And The Bottom Drops Out…

When I was fourteen and my mom announced her upcoming divorce from my stepfather I was overjoyed. I walked around with a huge smile on my face for at least a week and I knew that my life was going to improve and improve in a big way. I absolutely knew that I was going to be happy for the first time in years…and yet after my stepfather left I continued to have nightmares that I was suffocating, drowning and being hunted…and I still had an overwhelming desire to “get away.”

I never examined in-depth my desire to be free…I just knew that I needed to be and this “feeling” would end up driving me relentlessly for about eight more years until I met and married my husband. I pushed myself hard once I got old enough and I worked three jobs a day, getting as few as three hours of sleep a night in order to afford to put myself through flight school. My ultimate goal was to become a commercial airline pilot, a job that would keep me on the move and enable me to leave my family far, far behind (I got very close to accomplishing this goal before I realized that being a pilot wasn’t something that I truly wanted). I was so busy keeping busy that it never occurred to me to wonder why I still wanted to “get away” even after my stepfather was out of my life.

In hindsight I can look back and see that from the ages of fourteen to nineteen my life really didn’t get that much better. Yes, I no longer had my stepfather mentally torturing me but my life wasn’t all that much different…I was still the same dutiful daughter, the same responsible and polite young girl and I was still the same workhorse to my family that I’d always been. My days consisted of going to school, taking care of my younger brother and sister, working every day after school for two hours in my mother’s home business, doing all the house cleaning and yard work for my family at home, doing all the house cleaning and yard work for my grandmother on the weekends and then being farmed out to my mother’s friends for babysitting and various other duties in the evenings when we weren’t going to church, which we did two nights a week and then again on Sundays.

When I dropped out of school at age fifteen (due to my being sick so much and missing months of school) my mother thought it best that I start doing church duties during what used to be my school hours and so for 5-6 hours each day I would join a group of like-minded people and perform church duties five days a week while I continued to keep doing all my other chores afterwards.

My mother paid me to work for her two hours a day, five days a week for three years. While I was working she, my brother and my sister would leave the house and go do fun things together. She paid me $5.00 an hour and then she took out of my pay any money that she was required to spend on my care such as doctor’s visits, dental appointments, car insurance, gas money and clothing. Not surprising there wasn’t all that much money left to actually give me at the end of the month.

I didn’t often think too hard about why she never made the beds and scrubbed the toilets or even why my brother and sister never had to do any of these things when they reached the same age. I certainly didn’t want to think about why when she asked my siblings to do certain chores she paid them $10-15 dollars an hour and then let them keep every dime. Every family member has their “role” and mine was to keep things organized, clean and easy-going for everyone else and I didn’t buck the system very often. In fact I can only recall going against my mother’s wishes twice in my entire childhood.

The first time I think I was about 13 years old. As a family we went to a doctor’s appointment. We had a little dog that we left in the car for the short visit. When we came back out the dog had gotten sick and vomited on the backseat of the car. I had accidentally left a small bag of chocolate covered raisins where the dog could reach them and of course he ate them and then got sick. My mother said that as I had been the one to leave the raisins out that I would be the one to clean up the vomit. It made perfect sense and I knew that it was my responsiblity, however I wasn’t feeling well and the sight of the vomit threatened to make me sick too. I said no, I didn’t want to clean it up. My mother said we weren’t leaving the parking lot until I did what I was told. I refused and we ended up in a stand-off with me eventually breaking down into tears begging her to not make me clean the car. She was furious and she physically grabbed my wrist, yanked me into the car and forced my hand down into the dog vomit smearing it between all of my fingers. “You WILL do what you’re told to do” she icily explained to me. Of course I ended up cleaning up the dog vomit which was now flung all over the car and all over me.

The second time I went against my mother’s wishes I was fifteen but I didn’t actually rebel, I just didn’t move fast enough. I was asleep when I woke to her screaming for me from the garage. I rushed out to see what the matter was and found her clutching her hands to her eyes. She had spilled gasoline in her eyes when she reached up to a high shelf and knocked a fuel can over. This was absolutely a dangerous situation and she needed help to get to the kitchen to wash her eyes out. I didn’t react fast enough due to shock and so she grabbed my arm sinking her fingernails into my flesh and shoved me into the kitchen where I fell against the counter. I recovered, got her to the sink, helped her with the initial flushing and then called poison control. Thankfully, my mother ended up being fine and did not suffer any permanent damage.

