Breaking Free

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| This is the 320th story of Our Life Logs |


It’s funny how we can look back in life and see things from a different perspective as we get older. As a little girl, I observed the life of my mother and vowed to be different. Better. More intentional. I promised myself that I would go right where my mother had gone left. I would change my destination.

But then…I grew up. I found that life is messy and that situations cannot be bullied into the straight or clean path that one has hoped to follow. The funny thing is, after I spent some time mirroring the life of my mother, I was able to walk away from her footsteps. And now, I am happy.

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My mother had left behind a toxic relationship with my grandmother upon entering college. Maybe that’s why she was so drawn to my father. Not only was he charming and brilliant, but he had the financial means to take her away from ever having to return home.

After their hasty marriage, the truth was set free. My father was an alcoholic who dabbled in drugs and became violent and abusive towards my mother. She stayed because it was better than returning to her parents’ house.

On Sunday, March 25, 1984, I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. On Monday, March 26, 1984, my father traveled for work. By the end of 1986, my father was working in São Paulo and came home only on weekends. He drank heavily and was using a lot of cocaine, but at home, he would suffer from withdrawal and couldn’t even stand the sound of my voice. Life became so unbearable in our household that for Christmas, I asked Santa for a “gun to kill Dad.” My mother knew then she had to leave.

After they divorced, my mother graduated college, got an excellent job, and bought us a new home. Still, I’d go to my father’s house every other weekend, but he never took proper care of me. I had to look after myself while he was out getting drunk with his friends.

As I was just a tiny four-year-old girl, you can imagine the panic I felt in my stomach each time my mother packed me into her car. And yet, I still wanted my father to notice and love me despite the rejection. I secretly wondered why she would make me visit these feelings every other weekend.

When I was almost six years old, my mother remarried an extraordinary man, and as time passed I spent more time away from my father. Eventually, our relationship became one or two phone calls each year. I could enjoy a calm life. For my mother, I became the perfect daughter. I was sweet and polite, had straight A’s, and did what I was supposed to at all times. There was never confrontation, only compliance.

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My parents and me, 1988.

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When I was 15, my mother and stepfather found out that they were pregnant with a boy. At that time, I could not foresee how much the new baby’s presence would shape our family, I was just excited to have a brother. But you know what they say, in with the old and out with the new. I didn’t realize this would apply to me.

Looking back, I can point out the exact moment as the beginning of our family being drifting apart. A few months after my brother was born, our family traveled to Paris, the most beautiful city I’d ever been. During our visit to Musée d’Orsay, my mother took pictures of my baby brother. I kept insisting that she take a picture of me with some artwork, to which she replied “Anna, don’t you see that you’re not the cutest kid anymore? Your brother is.”

I don’t even recollect if the picture was taken, but my memory of that moment is vivid. From that point on, I was mostly quiet and alone alongside them, with little interaction, and whenever I look at those pictures, I see a girl with sadness on her face.

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Paris, 2009.

After we got back, I distanced myself further away. We never talked about it, and I’m pretty sure they don’t even remember that incident, but I began to shut myself out. My relationship with my mother started to fall apart.

I’d often hear harsh comments about me, my looks, my clothes, my friends, just like my grandmother always did to her. That’s when I first realized that people tend to repeat what is familiar to you, and she was doing the same.

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I started studying both law and communications in college, but because I had new friends whom my mother knew nothing about except for their names, our arguments were constant. Wanting to leave home as soon as I possibly could, I moved into a tiny apartment with friends, paying rent with the small internship salary I earned. I had to quit communications to keep the internship at a law office, but for that year, it was worth it. Things were better because I was away. But then, life got sticky.

I lost the internship, I had to move back home, and only two weeks later, I found out I was pregnant. I was 23 years old, still in law school, my boyfriend and I had just broken up, and I couldn’t even provide for myself at the time. With all this blown up in my face, I realized one thing: the similarities to my mother’s past and mine were astonishing.

