Happy Birthday to Me
Today I am 70 years old and I’ve been a survivor for all those years. I’m entering a new decade in my life and when I woke up this morning, all sorts of memories came to the fore. I’m sitting in a holiday suite in central Florida and I’m writing about some of the things that have brought me to this day. Sounds rather self-centred but it’s not; I’m just thinking of all kinds of events and people who have made me the woman I am today; some are just facts, lists of things, mostly devoid of much of the emotion that they once held years ago, but they’re all part of the package that is Lynn Williams today, threads that are all loosely entwined into bundles that, together, make up the whole that is me.
I will not analyze them but will note that they must have held some significance because they’re still hanging around all these decades later. Having read over what I’ve written, I’ve come to the conclusion that I really don’t need to rehash these memories any more. They’re in my consciousness and there they will remain, but it has dawned on me that I absolutely don’t need to revisit them again. I will indulge my survivor brain to dwell on them one last time, simply out of respect for the survivor in me. It feels good that they no longer have any kind of a hold on me but for my record, here they are.
1. Childhood Memories
These were generally very scary and sad, but one or two bring a warm feeling to me. No little girl or boy should ever have these memories in their arsenal, but they are a part of me so I honour them for what they are and I’m glad they are now stowed away far from my present life:
a. punishments, beatings, demeaning words, deprivation, unwanted, unloved, tormented, shame, ugliness, dirty, handicapped, untouchable, fear and panic, weak, stupid, not pretty, fat slob, unlikable, etc. etc.
b. when it was recess, we fantasized about holding the duty teacher’s hand and when the teacher was really popular, it was even more precious if she took your hand; I got to hold Miss Hall’s hand sometimes, but she was far from the most popular teacher; in fact, she was probably the most ridiculed because she had a club foot so nobody else really wanted to hold her hand anyway, but I did and I probably felt she needed someone to like her just like I needed someone to like me, so our hands were a perfect fit,
c. profound depression and sadness,
d. we once had a family outing, the only one I can remember, and it was to Granby Zoo; it ended like all events ended for me, with slaps, punches and shouting nasty words at me for being a bad girl for something or other,
e. on hot summer days, we sometimes went to Elmhurst Dairy for an ice cream cone; the lines were long but the anticipation of the cold, smooth, creamy flavour slipping down our throats was worth the wait,
f. humour, always the mask that got me through,
g. Hope, my beautiful baby daughter, who I only knew for about half an hour before she was murdered, (I’m acknowledging her in this phase of my life because this is where she first emerged, although I only remembered her, initially, much later on),
h. a sweet, tiny blue bird in the garden which came right into my hand; mummy came up to me and asked if I liked it and I said yes; with that, she stamped on it until it couldn’t chirp or flap its wings anymore,
i. my pets,
j. Ralph, a skinny, short boy holding the hand of a fat, taller girl that was me,
k. Christmases with my aunt and uncle, but these were often tense for me because I had to hide my anxiety so I wouldn’t get punished for some word or action I might say or do to upset my mother,
l. a school talent show where I recited a poem which started something like this; “I ain’t ‘ascared’ of snakes or toads or….” I didn’t win, but the saddest thing was that all my mother felt was shame that, yet again, I wasn’t good enough for anything,
m. volunteering at all kinds of things; at this young age, I was probably looking for praise for a job done well; I was never the best, but I tried so hard to please,
n. I learned to ride a bicycle despite the family’s indifference to this feat, but I was proud of myself,
o. the ever-present letter from the eye doctor which I had to present to every teacher, every year; it declared my short-sightedness, my curse and my downfall to everything in life, and my need to sit at the front of the classroom, just to see the teacher although I could never see the blackboard, thus, everything had to be committed to memory,
p. May Casey, a wonderful Irish lady who loved me dearly as my nanny and who was with me always until the day she died; funny enough, I always accepted her love without ever telling her of the horrors I was living when she wasn’t around.
