Over the years, I've been called a slut, a whore, a bitch, an ingrate and a loser.
"I'm going to have you arrested for attempted murder," my mother's shrill voice rang through the phone.
"For what?" I asked, trembling.
"For trying to kill your father!" she screamed.
I had just moved into my new apartment in Philadelphia. Prior to that I had lived briefly in my parents' house. A few nights before I moved, my dad decided to steal my car keys so I couldn't leave to go out.
He had asked me to help him with one of his many ongoing house projects (this one involved helping him put together a new bed) right as I was leaving the house. As I was running late and fully done-up for a night out with my friends, I told him I'd help him tomorrow. Unfortunately, this wasn't good enough for him.
"You're so ungrateful!" he screamed, going into one of his rages. I never considered my dad an alcoholic, but looking back I wonder if perhaps he was. Valium mixed with whiskey was his cocktail of choice and when he started drinking it often caused him to go into blind fits of fury that made no sense to anyone but himself.
"I need to go! Why would you ask me this now?" I asked, frustrated. "Why can't I just help you tomorrow? I'm leaving!" I grabbed my purse and started heading out.
"I have your keys. You're not going anywhere!" he yelled.
I couldn't believe I was being held hostage by my parents for something as absurd as putting a bed together.
"Give me my keys!" I began to scream, frustrated at the absurdity of this situation.
What resulted was a tussle back and forth until I finally managed to wrestle the keys from my dad. I ran out the door as fast as I could, eager to get into the car before he could get to me. I was out of the driveway when, the next thing I knew, my dad jumped onto the hood of my car.
I screamed, terrified of what had gotten into my father. His eyes were blazing as he screeched at me through the windshield, banging on it with his fist. I very slowly moved forward and then braked gently in the hopes that he would get off the car. Eventually, he got off and I sped away hysterically crying and hyperventilating.
It's because of this my mom wanted to have me arrested.
My parents and I have always had a difficult relationship. From a financial standpoint, my parents gave us everything we wanted and needed. From an emotional standpoint, it was a different story.
They fought constantly and my sister and I were often the dumping ground for their toxic emotional overflow. I've seen my dad push my sister into a wall. He once threw a pot of rice at me. When my parents got into an argument and threatened to divorce, my mom screamed at me saying I could go live with my father because she wanted nothing do with me.
She would often blow up over infractions such as not (as a 10-year-old) knowing how to use a blender or being late getting ready for school. Once, when I lost a pageant (one that she insisted I enter), she refused to speak to me for the entire plane ride back.
Over the years, I've been called a slut, a whore, a bitch, an ingrate and a loser. Their words affected me greatly. Particularly as I hit adolescence. I assumed their arguments were my fault and I was the cause of the family's dysfunction.
As I didn't know how to relate to people, it became difficult for me to make friends. I was always afraid whatever I said would be deemed dull or uninteresting. In relationships (both romantic and otherwise) I would often stand for things that one with self-esteem wouldn't tolerate: being called names, gossiped about, or being told I wasn't very smart.
But I loved my parents because, well ... they were my parents. It wasn't as though I was subjected to constant abuse. We did have some good times here and there. I often reasoned I wasn't beaten or neglected, and my parents bought me stuff so it wasn't that bad.
I thought perhaps their behavior was because we are Indian. Immigrant South Asian parents (not all, of course) often look at their kids less as independent people and more as a possession, an extension of themselves that must maintain face in society. Or at least that's how it felt.
Deep down, I knew they loved us. But my parents dislike of each other and bitterness toward their own lives colored the way they reacted toward us and led to a ceaseless stream of verbal abuse.
Although verbal abuse doesn't leave any physical scars, the emotional ones often run deep.
It wasn't until I left for college that I began to repair the broken shards of my self-esteem. On my own away from the constant negativity, I was able to find my own voice and discover my worth. I began to make better friends. I finally began to date freely. I learned how to listen to my intuition.
Most importantly, I began to realize that I was lovable. That people liked me. That I had value.
Perhaps this is why, after briefly moving back home after college, I fought with my parents even more than ever before. Somehow, I thought things would be different. Since I was older, I thought for sure they would leave me be, relating to me as an adult and not as a child that needed constant admonishment.
I thought wrong. And this time their words no longer held the same power over me as they used to. So I made a choice: I stopped talking to them.
After my mom threatened to arrest me, she went on to call me a prostitute (I was dating someone at the time and was completely monogamous). And that's when I decided to cut them off. I let emails and phone calls go unanswered.
I was exhausted and emotionally drained. I just couldn't do it anymore.
It was the best decision I ever made.
In those months, my resolve not to speak to them grew. I felt free, unencumbered by the steady stream of verbal abuse telling me I would always be a loser, that I was a good-for-nothing brat, that everyone else's kids were more well-behaved that me.
My parents were desperate to speak again but for months I refused. I finally caved in, under one condition: We had to go to therapy. Eager at any chance to repair our relationship, they agreed.
Bizarrely (I realize I'm in the minority here), after just one session my parents changed. It was like a gnarly breakup where the guy realizes he f*cked up and wants you back. The possibility of never speaking to their daughter was enough to wake them up.
I laid out my stipulations in therapy: No more disrespect. No more telling me as an adult how I needed to behave. No talking down to me. No more screaming. And most importantly, no more name-calling.
While my relationship with my dad is still strained at times (though certainly much better), my relationship with my mom has taken a 180-degree turn for the better. These days I call her at least once a week, often chatting for more than an hour. I tell her everything I'm going through, complete with cursing and the blunt honesty that one usually reserves for their girlfriends.
My mom in turn has grown into a more accepting, loving person. The woman who once called me a slut is now enraged when she sees women being slut-shamed and raped in India. She even admitted much of her anger toward me as a child was a result of her own frustrations.
In standing up for myself, I forged a better relationship with my parents. Someone once said, "You teach people how to treat you." I firmly believe that, even when it comes to your parents.