Distraught beyond Description

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By Dionysia  Mousoura-Tsoukala

She left her parents’ home to marry a man she feared more and loved less, a few weeks short of her 20th birthday. Not that birthdays meant much in those days. At best, she’d get good wishes from her family and, if lucky enough, a string of dry figs from her father.

Her decision to marry him was against everyone’s wishes, blessings and approval.

The obvious question is, probably, why did she do it?

Why and how such a young and timid girl- she was at the time- went against all to marry a man not only she wasn’t crazy about, but, if anything, scared of? Many a time over the years I tried to understand the situation she found herself in and her reasons for placing herself in it.

“It’s hard for you to appreciate culture and mentality you haven’t been exposed to, you can’t understand”, that’s what she used to say.

“Please tell me, how did you feel? What were your thoughts when you found yourself cut off from your own family and in his house?”

“What happened once you got there? What did you do? What did you say?”

At that point her beautiful eyes, always shadowed by sadness would swell with tears…It must’ve been very painful. But I was her daughter and I wanted to know.

“When my parents became aware of my running away they came over trying to find out what had happened. I was longing to throw myself in the arms and the mercy of Mum and Dad, ask them to forgive me and take me back home. Alas! It was too late… your father had already made sure there could be no return.”

“You see, in my times a girl who had lost her virginity had lost her most precious possession. How could I ask my father to take me back? Where could I go? What would become of me? No, no, I couldn’t go back, I had to stay and face the consequences of my stupidity. You are asking why I did it. How can I answer when, to this day, I’m still trying to answer that question myself?”

“Your father was not a bad man. He just carried inside him the pride and the prejudice of the men of his times. Because he had asked my father for my hand in marriage four times, and my father had turned him down, he found himself in a very embarrassing situation. We lived in a small community. People knew each other and they were talking. At least this was his excuse.  It was then he decided that either I follow him and we get married without my parents” consent, or he was going to make sure I would have peace no longer. And as for marrying another man, I might as well get it out of my mind- I’d be dead before I even considered belonging to another.”

“Instead of telling my family, and ask for support, I gave in to his blackmail and against all logic and reason, agreed to marry him.”

“He claimed he loved me and he was going to make me happy! And silly, innocent me, I believed him.  Empty words, words with no meaning for him. All he wanted was to posses me. But I was far too young and naïve to know at the time.”

“As soon as we got to his mother’s place (his father had passed away when he was little), he started showing me his true colors. I laughed a bit too loud and I froze at the way he looked at me.”

“About an hour after our arrival his mother went out, leaving us alone in the house, (it took me years to realize it was all pre-arranged and well planned). He then lured me into his room and despite my cries, protests and pleading with him not to, he almost raped me. As if that wasn’t enough, he left me crying on the bed, turned around and said to me:

“What have you got to cry about? You were not even a virgin! You were stitched up!”

“Oh Mum, I can’t believe it, I’m speechless, how could he?”

“That was meant to be the most beautiful day of my life, my wedding day!”

“He destroyed it all. He treated me with no respect. He abused my heart more than he abused my body. I felt cheap, dirty. I was no longer the innocent, pure girl I was when I left my parents” home, I could no longer get to the Altar and feel that I deserved to wear the white wedding dress I was dreaming of all my life.”

“What a shame, Mum, that is the dream of almost every girl, I guess we are lucky now days, thank God things have changed so much.”

“I was hardly 20; I had never been with a man before. It was my first time. All I had read about it in novels and books, my girlish talks with my friends, my dreams, expectations were shattered! I was devastated, crying tears of desperation, anger, remorse. I felt so betrayed, so very lonely. I wanted to die. I wanted something really bad to happen, an earthquake to ruin everything. Thunder to kill me, kill him, anything to wash out my shame.”

“It must’ve been awful Mum and no one there for you to turn to for support”.

“How dared he say such a nasty thing to me? I wasn’t a virgin! How much I hated him, at that time, how much I loathed and despised him. How was I to live with this heartless, uncaring man? What had I done, how could I be so foolish and trust a man I hardly knew, why didn’t I listen to my parents, what was I to do now?”

“To think that I was still prepared to love and honor him, despite the way he forced me to marry him, make every effort to have a happy family. How could I do it after this? How could I spend the rest of my life with such a man…?”

“Had I left, not only I would be ruined, but he would justify himself by saying that no matter how much he loved me, he couldn’t marry somebody else’s “reject!” He was capable of doing that!”