The facts of these incidents are not in question…for the first I was basically being a baby and should have known better, for the second I should not have hesitated when I saw my mother was in need of help. I chalk the first episode up to growing pains and the second to having trouble with comprehending what my mother actually needed from me through the noise and the panic of her screaming, especially since I was still groggy with sleep. What bothers me however, is my mother’s reaction to both situations…she responded with physical violence both of the times I didn’t immediately give her what she was demanding.

I had seen my mother slap my 7-year old brother so hard a few times that his nose would gush with blood. I despised her for hitting him since she was an adult and he was only a child but I also knew that my brother hit and kicked her back. I thought is was a bad combination, that he was a stubborn little boy and she an overworked mother that had been pushed too far during a bad moment. I always assumed that she had not meant to lose her temper and react violently. Now I wonder if maybe my mother didn’t start these episodes, that maybe my brother was just braver than I and that maybe he was just willing to fight back more than I was. I don’t know.

What I do know is that last Sunday when my mother came to visit she suggested that I continue writing as it obviously was helping me but that I should take my posts offline. I let the comment go and we continued talking about other things. I then wrote a post about some of those things and how I felt about them. Today I received what I felt were subtly angry and belittling emails from her telling me than my assumptions about her were merely my own reality and not in any way the truth. I responded by agreeing that was probably true but then asked her how I could be expected to react otherwise as she has never been willing to talk to me about important issues and that I was forced to assume because she wouldn’t actually tell me how she felt. She sent an even more demeaning response on her second email.

I was angry that she had consistently ignored me up to this point and then only responded to my writing after I wrote the post about her inability to help me, that I was okay with that and that I was moving on. This post was the first time I had perhaps put her in a slightly negative light without providing a rationalized explanation for her behavior. I was merely stating my intentions to move on with my life and she responded by asking me to stop publishing my writings. I then wrote another post about my reaction to our face to face meeting and I didn’t think it was in any way negative. I was merely stating how I felt about the conversation, nothing more. However, I had ignored her “advice” of not publishing my writings. She responded by sending me two nasty emails. I can only assume my writing another post and going against her specific wishes for the third time in my entire life had met with her chilly disapproval. Like she said…assumptions.

I’ve always struggled with the question of whether or not my mother loved me. I now realize wondering about this my whole life has been a moot waste of time. I’m pretty sure a mother’s love doesn’t really come into play if she doesn’t even actually like or respect you in the first place. That’s okay though, as I’m beginning to realize that I don’t like her all that much either. She used me as a slave just as her mother did to her, she made me feel like I was responsible for her instead of the other way around and she did a lot of really bad things to me…she let a lot of really bad things happen to me and she has no reasonable explanation other than to tell me to keep it private. I’m to the point where I’m starting to believe that she either liked abusing me or that she felt I deserved it. Again, assumptions…but reasonable ones I think.

It’s sad but like I said, I’m moving on because I don’t need that kind of “support” in my life any longer. I haven’t decided whether I will keep publishing my writings or just move on to a personal journal. I in no way wish to cause my mother further embarrassment and I have no intention of turning my writing into a personal attack against her. I need to write about my life so that I can recover from it…she no longer has anything to do with it. I’m just not sure if publishing it is a matter of great importance anymore. She’s not likely to be reading it, my brother has refused to read it from the beginning and my sister…well, I don’t know what my sister does. These were the three people I was desperately hoping to make understand me. It’s backfired and I’ve lost yet another parent, the last remaining one I had.

I suppose I will have to decide soon what it is that I’m to do.

 

So Be It…

Many years ago I read a short true life story about how a very angry yet mousy and timid middle-aged woman got tired of being a timid and mousy middle-aged woman and so she took personal steps to overcome her doormat lifestyle. Over the course of a year she made constructive progress learning to be more assertive. At first all seemed well; she started standing up for herself, voicing her opinions and talking about things that upset her instead of burying them in silence. She enjoyed her new life and her new personality…and then she got carried away.

