“Rina wants it all.”
I stare at the words, blurry through the tears pouring down my face, seemingly from nowhere. Physically, I sit on a bed in the home I share with my children, but my mind is transported to another bed—the canopy bed of my own childhood. I am no longer pouring my heart out on the keyboard of a phone, but scribbling in a pale pink diary. My mother has just left the room, but I can still hear her words, echoing in my heart.
“What do you mean you feel like I don’t love you?” She placed her hands on her hips and I saw the shift in her expression. The one that meant danger. I leaned away, heart racing, wishing I’d never said anything. How could I explain something I didn’t understand, myself? How could I explain how much I wanted to feel her arms around me? How could I explain my need for her physical presence?
“I just… it’s just,” I paused. “You never kiss me on the lips.” The words came in a rush. Her eyes narrowed and I knew immediately it had been the wrong thing to say.
“I never kiss you on the lips?”
I looked away, running my hands nervously along the worn ears of my stuffed bunny. “You sometimes kiss me on the forehead, but you never kiss me on the lips,” I answered meekly, trying to explain the confusing thoughts inside my mind. As an adult, I now understand that we spoke different love languages, and I needed her touch. But as a child I struggled to help her understand how her lack of physical affection made me feel.
“What does that have to do with me loving you?”
“I don’t know. I just–I just don’t feel like you do.”
“You don’t know?” she asked sarcastically. “Well, I think I do know. I think you’re ungrateful and selfish and don’t care about anything I do for you around here.”
My eyes filled with tears. “I just want to feel like you love me. I just–I want to cuddle with you, sometimes. I want you to kiss me,” I said helplessly.
Her eyes grew dark and she spoke through clenched teeth. “You want to feel like I love you? You selfish little bitch. Who do you think pays for your music lessons? Who drives an hour every single week to take you there? Who makes sure you always have food to eat and toys to play with?”
I felt ashamed. She was right. I was being selfish.
“You’re surrounded by all this,” she went on, sweeping her arm as if to embrace the entire house, “and you say I don’t love you? How about I take all these things away from you? Maybe then you’ll be grateful. Maybe then we’ll see how you feel about me loving you. Would you like for me to do that?” She took a step toward me.
I scurried backward. “No ma’am,” I whispered.
“Are you sure? Because God knows I don’t do enough for you. No, I need to kiss Princess Rina on the lips to show Her Highness that I love her. Because nothing’s ever good enough for Rina. Rina wants it all.” She spat my name as if it left a bitter taste in her mouth.
For years, I hated my name, along with other names my mother spoke with venom: Richard, Ricky, Daddy… Jesus. From the eyes of my adult self, I now understand there was nothing wrong with expressing my desire to be held and cuddled. I see that this did not make me a bad daughter, and it did not make me ungrateful or selfish. I now understand that my mother had her own childhood wounds which drove her to strive toward perfection, and I see that my needs were interpreted as a criticism she was not prepared to take. But back then, I didn’t know any of this. I didn’t know any better than to assume she was correct—that I was selfish, ungrateful, a bitch—and that night, in the large print of a young child, I penned a letter in my diary that she would never see:
I am sorey I am a bad doter. I am sorey I am ungratfole. I will do beter. I no that you love me and it is OK if you never cis me or hug me becus I love you varey varey moch.”
I spent the rest of my growing-up years trying to be everything my mother wanted and needed me to be in order to win her love and approval. Later, I would spend over two decades doing the same with God—reading and striving to obey the bible as if it were a how-to manual on earning and keeping His love.
Now I grip my phone in the hands which so long ago held my dairy, once again trying desperately to find a way to keep the love of someone I care for. In a conversation eerily similar to the many I had so long ago with my mother, I am told my desires are wrong, reminded of how much they have done for me, and accused of being selfish. With a fluency birthed from years of journaling, I express a more sophisticated version of what I wrote so long ago, but which, at its core, expresses the same thing:
I am sorry I am a bad person.
I am sorry I am ungrateful.
I will do better.
The thought comes to my mind: “Maybe if I just do what they tell me to, everything will be okay.”
But as soon as the thought comes, I know I can’t.
There is something deep inside me now that knows—at my very core—this is not the correct response. Unfortunately, while that part of me is strong enough to shout above the cacophony of fear and doubt and self-loathing, it is not yet strong enough to follow. Instead, I have tried to do what I have been asked, only to experience my internal self rise up in rebellion and tear it all apart time and time again. The casualties of this have been far-reaching and incredibly destructive. I have damaged relationships and devastated people along the way and I, too, am left with gaping wounds. Tears still streaming down my face, I do a quick word search for my name in our old messages:
“Nothing’s ever good enough for Rina.”
“Rina just does whatever the fuck Rina wants.”
“The day started amazing and then it ended with another Rina ending.”
“Hey Rina… fuck you.”
I collapse into tears and stay that way for what seems like hours. When my tears finally subside, I walk to the sink and let the cold water wash over my face, puffy both from crying and the weight I’ve gained over the past year. I look deep into my own eyes and make myself a promise:
“Some how, some way, I will learn to give you the love you’ve been looking for from others. I will learn to meet your needs and I will honor what you want. It’s going to be okay.”
Somehow, I know it to be true, though I don’t yet know how.
I am going to be okay.
“Come with all your beauty, leaving evidence behind
Your fingerprints all over the thing that changed my mind
That made me better than I was
Come, love. make me better than I was.
Come teach me a kinder way to say my own name.”