“Mum, your coffee is getting cold. Would you like me to make you a fresh one? I’m sorry I’ve made you relive such painful memories, I didn’t know, I only wanted to understand what had happened then. I didn’t expect it to turn out like that, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”

“Do you understand now my daughter why I was so reluctant all these years to talk to you? Not only I wanted to protect you, but I didn’t want you to think badly of your father, I guess it matters little now.”

The day was getting old, the kitchen window was gazing at the first stars that timidly appeared in the sky and Mum looked so very tired.

My beautiful mother, she was such a special person, such an intelligent, caring woman!

I remember, I gave her the book “Gone with the Wind” for her 40th birthday, and it changed her life! (Or so I teased her for a long time).

I wondered if there had been an “Ashley” in her life, whether she had a sweet little secret corner in her heart she could go to when the pain was getting too much!

Mum had very little education. She taught herself to read and write when she was expecting me. But once she mastered the skill she never looked back. With time and practice she built up her confidence and she became very selective.

The impact of “Gone with the Wind” eventually faded away and then, amongst other writers, she discovered Simone de Beauvoir .She actually “introduce me” to her books when I was in my teens. I suppose she did it because she wanted me to grow up feeling confident and independent she was fascinated by her deep thinking, her independent spirit, and the way she chose to live her life.

By then she was able to read English – she did an English language course after we came to Australia, despite my father’s objections, but she was persistent and “stubborn” as she used to say, refusing to be defeated by anything, and refusing to take “no” for an answer .What a difference between the person she was when she married my father and later!

I remember the time I was in hospital, I must’ve been about ten, and I wanted Mum to be with me all the time, but hospital rules were strict, visiting hours only. One morning I saw this lady mopping the floor. She came close to my bed and said in a soft voice,                                                      “Angelica, it’s me, but please, be quiet.”

I hid under the blankets and laughed my head off, I don’t even know where she got the uniform from.. But that was Mum; she’d do anything for me.

Extracts from Mum’s diary

8th May ….

Today is the anniversary of our arrival in the new land…How many years has it been? Thirty, forty, a thousand, who knows and who cares…

Memories are fading, or should I say the pain has faded, the pain and the anguish of separation. How hard to leave your home, parents, sisters, brothers, neighbors, friends, your very foundations, to become uprooted and replanted in a new country! In a country you know no one, not even the spoken language!

Sometimes I look back, and I wonder at my self, at all these thousands of people who boarded a ship, or a plane, and found ourselves in a foreign land. How did we survive?

And most of us were so young, so very young and inexperienced!

When we came to Australia, my Angelica was five, I was 26….   and I was missing my Mum so badly…

No, no, I’m not going to go on a self -pity trip now….

At least I came here with my family, what about all these young girls who came on their own, a lot of them to marry a man they had only seen in a photograph…

It was hard, so what, was I the only one? At the time we all faced the same hardships, the same problems, the same discrimination, the same wonder at the different life style.

Fancy celebrating Christmas at the beach. No Snow in December, no open fire, no children going from house to house from dawn to dusk  with their homemade triangle instruments  to sing carols…

No melodic church bells calling us to the early service and heralding the birth of Jesus!

No sweet tantalizing aroma   of home cooking and baking.

No mountains of “kourabiethes”, “melomakarona” and other sweet goodies at the patisserie shops…..

We even had to learn how to walk again, here people walked on the wrong side of the road, left, Goodness Gracious! And the trees were in full bloom not in February or March like back home, but in August! In the heart of our summer!

Even people were so very different! I still laugh when I think of my first impressions of some men, they only had to hear on the Television that tomorrow it might be a warm day and they’d  put on those long shorts and high thick socks to keep themselves cool!

Some of them looked so funny to me at the time, coming from a place where only kids wore shorts, not growing up respectable men!

They would board a bus, tram or train and they would all be busy reading the paper or knitting so they wouldn’t have to talk to each other! So much hostility, so much indifference and coldness.

My first thoughts were, “God, what kind of society is this”!

A smile forms on my face as I’m writing these lines, because when I went back home for the first time, more than ten years later, I was a bit surprised and amused , by all the noise, the talking, the laughter  around me….

Enough reminiscing, I have to call Elizabeth, we have to go and place some flowers on Dana’s grave and light the little oil lamp. It’s her anniversary on Sunday… It’s been so many years and the pain isn’t getting any softer.

I still drive by her old  house, stop the car and look at her window, my poor dear cousin Dana, you ‘”t have to leave so early, you were hardly 56…

“Mum, there is one more question I’d still like to ask you about your wedding day, and I promise no to bring this issue up again.”