Her expressing her opinions in a reasonable manner quickly turned into raging against anything she felt was unfair. She gave people dirty looks for imaginary faults, took offence easily at little things, started flipping crude finger gestures towards anyone who looked at her crossways and eventually became an ‘in your face’ screamer. She came back to her senses the day she lost all control on a commercial airplane. As she vocally raged on and on about some injustice it shocked her to see the fear of her in the eyes of the other passengers. She was nearly arrested by a Federal Air Marshal before she was able to calm herself down.

She had overcompensated for a lifetime of silent rage by pushing herself too far, too fast in a single year of recovery. She liked the freedom of allowing herself to not only be angry but to also express that anger at the drop of a pin…so much so that she became addicted to her own righteous indignation. She became drunk on her own power, her own anger and it nearly resulted in destroying her life.

I myself have been on a steady road of recovery for about two years now. I too had never given myself permission to BE angry, to EXPRESS my angriness even though I had always considered myself deep down to be an extremely angry person. I had learned to feel hate and anger at a very young age but I had also learned that this hate and anger were never to be openly acknowledged and so I kept it internal causing myself a lot of physical ailments along the way.

When I decided the time had come to start opening up my own personal can of emotional worms I knew there was a risk of having my feelings get out of control and take over my life…and I didn’t want that. Having this random woman’s story always at the back of my mind has helped me tremendously. Like her I only want to be emotionally healthy and move forward to a better life, but unlike her I don’t want to risk pushing myself to the brink of losing everything.

When I started writing I was mostly writing to my mother. I put my stories online so that she could freely read what I had to say…or not. It was my way, the only way I knew of reaching out and begging her to help me. She chose not to and I, over time, was able to come to grips with her decision and move past it. She is human with limitations of her own and I could no longer bring myself to ask her to give me what she was so clearly either unwilling or unable to. I wrote of my decision a few days ago and I felt good about it…I still do.

My mother panicked a little, thinking I may be taking steps to cut her out of my life and so she made a special appointment to see and speak with me. For the first time she opened up a teeny, tiny bit and gave me a glimpse into how she felt about my childhood. I was shocked at some of what she had to say and as I thought over our discussion after she left I could tell I was beginning to feel resentful and bitter, emotions I didn’t want or even need to feel.

The more I thought about her words though the more accepting I became of them and I cannot express enough how sincerely appreciative I am of her efforts. I may not have liked what she had to say but hearing it has given me more insight into my life, it’s given me another clue, another piece of the puzzle that is me and I cannot be unhappy about that.

My mother honestly feels that her husband, my stepfather, was not a child molester…she feels that he made a wrong choice once on a night that he was angry and had been drinking. She also feels that my having to witness from the age of five her and her husband having forcible sex while I slept on the floor for years a foot from their bed was in no way damaging to me as I was most likely always asleep. Although I will never agree with her on either point, knowing that she honestly believes what she said actually helps me and helps me a lot.

It helps me to understand why she did nothing to protect me from sexual trauma during my childhood and I now know that it’s because she truly believes that I was never in any actual danger, other than that one night that she witnessed it of course…but that was only because alcohol was involved. Had it not been for my stepfather consuming one too many beers that one night she feels that nothing sexual would have ever happened to me. I tried to tell her that the sexual abuse happened more than once but she was not prepared or able to listen and so she decided to leave.

Bizarrely enough learning how my mother actually feels/felt is an enormous relief to me. It has taken the burden off my shoulders somehow and I no longer need to wonder why she allowed all the bad things to happen to me…because now I actually KNOW.

Figuring this out was unpleasant but definitely worth it and I am thankful to her for taking the time to talk to me and summoning up the courage to do so.

I do the best I can to make mental choices every day of whether or not to feel happy, sad, depressed, calm, agitated, etc… I’ve always attempted to not react automatically to a situation based on knee-jerk feelings…rather I attempt to think over what’s happened and then pull out whatever certain emotion I need at the time to get me through my day. I’m not always successful but it’s a coping mechanism I’ve almost perfected over the last thirty five or so years.

After my recent talk with my mother I could feel myself brushing up against my emotional anger. I do give myself permission to feel anger these days but only so long as I control it and it doesn’t control me. Needing and then calling on my anger after I’ve thought through a situation is fine and it’s a useful tool for me but I am unwilling to allow myself to react in anger. If I react in anger and then lose control my anger may very well overwhelm me, take over my life and ultimately destroy me…just as happened to the random woman I read about so many years ago.