While I had tried to distance myself from her life, it was as if I was destined to fall into her shadow, as she had done with her mother’s. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to go through with my pregnancy, because, if I’m being honest, I thought it might seal my fate—and if I wasn’t careful, my child’s as well.

Every day was a constant pressure for a decision. My parents went crazy with the pregnancy and my father came back into the picture saying that I had to get an abortion because I was irresponsible. Abortion is illegal in Brazil, but if you have money, you can get it done in a pretty decent clandestine clinic. While his accusation was cheap and unfounded, the deepest parts of my doubt clung to it. Was I irresponsible if I had this child? How could I be a good mother if I had trouble with my own?

Eventually, my stepfather stepped up and told me, privately, something I’ll never forget: “A baby should be a reason for joy, and you should have the opportunity to decide if you want to have the baby or not. So, if you decide to go through with it, I’ll support you and the baby financially while you are still at school.” My stepfather’s words and kindness showed me that I could have a different life, even if it didn’t hit me then.

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I didn’t go through with the abortion, but still, the stress was tremendous throughout the entire pregnancy. My family was always worried about my future. I felt miserable, my ex-boyfriend couldn’t even look at me, and my father said—up until the day before my daughter was born—that “there was still a way out” if I gave her up for adoption. And yet, I made it through.

My daughter was born in February of 2008, bringing joy and love back into my life. After a few months, I got a job at a government corporation, got back together with her father, and we moved in together. Everything seemed to be going in the right direction for the first time in so long, but my relationship with her father wasn’t great. He drank a lot, worked long hours, and he always wanted things his way.

I left him after a horrible fight when our daughter was almost 3 years old. My mother didn’t want me to live with her, so I moved in with my grandmother.

During the two years I lived with my grandmother, I spent so much time in reflection. I had always feared I would follow the same fate and become as cruel to my daughter as my mother had become to me, and as did her mother to her. A toxic relationship shaped my mom’s entire life, and I could see my life going in the same direction, with the aggravation of my father’s destructive influence.

But I also learned, day by day, that this was my chance to change the cycle of lousy mother-daughter relationships in my family. While I held the little hands and feet of my own daughter, I realized that our bond was different. Our lives were different. And, ultimately, our future together would be different.

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My daughter at 1 year old.

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After two years living with my grandmother, I managed to get back up on my feet to finally graduate college and start studying for my master’s degree.

I try to create a different environment at my home, where I live with my 11-year-old daughter and our dog. I know now that each day counts to building a strong and powerful connection with the ones you love. I’m still trying to find my place in the world, and I don’t know how to deal with the problematical relationships I have with both my parents and their families, so I prefer to keep a distance.

Today, I know I have the knowledge and the will to create something different for my own family when I remind myself of the fantastic human being I’ve created, who loves me all the way. Being a part of her life makes me a better person, and it’s for her that I try to manage all my past and come out a better person every single day.

 

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This is the story of Anna Ferreira

Anna lives in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, with her 11-year-old daughter and their family dog. With divorced parents who remarried when she was young, Anna grew up in a chaos that became harder to deal with when the birth of her stepbrother put a wedge between her and her mother. She vowed that if she had kids, she’d never be like her mother. Yet when she did get pregnant, she found herself falling into the same destructive patterns. Thankfully, she realized this and broke the cycle. Anna stated out as a lawyer, and has a master’s degree in public law, but she has never felt fulfilled working with the law. She is now reinventing herself by working part-time and investing in another career as a freelance writer and translator. She works hard each day to distance herself from the abuses of her past and protect her family from living the same kind of nightmares. She looks forward to seeing her daughter grow up into an adorable teenager with a calmer and more stable home environment.

 

 

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This story first touched our hearts on March 12, 2019.

| Writer: Anna Ferreira | Editors: Kristen Petronio; Colleen Walker |

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