| This is the 453rd story of Our Life Logs |
For as long as I can remember, it was always a constant battle for survival. I was born in 1987 in Jamaica. Growing up in a single-parent home with three siblings was no joke. Four kids with three different last names and only one parent to care for us; hunger was our close friend as my mother could only get odd jobs as a housekeeper occasionally.
In the summer of 1996, my mother sent me to spend a couple of months with her elder sister. The coastline community of Priory, where my aunt lived, was way different from the hillsides of my hometown, Bamboo, but my dear mother tried her best to prepare me, the youngest of her four children, for the journey. I can still remember her telling me to mind my manners when I was around her sister. Little did I know that this would be a one-way trip and I would not return at summer’s end.
My trip to my aunt’s house was the first time I had met her and her husband, my uncle-in-law. She was a returning resident from England. A very powerful, built woman, towering way up above me. Her voice was heavy and affirmative. It would feel as if the very earth trembled when she spoke. She was harsh and kind at the very same time—very frightening to a small, timid nine-year-old. Everyone on Hibiscus Way, the street where her house was, knew my aunt either by her voice or by seeing her looking out over the white circular blocks of the long veranda upstairs. It was as if she saw and heard everything. The woman scared me into being the best-behaving child I could be!
I remember feeling very resentful of my mother. How could she just give me away, and to such a scary woman? I wished that I hadn’t been the one sent away, that I could be with my family, but Mother never came for me, and I was stuck in this new life.
On the brighter side, though, I now had all the food I could get my hands on. I no longer lived in poverty, and I started going to a slightly better school. It wasn’t so bad at first being away from my family. I also had company, my two cousins, who were much older than me but were getting the same help as I was from our “English aunty.”
Both of my cousins eventually grew too big for the strict rules of the house and took off by the time I was 11. My aunt deemed them both ungrateful and disloyal. In that same instance, she turned to me in rage, prophesying that I would do the same when I became a young adult. I became frantic by the accusation; I promised to be different, to never leave, but my words were lost on her distracted ears.
As I got older, I began to understand why my mother had sent me away. She had just done what she thought was best for me. She was trying to give me a better life. If only she knew the mistreatment I would face when she sent me off.
As I mentioned earlier, my aunt scared me into being a compliant child. Sure, I had a smart mouth, but that was it. I was constantly praised for my honesty and helpfulness. This was the young man I was blossoming into. But like most teenagers, I was not perfect. I still had my demons.
As a teenager, I started smoking weed like many others my age. It was just something to do. Don’t ask me how my aunt found out about my new hobby, but she did, despite all my efforts to cover my tracks. After that, she believed me to be a delinquent. She believed I was destined to run off like the others.
That was my first mark on my path to becoming the black sheep of the family. To prove my aunt wrong, I did my best to be progressive by working constantly at a resort fifteen minutes away from home. But it was a futile effort that went unnoticed. I had already made a crack in her view of me and it seemed nothing would change it.
The smell and the sight of the Caribbean Sea at home was my daily high. My grandmother was now living with us, so the need for a maid was a must. They got a middle-aged woman from Kingston to do the job. I didn’t know it then, but she would bring forth the beginning of the end.
Okay, let’s digress for a minute. It was a thing back in the earlier days of the 50s and 60s for people to stash their money under a rock or the bed or a pile of old clothes. Personally, I would never do this type of thing, but you can believe in the 2000s, my aunt, a woman strict and set in tradition, was still using this method of saving.
One beautiful sunny day in 2005, my aunt became frantic. “I’ve been robbed!” She proclaimed. Yes, it turns out my aunt’s hiding spot wasn’t so smart because she was missing a huge sum of cash. Up to this day I am still ignorant to the real amount, but based on all the hullabaloo it caused, I would say it was a pretty penny.
There was a very thick envelope with foreign currency hidden under the carpet under the bed in my aunt’s room. The maid was vacuuming the carpet when she hit a bump under the bed. The rest isn’t rocket science, at least it wasn’t for me. But for my aunt, not so much. Who got blamed? Why, her pot-smoking nephew of course! It was bad enough that I was smoking, but now I was an ungrateful thief according to her. The prophecy was now fulfilled. The image she’d had of me was shattered, and no defense from my mouth would be heard or taken into consideration.
Days dragged into weeks that faded into months. Every moment was another hell. The daughters of my aunt would fly in just to tell me how much of nothing I was and will ever be. In the midst of all this emotional abuse, the maid was in the corner giggling at the great misdirection she thought she had created. My tear ducts were on fire from working overtime, and it was only a matter of time before the pressure made me snap. Verbally, I retaliated with the most colorful language I could find, but that just made things worse.
