When I lived with my mother as a pre-teen, like clockwork on Saturdays, she would often play a reggae song by Marcia Griffiths that repeated the refrain: “The first cut is the deepest.” I had no idea what the lyrics meant at the time, but it spoke to me in a way that would take me many years to understand.
To say I had an intense fear of abandonment is an understatement. Child psychologists argue that when a parent relinquishes supervision of her child full time, whether to attend daycare or school, that the child experiences “separation anxiety.” There was no clinical terminology for my experience.
When I was one, my mother left me in the care of others to travel to America. Since I was never breastfed or delivered naturally, the only thing that could have cemented our bond was for her to stay with me. But she left.
In lieu of her presence, a series of caretakers would man the children living in my grandmother’s house. Year after year, one would leave and be replaced by another. Although my father lived within walking distance, he was not allowed to step foot in my grandma’s yard since his family lacked a real yard of their own. In our little northeast corner of Jamaica, renting or cotching a place that one did not own or inherited signaled that one would never amount to much, at least to my grandmother. She hated the fact that this landless boy had gotten her second youngest daughter pregnant. Thus, she saw to it that whenever she was visiting from America that he would be a persona non grata. Either out of his fear of her or respect for her rules, he obeyed even after she had flown back to America and had no way of knowing that he had breached her gate. Although she also forbade him from taking me out of the yard, once a week he would do so when she was back in New York. I guess he had to choose his battles. As such, I grew up calling both of my parents by their first names. Their constant absences made it difficult for me to master the sounds “ma” and “da” that a child needs to constantly repeat before she can fully say “mommy” and “daddy.”
Eventually, I too, would leave for America. I was six. But in Brooklyn, my mother’s abandonment now felt like a choice deliberately made. Instead of reuniting with her, I went to live with her sister, her husband and their eight kids in a two-bedroom apartment in East Flatbush. For the next five years, I shuffled between one aunty’s couch to another before I permanently landed on my mother’s. By then, I assumed that when someone I loved left me that I was somehow losing a piece of myself. During my teen years, I contemplated sucide as my exit strategy from a loveless life. The first cut is the deepest.
This fear led me to stay in romantic relationships way past their expiration dates hoping to will the object of my affection to believe that I was worthy. Deep down, I believed that I could will someone to love me or that I had the power to correct their imperfections in order to have long-lasting affection. The trials and tribulations of my love life, from its infancy to its geriactic phase, were often filled with tears. I’ll try to love again.
When I found out at 15 that the guy I was in a relationship with had a real girlfriend he did things he could not do with me, I begged him to choose me even if I was not ready to give up my virginity. He responded by promising to walk me to the bus stop and pay my fare, instead he locked me out forcing me to hitchhike to the Jamaica train/bus depot—the only part of my journey I had the money to pay for. But I’ll try to love again.
At college, when I finally made love with someone I found worthy and our relationship ended abruptly, I spent the next three years praying for reconciliation or at least an explanation as to why I was not good enough. I’ll try to love again.
In my early 20s and living on my own in Harlem working at my dream job in publishing, I found it hard to end my relationship with my boyfriend, eight years my senior, whom I found out was not tired from his job in construction but from sniffing heroin from little waxed white baggies. I was not equipped to handle his addiction. For a year, I tried to make him the one. I’ll try to love again.
Years later, when a man that had swept me off of my feet demonstrated his love by leaving black and blue marks all over my body, I kept telling myself that he would change. Even after he cheated on me and thought the young lady was pregnant, I tried to make him Mr. Right. I’ll try to love again.
And on and on my paralyzing fear of being broken up with or breaking up with someone went for decades. What’s strange is that I would go years being single, but once I had surrendered my heart to someone it was painful to relinquish it or to call it back.
My therapists chalked it up to my childhood, but I still had no clue how to fix myself so I could walk away from a toxic relationship before I was in too deep. “Love thyself” they say, but even after showering myself with affection and healing, I would fall right back into a state of paralysis if I had surrendered my heart to a partner. I would spend my time in solitude erecting the highest barriers to my heart, but once someone breached my defenses, I was a lamb who had prepared myself for slaughter. I’ll try to love again.
About the Author:
A. Nicholson grew up in Jamaica and New York City. As a former journalist and communications manager at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Ms. Nicholson currently teaches H.S. English at a NYC Public School. In 2017, she received a certificate in Creative Writing from Oxford University.
Feature image by ninikvaratskhelia_ / Pixabay