe for disaster. I think my mother’s behavior was quite understandable for her circumstances. And the part that is probably hard for anyone but our little family to understand is that throughout all that madness my mother had a way of making you feel loved. I felt loved by her when she would buy a dress in my favorite color. I felt loved by her when she would force my older sisters to share their snacks with me because she knew I was crazy for candy. I felt loved by her when she would buy special groceries that were just mine, cause she knew I was quite particular about my school lunch. I don’t think I remember her ever saying “I love you”, but she didn’t have to, I already knew. They way she would brag about every little silly thing I could do to other people. “Amali does her homework everyday after school, she makes her own lunch, and goes to her own parent teacher meetings”. That was my way of knowing she was proud. She would always sneak a peek at me while she bragged about me to others, and that little look was all the confirmation I needed. 

But the older I got, the less it meant. Cause the dragon in her was no longer only violent but also vocal. And the things she would say when angry roamed around in my head longer than the nice things she would say about me to others. I began to feel less pity when she would cry, as she would watch me cry and hurt me more. Her attacks didn’t feel as random anymore, they felt personal. Aimed directly at me. Once I was doing the dishes and afterwards I was washing the counter with a washing cloth, which apparently was the wrong one. I don’t even remember hearing her come into the kitchen. But before I knew it my hair was being dragged and I was on the ground. Her hands pressed around my neck again. Last thing I remember seeing was her angry face, as if I was her greatest enemy. I woke up, alone, on the kitchen floor. By the time I got up, my sisters had left. I assumed they fought as well. The door to her room was closed and for the first time ever, I didn’t bother going in to comfort her. I just went to the balcony, and cried for hours. 

The summer before I began 8th grade, my mother took me shopping. We bought so many clothes, different outfits for me to wear at my new school. I had some difficulties making friends at primary school, so the outfits were a desperate way for me to make a good impression. As the kids from my primary school would also be attending this school. They would probably say all kinds of things about me, but with these new clothes I would be a new Amali. The advice my mother gave me before my first day was to not be so sensitive. To not care what anyone says really, and act cool. Which is good advice really as all kids at that age want is a reaction and drama. But I was never really good at acting cool so my eagerness and desperation to make friends was quite easy to spot. I made two friends my first week. One girl that had moved from another city, and one that went to a different primary school then me. It didn’t take long before they knew I had problems at home, as they became the people I ran to and stayed with when the dragon was awakened. It started with me staying at theirs a night every now and then, to me staying with them several days at a time. My mom never really called to check where I was after she had thrown me out. This bothered me more than her initial attack, as it made me feel as though she really didn’t care if I lived or died. Before I made any proper friends I didn’t really have any families to compare to my own. But each night I spent away from home, the more I realized how bad it was at home. It almost became harder to tolerate. 

It had almost become a routine, even though it was chaotic. The usual. Once the dragon in my mother had burned at least one of us she went back to her cave of pillows and comforters, and stayed there for days. And I guess as her children we all responded differently to that. But the one thing we all had in common is that we never spoke about it afterwards. It’s as if we had this unspoken rule, where after a fight, no one spoke for days. Our conversations would start with something random, like “what time is it?” I guess we learned that from our mom. After each incident she would go silent, then out of nowhere say “you should wear the green shirt to school tomorrow”. Or sometimes she would just make dinner and say that dinner was ready. We would all take our portions then sit in opposite places of our apartment, and eat by ourselves. I remember being taken back by the idea that my friends families had dinner together, every, fucking day. The idea of having dinner together even once was mind boggling to me. And the craziest part is they would talk. Yeah, actually talk. Catch up on eachothers day or whatever. For me, eating at my friends places felt more like an interrogation than a conversation. They would ask me all these questions about me and my family that I just didn’t know how to answer. Although they were aware that we had problems I never found the courage to speak about it to anyone. It felt like betraying my family somehow. Sometimes they would drive me home, after calling my mom to say that they were dropping me off. As if she cared. I think this is when I first noticed my mother’s people pleaser tendencies. Because she would come to the door, fully dressed, with a smile on her face. Then she would smalltalk with them and smile at me as if we were cool, even though she had beaten the shit out of me the previous day. I felt like I was in a movie, with these brand new roles being played by people I knew.

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