I wondered, how could my aunt not see that I was not the culprit? All my life I had been complicit. I had promised to be good. I was heartbroken that she thought I’d steal from her. I couldn’t take the harassment so I did what I promised I’d never do as a young boy: I ran away. I moved out to stay at a friend’s house a few houses down, only visiting here and there.
Eventually, suspicions landed on the maid, and I waited for an apology from the accuser, but I was only met with silence.
A year after the whole ordeal, they decided to cut the maid loose for what she had done. Yet, I got no apology or acknowledgement for the mistreatment. Things went back to ground zero with the employment of another maid in 2007. That’s when I knew I had to get out of this cycle. If no one else had learned a lesson from the past, I did. As soon as I saw that I was being lined up to be the scapegoat, I distanced myself from them. I couldn’t bear to be accused and mistreated again. I knew I’d never get to move on if I kept myself in this toxic environment.
I stopped all communication and visits to my aunt and tried to move on with my life away from that part of my family. If I was to stand a fighting chance to be someone in this lifetime, I had to separate myself from the things trying to hold me back.
So, what did I decide to do next? Getting a job was hard work, even though I had graduated high school with good grades. College was no longer a viable option because of the lack of funds. Since I was not working and could not afford the bills that came with renting an apartment, I moved back to Bamboo with my mother.
When I left Bamboo, I was a bright-eyed nine-year-old. Now, I was a fully-grown man well over six feet who had seen harsh elements of life that changed those once bright eyes forever. I had to do a lot of re-adjusting to fit back into a life I had long left, but I was ready for it. And thankfully my relationship with my mother felt into place after some growing pains. It felt as if I was starting my life all over again, but I believe it had to be done in order to truly grow. I had tried so hard to gain the approval of someone who didn’t even trust me. I was done doing that. I was done dwelling on the past. It was time to heal and start fresh.
After a couple months of immersion, I found my footing and continued on, pushing the memories of what seemed to be a past life deep into the subconscious me. Although, the undying feeling of betrayal lingered, floating to the surface every now and again. A constant reminder of my humiliation and losses. Until one Sunday afternoon in 2008.
My phone rang just as I had exited the taxi at the Fantasy Beach in Priory. I immediately recognized the number: my aunt. Reluctantly, I answered, not to her voice but the voice of one of her church brethren. I was told my aunt was terribly ill in the hospital. What could have been a five-minute journey was a half-hour one as I dragged my feet to the hospital. I was torn because I was worried but still so angry about what had happened.
The strong and intimidating woman I knew was fading quickly. Her face was sagging from all the weight she had lost—a sad sight yet my heart was still feeling nothing. We spoke for a very brief moment before I left. I made a promise to spend the following day with her but it was a promise I would not be able to keep for she died the following morning. My mother who was with her at the time called and shared the sad news.
Later on, I would learn that my name was the last to float off my aunt’s lips before she passed on—her guilt confessed to my mom. Her pride stood in the way of a simple apology until she realized she was out of time. That’s when I realized, it’s hard to forget, even harder to forgive. But we must try if we’ll ever have a happy life. Some pain will never die without closure. Emotional wounds still bleed sometimes, even after years. That’s what happened to me. But now, I was ready to forgive, and to move on.
Since 2013, I have been working constantly as a customer service agent until finally settling into the plumbing field. This is not my ideal career choice, but this field has given me an opportunity to explore other hobbies like writing. Occupying my mind with work has significantly changed and improved me for the better. It has helped me move on from the hardships of my past.
My life has now become an example to my peers because of my experience. I have lived and learned that not everyone will love you the way you want, and not everyone will treat you with respect, but you have to keep going. Life does not end from one hardship. You must let go if you ever want to be happy again. I’m glad I have left all that hurt behind to start anew.
This is the story of Richardo “Rebelance” Douglas
“Rebelance” is now embracing his early 30’s as a certified plumber, working full time in Jamaica. This story speaks of one of the biggest emotional scars of his young life. In hopes of giving her son a better life, Rebelance’s mother sent him to live with his aunt when he was nine years old, but his aunt wound up emotionally scarring him as he grew up, accusing him of crimes and bashing him. It wasn’t until he left that environment that he was able to start moving on. The illness and death of his aunt eventually freed him from the undying feeling of betrayal that he had been holding for years. In his spare time on the weekends, “Rebelance” likes to write poetry, stories, or whatever that flexes his creative nature. He is a free spirit, often times moving from one parish to the next just for the relaxation of a new part of paradise.
This story first touched our hearts on October 24, 2019.
| Writer: Rebelance Douglas | Editor: Kristen Petronio |