“What I’d like you to tell me is: the worst and the best thing about that day, because It couldn’t only be bad, there must’ve been something good – even a small thing.”

“Well, let’s start with the good.”

“The good thing was that your father honored the promise he made me, for us to get married the same day we ran away. See, I didn’t want to cause more embarrassment to my family and spend even one night under his roof unless we were married. So, not only did we get married the same evening, but when my father and family came over, your father made NO demands for a dowry or money.”

“Your father’s marrying me the same day and demanding no dowry, acquitted him  in the eyes of my family and the community of all wrong doing!”

“And he became something like, the popular hero for the day!”

“The worst?”

“Convincing everyone that I really loved him, trying to look happy, carefree, in love, on cloud nine; after all I had ran away with him, I must’ve been very much in love, when all I wanted was to run as far away from all this as possible and go into hiding……never setting eyes on him again…Yet, I had to survive, and survive I did.”

“I buried my pride, self respect,  my emotions, I buried myself…..and kept living…Then, you came along, and all was not forgotten, but lets” say, buried where it couldn’t touch  me and hurt me so much….At last, I was really happy  to have you and too busy  for self pity.”

From Mum’s diary

29 June….

Another argument with Angelica, there seem to be too many lately. We argue about everything….I can hardly open my mouth and she is ready to attack me.

She’s complaining that I  criticize  her all the time, God knows I only want to give her motherly advice,  to pass on some of the experiences  I’ve accumulated over time. How can I stand back and watch her making mistakes or doing things wrong?

Rather than complaining she should be grateful; I missed my own Mum and her wisdom so much when I came to Australia, I thought it was my duty to look over her and be there with her and her baby.

Truth is though, I sometimes do come across a bit strong, but I have so much love in my heart for my Angelica and my precious grand daughter Elena, it’s all out of love, not criticism.

Again at other times, I reproach myself and feel very badly for allowing pride to come between me and my precious daughter.  After another argument yesterday over something very insignificant, she tried to talk to me and I refused to listen, I walked away, I was hurt, and I wanted to teach her “a lesson”. How could I do it? She is the most important person in my life, and yet, at times my pride gets on the way and I can’t show her how much I care. The other day we were walking together and all of a sudden I felt like putting my arms around her and telling her I love her, yet I didn’t….

It’s my stupid pride, I’m often thinking of all the  things I’ve done for her, at such times, I get on my “high horse”  and I find her ungrateful and my motherly responsibilities become “big  sacrifices”, how selfish of me!

Yet,  I even accepted Martin and opened my heart to him even though he’s no Greek and her father wouldn’t even hear about it,  having one child only  we were hoping she’d marry one from our community, see, those days we were still entertaining the dream  of returning   home for good, soon after her marriage though, my husband passed away…

Again, at other times I’m thinking   that maybe it was a mistake to talk to her about her father….

Not maybe, IT WAS, a mother must never discuss such personal issues with a daughter or a son, what a hard lesson to learn, too late now, but I’ve realized that I was wrong, very wrong.

And I told her so little….I only talked about my wedding day because she was so persistent, she wouldn’t leave me alone until I agreed to talk to  her….

I mentioned nothing of the physical, emotional, mental abuse I suffered in his hands….I didn’t even mention the two attempts he made at my life….twice he tried to kill me…..

No, no I am not going to start thinking about it now….It all belongs to the very distant past, it belongs to another era, what is the point; it almost matters little now….

Yes, I was wrong; I should’ve   never said anything about her father, too late now….

I can feel her anger towards me; I believe this is the reason for our arguments… Where is the closeness we used to enjoy, now we can’t stay in the same room for more than two minutes and an argument breaks out…How sad….

-I can no longer understand Mum, somehow I feel betrayed by her…she seems to be more interested in her friends than me, always talking about their problems and the times they spent together. Hardly a day goes by without going out with them.

-I wonder, what is going on. I want her to be there for me, not to tell me what to do or how to do it, just to be available, yes all the time, what’s wrong with that,

after all she’s the only Mum I have. The other day we had, yet, another argument, she told me she wants us to be friends I freaked out, I started yelling at her,

“I have friends, I have too many friends. I want you to be my Mother not my friend.”

-She turned around and she said something really horrible, “that she thought she had toilet trained me a long time ago!!!”  Alas! That can’t be my Mum talking.

–    I think she’s changed a lot after Dad passed away. She became more assertive, more selfish. Sometimes I’m still thinking of Dad’s funeral….

