Love and hate are extreme emotions and one may easily follow the other. Usually, the latter follows the former – the inverse is rare.
He knows it because he has seen it in his parents.
During his childhood he recalls they were a loving, happy couple. He was the eldest, followed four years later by his brother and almost immediately their sister was born. Their parents were dedicated to them, their mother more present in their daily life, as their father had a more demanding job. Still, at weekends they would all go to places together, and they would go on family holidays to the Algarve or even on trips such as Disneyland, where he and his brother and sister had the time of their lives.
They often heard their parents laugh with each other. Sometimes they would travel together and the children would stay at their grandmother’s. When their parents’ returned they would see beautiful photos of far- off places, where their parents smiled happily.
Their mother had a job that was not too time consuming, and she would take them to school and pick them up, and in the early evenings she would help them do their homework and then their father would come home and they would run to him and hug him, and he would pick them up and take them to the living room and they all laughed, because as they grew up it became more and more difficult for their father to take pick them all up at the same time.
Those were happy, carefree days he thought would last for a long time.
They didn’t, for one day, when he was ten, everything changed.
First he noticed his father was more absent than usual, travelling more on business and getting home late – many evenings they would go to bed without seeing him.
He noticed his mother was hollow- eyed, and he thought she looked very sad. One day he even caught her crying, but she said no, it was an allergy she had in her eyes.
Then one day his parents called him and his brother and sister, told them to sit down and his father told them that, although he loved them very much, he needed some time on his own and he would be moving – only temporarily – from home. When he looked at his mother searching for answers she was expressionless, stone-faced, and he thought this was not the happy, carefree mother he knew.
That very night his father left and he and his brother and sister went to bed bewildered – when they asked their mother “when is Dad coming back?” she just said she didn’t know, but she hoped it would be soon.
He never came back. After a certain time they knew it, even before their mother announced it. Their father came home to get his things – and soon they began seeing him on appointed days and weekends: on Wednesdays he would take them for dinner and every other weekend would be spent with him. They missed him terribly but their mother told them she and their father were getting divorced and that was the usual procedure for children of divorced parents.
One day he heard his mother crying convulsively over the phone, telling a friend that she had discovered her husband had “someone else”. He was not sure what this meant, but from that day on he understood that not only his mother did not love his father anymore, but she also hated him. It seemed to him she needed to have her revenge on him – she tried to make it difficult for them to be with him, she would say bad things about him that he didn’t like to hear, and in addition she was very nervous, she shouted at the children all the time…when he looked at his mother he couldn’t recognise the calm, happy mother of before, she was nervous, bitter, unhappy…as for their father, strangely he looked okay, bright eyed, even younger…he looked happy. He didn’t understand. Later he understood.
Months flew by and he saw his parents turn into bitter enemies. In the meantime Dad introduced them to his new girlfriend, a much younger girl who worked with him. They quite liked her for she was nice, but one day when his younger sister told their mother she was a very pretty girl her reaction was so violent she had almost hit his sister. And again he didn’t quite understand why.
Their mother was thinner and thinner, she looked as if she were ill. They heard her shout at their father on the phone and he knew it was because of them. This upset him very much as he didn’t understand why they had to fight over them. As much as they wanted to spend more time with their father their mother was adamant and would not accept it – he knew there was a system by which children of divorced parents spent half the time with each parent and apparently it worked better than this system they had – a friend of his father’s had opted for this and the children were much happier than he and his brother and sister, as they continued to be with both parents and, best of all, there were no hot arguments or that feeling of dislike as the one existing between his parents.
Soon their parents were discussing their custody and the money his father gave them – something called “child support”, he learned – in court, and soon they were not addressing a word to each other, sending acrid messages through the children and always very critical of each other. It was almost unbearable to be in the middle of so much fire!
Soon after the separation his brother had developed a particular form of epilepsy and he had many behaviour problems. He knew very well this was his brother’s reaction to the traumatic separation of their parents. It took a long time for him to regain his balance and return to normal.
Years went by and finally they all had to go to court to testify about their life, their parents’, and say if they wanted to spend more time with their father or not. Again their parents would hardly speak to each other, as the hatred that had grown between them had buried all the ashes of the love once between them. They began spending more time with their father, as it should have been from the beginning – but at the time there had been too much hurt and pain for their mother to understand that.
He is no longer the bewildered ten year-old boy who saw love turn into hatred. No longer the wide-eyed boy who could not understand the reasons why. No longer the sad little boy who was desperately worried about his mother but at the same time terribly missed his father. No longer the confused boy who heard the two people he loved most accuse each other of terrible things…now he is a young man, very sure of himself, and now he understands what happened. He understands that his father stopped loving his mother and that he left home to live with someone else he had fallen in love with; he understands that hurt can turn otherwise wise persons into unreasonable ones; he has seen how love turns into hatred and how happiness is something fragile that disappears in the twinkle of an eye…he has seen how the beloved children of a so far loving couple become “missile weapons” that parents throw against each other in their jealousy and anger. In his heart, he knows this is wrong, because children are not the property of one parent or the other to do as they please, they are children of both parents and consequently love them both, and so they should never be kept apart from one of them just because they are mad at each other. Adults should know better, he thinks. After all, we are the children – not them.
As he leaves for University where he is working very hard for a bright future – and what a good student he is – he smiles. Everything is calmer now. His parents are still not on speaking terms but there are no longer those terrible quarrels and the court decision was taken long ago. He is an adult and his brother and sister have also grown up and are now teenagers. Things are more easygoing and life has improved. They go from their mother’s house to their father’s without much fuss. Everybody seems happy, their mother is happy in a new relationship and their father is still living with the same girl, not so young any longer – but then everyone is older and perhaps wiser, he concludes. Because life goes on and all emotions fade with time.
But, undoubtedly, he thinks, a hard lesson has been learned. When I have my own children one day, I will try and remember how unhappy I was when I saw love turn into hatred.