2. Teenage Memories
These were very hard years for most kids, but especially for me because I never could live up to anybody’s standards, not even my own. I worked hard in school but I really didn’t have much to show for all my efforts. I was the eldest of three daughters, although my siblings were step sisters so, in my mind, that explained why they were smarter and prettier than I; I was anything but a role model for them. I was the failure, the mistake.
a. every Saturday night rolled into the next for years and years and as I watched my sisters go out on dates, wearing pretty dresses and bursting with the expectations of young love, I dreamed that one day my turn might come, but it didn’t,
b. my Sweet Sixteen birthday was held in the Queen Elizabeth Hotel; that was the day I took my mother around the tables and started to introduce her to all my guests and couldn’t remember any of their names! Most didn’t help me out either, but the wrath of my mother fell on me as I, yet again, embarrassed her with my forgetfulness; I still have one of my birthday gifts though, it’s my passport holder which, ironically, held the document that ultimately lead to my freedom from the bondage of my family,
c. depression and sadness, the friends I’ve had for years,
d. humour, always the mask that got me through,
e. stacking shelves in a drug store and being on the cash where I was told to watch out for the kids who may be stealing candies which were laid out on all four sides of the square space I stood in; that was my first job and I took it very seriously,
f. a shopping trip downtown with my mother; I don’t know what we were shopping for, but what I do remember is that my mother spotted an old friend whose daughter was a model in California; they embraced, exchanged a few pleasantries and then the woman asked about me; she thought she saw me there but my mother had told me to run and hide somewhere so I was huddled amongst the coats because my mother was so ashamed of what I looked like; when their backs were turned, I ran out of the store and ran all the way home, sobbing my eyes out and wishing I looked like the princess that lady’s daughter looked like,
g. pets, particularly Toni, my Boston Terrier,
h. High School graduation; I have no idea who my date was, but it must have been one of the very few I had during those painful years and as was the custom in those days, people held breakfast parties after the dance so my mother put on one in our house because she knew I wasn’t invited to one anywhere else; that way she could boast to her friends that I did go to a breakfast, albeit the one she prepared; all I remember about that is there were twins from my class who attended, one was called Sandra and the other, I think, was called Ann; they were both pretty and clever and are probably doting grandmas today,
i. volunteering, always wanting to do good things and please people; I was never the best, but sometimes I got some praise,
j. Miss Keen, my long-enduring tutor for many, many years and the only person on the planet who saw any potential in me; we remained friends until she died and hers was the first funeral I ever attended; may she RIP,
k. my mother, rushing off to see the Dean of the second-rate university, as she saw it, begging him to let her flawed daughter into the Arts program so she could say her child was in university; her expectation was that I wouldn’t make the grade on my own recognisance so, yet again, she felt she had to be my advocate to get into these hallowed halls of learning,
l. my desperate desire to get into a school of nursing to fulfill my dreams and my constant rejections from every school of nursing I applied to, just because I didn’t have high school math on my records; my excuse for being miserable in university and for not getting the grades I should have, was what I told myself and anybody else who would listen over and over again, was that I’d be going into nursing next semester and didn’t need these classes anyway.
3. Young Womanhood Memories
These years held hope for me and a longing to emerge from the cocoon and become the butterfly I longed to be; I was not a pretty butterfly, but I thought there was potential for me out there in the big wide world and in my more optimistic moments, I allowed myself to believe I could be a source for good.
a. university graduation; I made it despite my mother, others and even myself,
b. Rabbi Bloomstone, who patiently helped me understand Judaism, without persuasion, but who, I firmly believe, knew that in my heart, I was a follower of Jesus Christ,
c. CUSO, (Canadian University Service Overseas) the organization that first gave me a reason to use my passport and choose freedom from all my oppressors and perpetrators, CUSO, the organization that transported me from Hell to eventual Heaven, the organization that put me through a rigorous, intense interview process, which I achieved on my own, and which, at the end of it, brought me to a piece of paradise called Biafra,
d. Biafra, Nigeria, where the streets were definitely not paved with gold, where real poverty surrounded me, where I had a houseboy, (about aged 50!) who tended to my every need such as drawing my ‘evening bath’ which was a zinc tub that he filled with hot water and where I stood beside it cleaning off the African dust of the day,
e. the blind children, offspring of leprous mothers, who were my joy every day; we gathered in an open square schoolroom in the bush, a schoolroom which stood beneath a corrugated tin roof and half mud walls; they were hungry for any knowledge I imparted,
f. Blessing, a young student from my teaching days at the Pacelli School for the Blind in Lagos, a girl who felt my arms, because she couldn’t see them, but commented on how soft my skin was compared to that of the African flesh,