-One of my friends said to me afterwards that Mum was distraught beyond description. Then, I knew not what I learned later about their relationship and I believed her tears and pain to be genuine. Much later when she spoke to me about Dad I became very confused and angry with her about that day and for destroying Dad’s image in my heart. Why, why did she tell me, no matter how much pressure I put on her, she ought to have refused….or at least, tell me a nice love story…because I knew they had ran away, I always assumed  they were very much in love, did she have to ruin it all?

-It’s not that I don’t love Mum; it’s just that I no longer know her, or so it seems…

When I was little all I wanted was to grow up and be like her! She was, and still is so confident and independent.

-I miss the closeness we used to enjoy, the good times, the laughter. How can I ever forget that Christmas Eve, a long time ago?

– Mum and I were walking along Brunswick Street in Fitzroy, she, feeling very down, it wasn’t long since Dad had passed away, and me very pregnant with Elena, this guy approached us and offered us condoms! It was part of a campaign for safe sex .We almost killed ourselves laughing .Oh Mum I love you so much, perhaps I am a bit selfish, but I don’t care how old I am, I still need you.

From Mum’s diary

April 29…

Last night I dreamt of Mum. It’s been so many years since she died and so desperately I wanted her to visit me in my dreams, she never did, until last night, it was so beautiful. I was a little girl in the dream, I was running around and Mum was asking me to go to her, she stretched her hand to take mine and then she said, “not like that, no, you have to cross the river first, not yet…. remember, the river is long and deep, but you’ll make it”.

I no longer trouble myself with the meaning of dreams, I just enjoy them now. But God, I still miss Mum, after my marriage I hardly saw her, we lived in different cities, and later in different parts of the world, she, in Greece and I, in Australia…I  went back home 2-3 times, each and every time it was very painful, very painful to leave her not knowing whether I was going to see her again….

Thank God she died a few months before my husband died…Thank God she was spared the pain of seeing me a widow, thank God she died not knowing what I went through in my marriage….

Sometimes, though, I’m thinking that maybe it wasn’t such a brilliant idea never to tell anyone about my marriage, never expose my husband whilst he was still alive not even to my Angelica… But I love her so much, how could I bear to cause her pain…I bitterly regret even telling her the little I did, even though she was a grown up woman with a family of her own at the time, she still found it so very hard to cope.

Since then our relationship changed a lot. Coincidence? I’m not sure. All I know is we no longer share the closeness we used to.

One day, not long ago, during one of our notorious arguments, she accused me of putting up a show at her fathers” funeral, that I was not distressed at all, why should I be?

“After all you didn’t love him…you were happy to bury him…to see the last of him…”

This is what she said to me in shear anger.

How unfair, what a terrible accusation, how could I explain to her? How could I explain to her that my distress, my anguish, my tears, my pain, was more than just genuine!

It was pain and distress for the husband I never had, pain and distress for the happy life we could have had together and never did.

Pain and distress for the husband I was burying and there would not be another chance for us to make up for lost times…God, death is so very final, there were still too many things I wanted to ask him, how could I now? I wanted to say to him that despite his treatment of me all these years, finally, I had forgiven him. I wanted him to rest in peace,      I didn’t want his soul to be tormented by guilt, I wanted to rid my self of my own guilt.

It was anger too, anger for leaving me to face an uncertain future on my own in my late years.

Anger for not waiting to meet our lovely grand daughter, for the stories he would never tell her, the games he would never play with her, the things he would never teach her, for depriving her and later her sister, of their only grandfather; Martinis father had died years before.

…. Some, (too many) years later.

Too late for tears and regrets….too late for guilt and remorse, all said and done!

I have lost Mum. I didn’t lose her when we lay her to her rest…I lost Mum much earlier, when Alzheimer’s   disease claimed her. It took me some time to realize there was something wrong with Mum. She was always so strong, so confident, I could always rely on her, she was a giant, that “thing” couldn’t be happening to Mum, not to my Mum…

All these years I didn’t even know she kept a Diary, I found it when we had to give up her house, when it became obvious she wasn’t coming home, ever…. God, it was so bloody painful. I was going out of my mind with pain, the tears, the screaming, the sleepless nights, the denial, my denial; the pain was too much to bear. How could my own Mum not know me? How could she not know her grand daughters she adored so much…?

These are things that happen to others, to weak people, not to my Mum. Mum was a pillar of strength, she was my foundation, she couldn’t do this to me.

The staff at the Dementia Unit was wonderful; they really took good care of her. But it breaks your heart to see your loved one wandering aimlessly from room to room, looking at you and not knowing you!

