Challenge: Killing Klaustrophobia (blog 4)

Challenge: Killing Klaustrophobia (blog 4)I want to make it clear, not all Middle Eastern men are like my children’s father. Not all mixed-marriages went as badly as mine did. Please do not paint all of the people from a particular area with the same paint brush, that would be unfair. Look at your community, are you the same as everyone there?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been claustrophobic. I’ve hated small places. I’ve hated crowds. I have especially hated elevators! MY hate for elevators is because twice, yes, TWICE when we lived in Egypt, I got stuck in an elevator.

When I did the claustrophobia challenge, my kiddos put me in a closet and sat on the other side of the door (they are always there, supporting me, even when I don’t deserve it). As the challenge started, the usual happened; shortness of breath, tightness in the chest… just what I expected.

About 20 or 30 minutes into the 40-minute challenge, Amina asked me a question that I had never really asked or answered myself, “Had I been claustrophobic my entire life? When I was in elementary school? College? When did I remember the first time I felt claustrophobic?” I couldn’t answer, I seriously couldn’t answer. I didn’t know. I didn’t have any memory of being claustrophobic until I moved to the Middle East.

Then Amina dropped the bombshell – she remembered. She knew why. She recalled a memory of when her dad had locked her in the bedroom because she didn’t eat her beans. She remembers it getting dark and she wasn’t tall enough to reach the lights. She remembers being terrified, and she remembers me crying on the other side of the door. I didn’t remember any of that.

After recalling her memory out loud, Amina told me she had written a poem and had put it inside the closet. She instructed me as to where I would find the poem and told me to read it. I will type it here, so you will understand, maybe just a little, of the intensity of my sadness, my guilt, my anguish. She gave it no title. But then again, what title could you give this? I decided to title it myself, I chose the title because it is the image I can’t erase from my mind.

Here it is:

Tiny Fingers

Momma can you hear me?


Are you there?


Hear Me!

Momma, are you here?

Shh, shh, little one –

Momma’s here.

I can’t see you!

Can you see the air?


Can you breathe?


Then it is there!

I’m scared, Momma!

I know little one –

Get me out!

When he’s calmed, it’ll be done.

Momma, I’m scared!

Shh, little one,

Put your finger on the floor –

Trace each square up to the door.

It is dark

The floor is cold.

She can’t be afraid,

She must be bold.

Inch by inch,

Her fingers cross the floor.

Her tiny little fingers

Inch under the solid door.

Momma, can you hear me?

Momma, are you here?

Shh, my little one,

Momma will always be near.

Momma can you touch it?

I wish my fingers would grow.

Yes, my little one, I’ve got it –

And I’m never letting go!

There the two sat –

Separated by a door,

Touching each other’s fingers,

While lying on the floor.

Momma can you hear me?


Are you there?


Hear me!

Shh, my little one,

You mustn’t be heard.

I can hear your heart speak to me,

Without you saying a word.

She put her tiny fingers

Down on the cold, hard floor.

Inch by inch they moved,

Until the crossed under the door.

Momma groped the darkness,

Searching for the crack under the door,

And there the two touched fingers,

While lying on the floor.

And then I remembered, it all came rushing to my like a run-away train. My husband, my children’s father, would lock us in the bathroom on separate occasions. Over there, the bathroom lights are on the outside wall of the bathroom (don’t know why), if you are locked on the inside of the bathroom, you have no control if it is light or dark. The only window in the bathroom led to a shaft, not the outside. If you were inside the bathroom with the light turned off, it was total darkness.

My husband, her father, would lock us in the bathroom for whatever thing he thought we had done wrong. As the memories of that horrible bathroom came flooding back, I asked myself why, why did I let him? And then I remembered. My arm would be squeezed, I either walked or was pulled along to the bathroom to fulfill my punishment, if I resisted, I was dragged. When Amina was old enough, to him that was three years old, he would pick her up and carry her into the bathroom. She would recognize the look on his face even before he got to her, and would begin begging for mercy. I learned not to object, it would make him angrier and he would make her stay in there longer. If I tried to pull her from him, he would push me away with a promise to beat me later, which he would. I could take that, but I couldn’t take Amina screaming for him to stop as she heard him whip me with his belt. For her, I fought, but with time, I learned it was easier to not object, to not fight him. I didn’t leave him for that. Why didn’t I leave him then? Why did I stay? I don’t know the answer, if I did, I think I would be cured.

Amina had known all along, she had known and kept it from me. My daughter, the one I am supposed to protect, had been protecting me all of these years by carrying that burden of knowledge, knowledge of the truth of what had happened. I asked her why she hadn’t told me sooner, and she simply replied, “You just weren’t ready.” What more does she know? What other burdens does she carry?

I could barely get through the poem, sobbing and sniffling as I read it out loud. I wanted to die a thousand times for each time she thought of that memory. It was my job to carry that burden, not hers, and I had failed her.

She suffers from claustrophobia as well, same reason I presume. And just as she had done so many years ago, she slid her fingers under the closet door. I wanted to take all the memories from her, but you can’t do that; what’s seen can’t be unseen, what’s felt can’t be unfelt…what’s remembered can’t be forgotten.

And my daughter, who is severely claustrophobic, did something I’ll never forget…she came into the closet with me so I wouldn’t be alone. She suffered with me so I wouldn’t suffer alone. I know it was selfish of me. She is so much stronger than I ever knew, she’s already stronger than I can ever be.

I am writing this all for me really, to work it out. Also, because I feel like a fraud. Every time someone praises my parenting skills, I want to scream out loud, “That’s a lie!” Every time someone praises my children and credits me for it, I want to laugh hysterically and shout, “Fooled, you’ve all been fooled!” I’m not trying to be humble when I say it wasn’t me. I’m not trying to encourage more praise when I say I can’t take credit for what goodness they are. Because I can’t, I have no idea how they are the way they are. The honest truth is, it’s nothing I did. I really, truly, honestly am afraid that I will wake up one day and find that I made them up; I dreamed them into existence as a coping mechanism. And once I’m ‘cured,’ they’ll disappear. Maybe that’s why I haven’t dealt with my past; as long as I am mucked-up, they’ll continue to exist. How could three of the most amazing human beings possibly be my children? Because if I really was a good mother, I never would have let any of the things that happened, happen.

And there is where my anger lies, with the Why. Why did I allow it to happen? Why did I allow it to continue? Why do I think I deserve to get over my past and move forward? Why would I think God will grant me the peace to love myself again when it will be with my children for the rest of their lives? Why? Why? Why? Why do my children take it upon themselves to protect me? All of this time, by not talking about it with them, I thought I was protecting them!

My heart is breaking into a thousand pieces and this is only the beginning. This is just the tip of the iceberg. I fear the cure will kill me.

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