The freedom of being angry and acting on it is not in any way worth the risk. Perhaps one day I won’t feel a need to be angry at all, that a day will come when I can finally say that I don’t care about my childhood anymore, that a day will come when I can say “It happened” and move on…and that will be a fine day indeed. Talking with my mother put me one step closer towards this goal. She feels her way and I feel mine…I can accept that.

So be it.

 

 

Little Girl Lost…

I know that my early life cannot be undone and that I must move emotionally forward each and every day as I try to grow into a fully mature and healthy person. It’s strange for me because I’m actually 39 years old…I should already be a fully mature person. In some ways I am, I am more than mature…I am ancient, as old as time itself and my soul is burdened and weary. In other ways I am still a small and emotionally fragile young child struggling to comprehend my topsy-turvy world.

It’s hard for me to look back and reflect upon my childhood. It was horrible by anyone’s standards and yet not as bad as it could have been. I have many conflicting emotions about the events that occurred and the people involved, people who should have protected me but didn’t. On the one hand I love my family, on the other I am shocked and appalled at their collective and abusive actions towards me. I sometimes wish I could go back in time as my adult self and shake each member of my family until their teeth rattled. I wish I could scream at them for refusing to see the harm they were inflicting on a defensive little girl. I wish to shout at them, to rail at them, to scratch at their blind eyes, to claw at their deaf ears, to pummel their much larger and more powerful bodies until they might finally wake and realize what they were doing to the physically tiny and weak child I was. I wish to grab my younger self and take her permanently away knowing that she would be forever safe within the secure boundaries of my own arms, arms that had finally grown big and capable of putting up a defense…arms now big enough, powerful enough to match the strength of my younger self’s will of mind. Of course I can’t do any such thing. I can’t go back in time and even if I could there would be nothing I could say or do that would change my life one iota…because the bottom line is no one cared enough about me to actually stop causing me harm. My screaming at them, were it possible, would have absolutely no effect whatsoever.

Another bottom line…I raised myself, took care of myself, taught myself decent values and grew older year after year struggling to choose the correct path to adulthood. From my family I had an example of what not to do as I learned only danger, fear, neglect, betrayal and harm from them. From them I learned how to tiptoe around explosive situations and anticipate every possible “worst case” scenario in order to keep myself as safe as I could while being powerless. In order to learn what to do and how to be what I considered a good person I needed to look to other sources…school library books, old movies showing on television and catching glimpses of other people’s better lives as they swirled blithely around me.

I learned ethics by reading stories of Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and following the adventures of the ‘Box Car Children.’ I learned how to problem solve from books such as ‘Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective’ and the old ‘Nancy Drew’ books. From Disney animated films I learned the difference between good and evil and that being a true hero took action and not just uttering meaningless words full of empty promises. I learned about language use and compassion through such books as ‘Amelia Bedelia’ and the ‘Serendipity’ series. Above all else I fed my imagination through these sources and it was my ability to construct an entire imaginary world inside my own head that enabled my survival. My outward body was at the mercy of the adults in my life but the inside, the part that made me me, that was all my own and no one could ever take it from me…although it was attempted many, many times.

From the age of five until I was twelve my stepfather expressed a desire to have sex with me. He told me often in words and occasionally showed me by the use of physical force. My mother looked the other way until the night she watched him for 45 minutes in bed with me. She finally reacted after nearly an hour, sent me to the neighbors and then called the police. My stepfather was arrested, plead guilty and served a very short-term jail sentence. Within six months he was back home living with us and life continued on much as it had before, with a few exceptions.

After the night he was arrested everyone in my family had to face up to what my stepfather was…a child molester. My mom, my aunt, my uncle and my grandmother already knew of my stepfather’s constant emotional and sometimes physical abuse towards me but now they had to add another abuse to the list. Not surprisingly they reacted in exactly the same way to the sexual abuse as they did to the other types…they convieniently ignored it. I knew they struggled just a little bit more though since they all stopped looking at me from that night forward. I had finally graduated from being mostly invisible to entirely invisible.

Other than my mother telling me she wouldn’t have believed my stepfather was molesting me if she hadn’t watched it with her own eyes and my uncle calling me a whore for seducing my stepfather not a SINGLE WORD was ever said about the sexual harm I had been going through for years. This is not to say there were not consequences as there were indeed reprecussions…just not in any way that was good for me.