What I still find very difficult to overcome is that look, that look of shear desperation on her face, I felt so helpless, so frustrated, in so much anguish, not knowing what to do.

The worst part of the day was towards the evening, as night was falling Mum would get very restless, very distressed, she kept asking to go home, she would go near the door and try to open it…she didn’t know that in these places doors open only if you know the code number! My poor Mother, how much you suffered…

A few times I asked permission to take her home at such times, the staff tried to explain to me the futility of it, but I was too upset to listen and take it in.

I took her home, but it meant nothing to her, shed look around, looking more confused repeating the same thing, “I want to go home”, “I want to go home”, it was so painful for me….

My only consolation, if any, is that Mum and I had a lot of good times together, again, before dementia claimed her.

Truth is, as she also writes in her Diary, that for quite some time we went through a face were we didn’t see eye to eye.

Maybe Mum was right in thinking that I got upset when she told me about Dad and we didn’t communicate well for a number of years; how badly I regret it now, however, I never stopped loving Mum and I hope she knew it.

At times I’m still trying to understand what came over me when Mum talked to me about Dad. As if I didn’t know. Though they never argued openly in my presence, deep down I must’ve known what was going on. How could I ever forget all these years when Dad was out, God knows where, and Mum was sitting on her own, night after night after night in the lounge room with a book in her hands pretending to read so I wouldn’t see her tears? The sadness in her eyes, her loneliness, her isolation .The great efforts she was making to keep us together as a “normal family”.

So why did I react so badly when she told me, oh my darling Mum, you should’ve probably told me the whole story about Dad, not just one aspect of it, then, maybe, I would’ve been able to understand you better. We wasted such precious time due to my unfair anger, yet, I’m happy for the good times we were able to have together, even after my silly behavior.

It all happened when I was expecting Danielle. Mum and I were sitting at an outdoors cafe waiting to order coffee and a sandwich, these two men were having lunch at the next table, I looked at them and said to Mum: “I want what they are having”. She said nothing to me, but as the waiter approached us, she turned around and in a matter of fact voice that couldn’t be missed by the people sitting around, she said: “My daughter is pregnant, and she fancies what this man is eating.”

Its hard to describe the pandemonium that followed that statement, the embarrassment of the man who, on hearing that I was pregnant hurried to offer me his half-eaten lunch, fearing, maybe, that I was going to….drop the baby here and now if I didn’t have it…         the fun that not only the people at the café had but also bystanders” and passers by.  Mum and I stayed on, pretending we had nothing to do with what was going on.

That was the starting point of us getting very close again, it felt so good for both of us. From then on, our relationship was a wonderful one, like it had been for many years in the past. I’m so very grateful for the good times weave had together, it was fantastic, sometimes I get horrified even at the thought that Mum could go without us getting close again.

It’s been a very long time since Mum passed away. I am a middle-aged woman myself! At times I wonder where have all the years gone….

Oh Mum, I loved you so much, all my life I wanted to be like you, I don’t think

I ever succeeded though; you were such a special person, such a wonderful mother! God bless you darling Mum!

The girls, Martin and I are often talking about you and we go through the old albums.

As for me, you are always in my heart and my thoughts…

The girls are keeping your memory alive by writing down the stories you used to tell them, so they can say them to their own kids, especially the ones you made up yourself, stories that were fun but also had meaning, always teaching them about caring, sharing, togetherness and so many values. Their favorite story was one of your own, remember, Mum?  It was going:

It was market day and Mr. doggie wanted to go to the market to get some bones, but he didn’t want to go alone, so he goes to his good neighbor Miss pussy cat, and……….

God bless you Mum, I’m sorry for all the hard times I gave you, but I never, ever stopped loving you…..

2 Replies to “Distraught beyond Description”

  1. Dear Fioroula,

    You have written beautifully a very moving account of the hardship of a woman torn from her family and country made even more difficult by a loveless marriage. So many people could relate to the mother daughter relationship in your story. So much love – as the writer Kahlil Gibran says, “Your joy is your sorrow, unmasked.”

    I loved reading your work and hope to read more.

    Kind regards, Gabrielle Morgan.

  2. Dear Gabrielle,
    thank you so much for your kind words about my writing, it means a lot to me, all writers I suppose, to know that our writing is touching the readers!
    This short story, is a tribute to the women who were uprooted from their homeland and loved ones, arrived in a foreign land and not only they survived but they succeded in many areas. Also, a tribute to mothers and daughters, a complicated relationship, that is dominated by their mutual love.
    warm regards,
    Dionysia Mousoura-Tsoukalas, (my real name)

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