g. Freddie, my Freddie, who loved me so deeply and accepted me for who I was without even being able to see me; my husband for only a very short time and my husband in a totally non-traditional way but, never-the-less, my husband for whom I was able to express a love so deep and tender that it has never been repeated to this very day; never has there been a man that I could allow into my life who held my heart and soul as Freddie did and, in some peculiar way, still does,
h. St. Thomas’ Hospital, London, England, a very prestigious place that didn’t care if I had high school math on my record and accepted me for my potential, a place from where I graduated as an SRN, a State Registered Nurse as we’re called in England, a descendant from Florence Nightingale’s first group of nursing students; Nightingales all, as we were called, after our founder, Florence Nightingale,
i. the receipt of my midwifery badge from The Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion indicating I could call myself an SCM, a State Certified Midwife as we’re called in the UK; The Simpson, home of the renowned Maggie Myles, the mother of midwifery, where we all studied hard to learn the gospel according to Maggie, tried never to fail an exam and to scoot out, after our year of study, (not my favourite place in the world)
j. Garston clinic in Liverpool, England, where I met Marian, my ‘sister and soul-mate’ and the rest, as they say, is history,
k. Joyce Lyle, my patient guide and mentor to the New Testament who gently taught me the ways of God and of His Son, Jesus Christ; I had a voracious appetite for all things Christian and, at last, was able to speak my longing aloud, comfortably with one of God’s angels here on earth; thank you Joyce,
l. depression and sadness, the friends I’ve had for years,
m. humour, always the mask that got me through,
n. the receipt of my HV certificate; I became a Health Visitor and a Health Visitor Tutor from the Universities of Liverpool and Manchester respectively,
o. Holy Trinity Anglican Church and the Rev. Bob Metcalf, the place that captured my Christian heart and the man who made it all possible through his teachings about the church, about Jesus Christ and about becoming a Christian,
p. Baptism and Confirmation, the two acts of faith that sealed my Christian life forever; Christianity, the backbone of my being; the Passion, the Cross, the Resurrection and the Promise of Eternal Life, what more could I ever want,
q. travel and the meeting and sharing with fellow sojourners along the way.
4. The So-Called Working Year Memories
I have always loved to work and I’ve been fortunate enough to choose the jobs I wanted. Work acted as a mask for me, covering up for the relative lack of any ‘social life’ and my work was always very meaningful to me and, as it eventually dawned on me, meaningful to others, too. I always played the part of the advocate for the marginalized, the disabled, the poor and the needy, maybe because I have always felt close to those folk, maybe because that role elevated me somehow. As I’m still working, I guess this is the present phase of my existence.
Jobs I have known:
a. The Montreal School for the Blind, Montreal, Canada
b. Summer Camps, Canada
c. The Douglas Hospital for the Mentally Ill, Montreal, Canada
d. The School for the Blind, Biafra, West Africa
e. The Pacelli School for the Blind, Nigeria, West Africa
f. St. Thomas Hospital, London, England
g. Leeds Royal Infirmary, Leeds, England
h. The Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion, Edinburgh, Scotland
i. Liverpool Area Health Authority, Liverpool, England
j. Medical Services/Human Resources, Canada.
- a. Split Lake, Manitoba,
- b. New Ayansh, British Columbia
- c. Fort Simpson, NWT
- d. Holman Island
- e. Cat Lake, Ontario
k. Income Security Programs, Ottawa, Ontario
l. Investors Group, Ottawa, Ontario
5. Special people and Memories
Marian, with whom I shared too many work experiences to note, but without whom, none would have been as rewarding and enriching as they were, not to mention, sometimes exasperating and frustrating,
Elizabeth and my seven or eight years of gruelling counselling, those years when I came face to face with me and where I eventually arose from the depths of despair to the radiance of new light and life,
Depression and sadness, the comforters rather than friends that I’ve had for years, but they are appearing less and less as I get older,
Humour, always the mask that got me through, but needed less and less these days as a cover and enjoyed more and more for the release that humour offers all of us, I laugh less, but more fully and robustly, when something is truly amusing,
My beloved pets, namely Penny and Spirit, my two adorable Papillions,
My friends, who continue to bless me with their love and loyalty and without whom, life would be unbearable,
My daughter Hope, who only lived on this earth for less than the blink of an eye, but who becomes more real and more tangible with my every breath; had she been allowed to live, I would have been so proud of her accomplishments and mostly, would have enjoyed just being her mother and basking in the shadows of her very being.
So, Happy Birthday to me. My birthday was never a day that brought me any joy because I knew I was never wanted and had no value. In fact, at best, I used to say it was the day that Parliament reconvened after the Christmas break. Today, I celebrate my birthday; I know now that I am entitled to it and that special things can happen to me on this day. Most of all, I know how very blessed I am in my unique relationship with Marian, with true friendships that abound in my life, with each day given to me and, if ever there’s a resolution to be made at the dawn of a new year, it’s to not waste a moment on this planet but rather, to make my mark on this earth, to make the reason for my being count and to delight in the things that have meaning to me and to others.
January 15, 2014