My mother saw this latest event as a way to shift power within her marriage. She took my stepfather back after his release from jail but she now had the upper hand…something that had never been the case before and their marriage ended up lasting two more years before she decided to call it quits. In the meantime having my mother hold the arrest and conviction over my stepfather’s head kept him out of my bed for the remainder of his time with us but it only made him meaner, hate me even more and look for more toxic ways to emotionally torture me and pay me back for “getting him in trouble” with the law and with my mother. I spent the next two years in more misery than I had known in all the years prior leading up to his arrest. Once my mother told him their marriage was officially over it became a full on war with him destroying every piece of anything I owned before he left. He ransacked my room, he smashed my music tapes, he ripped photos of me into tiny shreds, he burned all my clothes, he threw away my toys , he stole the blankets and sheets from my bed, sold my radio and gave away my bicycle. He left me absolutely nothing, not a single material possession when he walked away for the final time. This, however, was not to be the final blow from my parents.

In the weeks directly after their separation and pending divorce I overheard my mother tell her best friend that she basically had an ace in the hole, that due to my stepfather’s sexual molestation conviction he could never have access to my sister unless my mother first approved it. She said it gleefully knowing what a powerful weapon she wielded. She knew in her upcoming divorce she held all the cards because her husband was running scared with such a checkered past. She had never said a single fucking word to me about the horrors that my stepfather inflicted upon me for nine long years but here she was telling her best friend how happy and secure she felt about her and my sister’s future because of my sexual abuse happening in the first place, as if it were a lucky break. Her meaning couldn’t have been clearer. The cost of one daughter’s innocence for the saving of another’s was a justifiable trade in her opinion and in a way I could understand this, even agree with it…I was already damaged goods and my sister wasn’t so why shouldn’t she be kept safe on the back of my betrayals? I wasn’t eavesdropping…I was merely and entirely invisible. My family talked about me all the time like this even though I was in the same room because I simply did not exist as a human being…they did not acknowledge my existence so why should they be concerned with any pain their words might cause me?

After the night of my stepfather’s arrest my aunt chose to ignore me altogether by avoiding my company whenever possible and when she couldn’t avoid me completely she compromised by never looking me in the eye again, never hugging me again, never teasing or laughing with me again. Our relationship was never the same and I am unable to dredge up any emotions for her other than pre-arrest happiness/fondness and post-arrest sadness/bitterness.

Due to my mother taking my stepfather back it was necessary that I be gone from our home as much as possible in order for them to patch things up in their marriage. It was decided that I could spend time at my grandmother’s house. My grandmother was fine with having me but in exchange for her taking an interest in me I was required to do chores for her. It became my responsiblity from the age of twelve to scrub and mop her kitchen floors, do her dishes, vacuum her carpets, clean her toilets, wash her windows, do her laundry, do her grocery shopping, make her beds, wash and vacuum her cars, sweep her driveways, weed her flowers and cut her grass. In exchange she would allow me to hang out at her house and she would feed me. I seriously felt the deal was a good one because I got to stay away from my parents and that was worth doing whatever chores my grandmother handed out and I’ll be honest…I loved spending time with my grandmother. She treated me better than anyone else I knew. I was starved for attention and I was more than happy receiving hers even if it was a damaging kind. At least with her I wasn’t invisible and she only kicked me out of her house once…and that was only because I made the mistake of crying in front of her, something I made sure never to do again.

My grandmother didn’t stop there with her “affections.” She had a special kind of torture in mind for me after the arrest…torture that she most likely felt was therapy. She, like my mother, never said a single word to me about being sexually abused however she had the ‘Lifetime Movie Network’ on her TV channel lineup. This was the decade of the money-making powerhouse genre of sexual molestation films and ‘Lifetime’ played it to the hilt. The not so well-kept secret of child molestation was coming out of the social woodwork and fascinated, horrified housewives everywhere were lapping it up. Every gruesome story of perversion ‘LMN” could get their corporate hands on they made into a two-hour cable movie. Every wife that left her pedophile husband and went into hiding for the sake of her children’s lives, every girlfriend running from a man out to kill her and her kids, every teenage girl coming forward to tell about her rape by the highschool soccer coach, every ten-year old boy kidnapped and kept by a mountain man who only used him for sex every night, every young man accusing his seventy old grandfather of sodomy when he was six…you name it, the ‘Lifetime Movie Channel’ turned it into a movie and then played their lineup of horror around the clock for about five years straight. Lucky me, my grandmother made me watch every single one of these movies and then made me watch them again and again, over and over and over. To this day I get nauseous even saying ‘Lifetime Movie Network’ or seeing their abbreviated letters of ‘LMN’. No matter that they have moved on and now produce heartwarming and touching Christmas specials and other positive and uplifting movies…I would sooner slit my own wrist than sit down to watch anything that the ‘Lifetime Movie Network’ produces.

I suppose making me watch all that crap could be considered helpful. At least I realized I wasn’t in any way special…I learned that the whole world was full of monsters and little kid victims. I’m sure I should thank my grandmother for opening my eyes to that nasty fact…but I won’t, as I’d rather choke on my own tongue.

What I did learn and take to heart from the brutal and emotionally devoid wasteland that is my past is that I’m on my own…I live or die based on nothing more than my will to do so. I flourish or fail only because I choose one path or another.

I know what cold hate feels like, I know what hard anger tastes like and I know what being a nothing person looks like…it looks like me. It’s okay though, for I used my hate to survive, I use my anger now when I need it to keep me from capsizing into an emotional wreck and when I look in the mirror I see a real person, one who struggles but nonetheless real as I am no longer willing to consider myself as a nothing person.

I made it…I grew up. The way I did it often results with me at a distinct disadvantage when trying to relate to other people. Children that have experienced severe trauma are often emotionally stunted and then stuck in the age they were when the trauma occurred or as in my case the abuse started. I am no exception to this phenomenon. In some ways I stopped growing at five years old and so it’s sometimes with the eyes of a five-year old that I see the world. Sadly, real life isn’t like what you see in make-believe movies or read about in childish books but I grew up the best I knew how because the fairytale movies and the childish books with their childish good versus evil morals were the only positive sources of information at my disposal…and I was doing the best I could and I was doing it all on my own. I honestly think the world would be a better place if everyone acted according to the morals of children’s books but I know this just isn’t possible.

I’ll have to be satisfied that I did my very best and I claim allowances for my oddities and awkwardness due to my unique childhood of abandonment. As I progress on my path to healing I will continue to look for the little girl I lost along the way, the little girl hiding and playing peek-a-boo somewhere inside of me. I have every intention of finding her, holding onto to her and then figuring a way of merging her with the adult I want to become…for I’m wise enough to know that as long as she remains lost I will remain lost.

Why Is There Weed Growing In My Closet?…

I came home from school one day when I was about 12 years old to find my room ransacked. Clothes, books and toys were scattered all around the floor, there was tinfoil taped to my windows and inside the closet that once housed my clothes, books and toys were now heated lamps and pots and pots of pot plants…as in marijuana.

That night as I tried to fall asleep against the glaring brightness of the high intensity lights peeping through the edges of my closet door I pondered in anxiety as to why weed was now growing in my room and why my stepfather had chosen this particular location to place his plants in.

I went through all the other options available to him. I thought about our shed at the back of our house but realized the lights shining through the cracks in the door might be a give away to would-be thieves and patrolling policemen. Logically I could see how the shed was a bad idea. Next I thought about my sibling’s room. They were so young they would have been able to sleep right through the near daylight emitting rays but they were my parent’s pride and joy and so once again, logically speaking, that option was out. Then I thought about my parent’s closet. It was the biggest by far and could therefore hold more plants but perhaps my mom and stepfather didn’t want to be kept awake by the light and besides they most likely needed their closet for important stuff…like say, clothes. So, I thought about all of my stepfather’s friends and how he could have put his plants on any one of their backwoods properties but then again maybe he didn’t trust them not to help themselves to his stash.

As I lay on the top bunk of my bed vainly trying to get to sleep I kept going over and over different scenarios and suggestions in my mind. I had a hard enough time trying to sleep, something I’ve never been very good at (at least not since my stepfather came into my life) and here I was being stared straight in the eye with criminal activity night after night. This definitely did not help my endeavors to get a good night’s rest. Following the rules was a crucial part of my young life. Breaking the rules was punished severely and so having my parents break not just the rules but the LAW was very emotionally disturbing to me.

And then out of the blue I hit upon another idea, a brilliant one. What if my stepfather got caught? Wouldn’t having the illegal substance growing in his nearly teenage daughter’s room be a dandy get out of jail free excuse? “Now officer, how was I to know what she was up to? She’s always been a bad seed. I’ve done the best I could with her. I can’t imagine how she got her hands on something like this. I’m appalled, really appalled.”

Yeah, I could actually see that dramatic little scene playing out. As I rolled over to face the wall, put my pillow over my head and then my blankets over my pillow my only remaining thought was how much I hated my life.

Random Things That Made Me Happy Today…

A once perfectly kept and grafted Hawthorne tree now growing wildly and in a riot of light pink, dark pink and white blossoms.

Randomly seeing a friend as I walked into a sandwich shop to order lunch.

A rusty metal folding chair set up in a ditch on the side of a country road as if beckoning to passersby to stop, sit a while and enjoy the serene and beautiful view.

Sheep sheared from the neck up (so their heads don’t get too hot and they can see) but left poofy and wooly everywhere else…sorta like a reverse afro textured haircut and just as completely awesome!

A solitary white horse roaming within an otherwise intensely dark green meadow.

Snacking on butter toffee almonds because…well, because they are very yummy.

A small bouquet of bright orange California Poppys growing on a hillside.

The brilliant blue of the sky, the soft puffiness of the clouds, the yellow warmth of the sun and the feel of the cool and crisp ocean breeze on my skin.

Meanwhile, Over In Sparkle City…

I think I’ve mentioned before that my grandmother what a total loon…as in stark barking mad with a large streak of meanness. She’s dead, thank God, so nowadays it’s just the memory of her that haunts my family…and the memories can be downright hilarious…because if you don’t laugh you’ll sure as hell end up crying.

She used to have a habit of calling us kids ‘brats’. She honestly wasn’t saying it in a derogatory way as she didn’t pussy foot around with her insults. If she was mad at you she’d straight out call you a whore or a son of a bitch since she sure didn’t waste time on subtlety. I remember one day arriving at her house when I was in my early twenties only to find little yellow sticky notes with my name scrawled all over them taped to the walls. Dead center in each note was a steak knife that she had forced through the note and into the wall’s plaster…so yeah, subtlety just wasn’t in my grandmother’s nature and obviously steak knifes should never have been within her reach. Anyway, compared to what she was capable of calling us kids ‘brats’ was A-OK with us…not so much for my mother though.

My mom hated it when her mother called us ‘brats’ and she would look grandma straight in the eye and tell her that the word brat was wholly unacceptable. Grandma, being grandma, completely disregarded my mother by flaunting a cheeky smile and then saying in a sing-song voice “Brats, brats…all it means is that you’re a dirty street urchin, that’s all it means…brats, brats…dirty street urchins.” Because of course calling us children dirty street urchins was not at all offensive.

Stark.Barking.Mad I tell you.

What was so freaking hilarious about all of this is that sometimes grandma would get it wrong and she’d go around singing “Brats, brats…all it means is that you’re a dirty SEA urchin” and that, my friends was…EPIC!

We grew up on the Oregon coast where tide pools were prevalent. Sea urchins are small, beautiful, green, purple, blue or pink creatures that will reach out and try to grab you and then fold up tightly if you gently press your finger to them. They’re absolutely harmless to something the size of a human being…unless you’re a complete and utter moron prone to sticking your tongue into one of them. DO NOT EVER DO THIS! You will end up in the hospital with urchin poisoning. You won’t die but your tongue and face will swell up badly so that you look like you have elephantitus and you’ll probably wish you would die…but of course you won’t, because what good would stupidity be if you didn’t suffer from it?

Anyhoo, every time my grandmother would start in calling us kids brats and my mother would go on the defensive I’d hold my breath in silent anticipation just praying the word SEA would pop out of her mouth instead of street. Once it happened I’d then go around poking my baby brother in the tummy and mouthing the words “dirty SEA urchin, we are all dirty SEA urchins!” (I was twelve…how could I possibly have reacted otherwise I ask of you…sheesh!)

Epic I tell you, freaking epic.

Veiled Insults From The English Language…

The English language fascinates me for its complexity…and for its nonchalant absurdity.

Take for instance the word extraordinary. Currently in society its meant to covey sentiments like fabulousness, special, grandiose. Break it down and what it’s really saying is that something is EXTRA ordinary…as in average but only more so…and really what is so fantastic about that?

Some prime examples:

Ooooh! What an extraordinary painting = That painting is not just dull beyond words…it’s especially dull.

Oh my! What an extraordinary young prodigy you have there = Your kid’s musical talent is not just as awful as the average neighborhood kid…it’s even more awful.

Gracious! What an extraordinary outfit, it suits your coloring = That beige pant suit shirt you’re wearing is blah and apparently so it your skin tone…both just happen to be more blah than usual.

Oh yes, I do so love English words…for they are remarkably fun.

 

The Time Has Come…

Today is the day that I let go of something I’ve always thought I needed.

I’ve spent the last few years reaching out and trying to find a way of telling my story. I finally settled on the medium of writing. It’s the most intuitive way I know of expressing myself and surprisingly it is helping me to heal from traumatic wounds. Writing helps me to think clearly about distinct issues and explore my true feelings about my experiences. I’m finding that as I write about disturbing occurrences in my life I am able to let go of them…or at least I am able let go of the debilitating emotions associated with these occurrences. It’s an amazing thing…to write about something and then be released from its crippling power.

With the help of my writing I have realized it’s come to the point where I must let go of the one thing I have wanted most in my entire life…the yearning for something more than my mother’s apparent indifference. She is the one person that I have desperately needed to hear me, to respond to me and today is the day I’ve realized that she is incapable of doing so…at least to any extent that reaches below the surface. I’ve spent my entire life waiting on her to notice me, to acknowledge me, to talk to me about anything of importance. I had hoped that my writing would enable her to not only understand my feelings but that it would open a door of communication between us. I’ve romanticized her actions, I’ve rationalized her choices and I’ve done my best to understand her perspective hoping that one day she would feel comfortable enough to discuss with me what really drove her choices and her actions…that she could one day share with me what makes her her. I’ve apparently waited in vain. I shall do so no longer…for I am closing the door. I can no longer keep it open if I am to progress as a person.

I am nearly forty years old. My life is more than half over as I cannot see myself living past my sixties. I’ve experienced too much strife, too much stress, too much heartache both to my emotions and to my physical body for it to endure to a ripe old age. Agony, pain, anger and resentment take their toll and my body is merely an imperfect and frail vessel. It will eventually wear out much faster than originally intended as I already feel older than time itself. I can no longer waste my precious remaining years and my emotional resources continuing to strive for that which is clearly unobtainable.

I want to experience all that life has to offer. I want to sit beside a smoky campfire on the beach and just be in the moment without feeling anxiety of any kind. I want to learn to play the guitar and play it well. I want to travel a little bit and visit the US National Parks as well as the parks in Canada. I’ve read thousands of books…I want to read tens of thousands more. I want to learn more about Greek philosophy, human history and the psychology of the brain. I want to listen to a live philharmonic orchestra and I want to one day watch a New York Broadway Play. I want to just be…to enjoy the little things that make life worth living.

I can’t do any of these things if all my emotional energy is focused on the whys of my early life…why did these awful things happen to me, why did my mother let these things happen to me? Some things in life are just not explainable and some people are just not able to give you what you think you need. I am finally grown up enough to admit this, to accept it and to respect both myself and my mother by not trying to dig for answers anymore.

This decision does not make me sad. Rather, it feels like I’m being freed from bondage…it feels emotionally healthy. It feels as if maybe I can now move on and start to really live my own life as a whole person…and not just as a discarded extension of my mother’s carelessness. I will continue to write about my life as it has become my personal therapy, the outlet for my intense pain and the pathway to my mental happiness. However, as of this day I stop hoping; I stop expecting my mother to respond in any meaningful way to the outpouring of my pain. As of this day I stop anticipating her and stop being excruciatingly disappointed when she doesn’t come through.

As of today I am releasing my mother from my endless questioning…I am absolving her of the nightmare of my past, clearing her of any involvement…I am letting her off the hook. As of today I am taking charge of my future, a future she will play only a small supporting role in rather than the lead character. I will continue to enjoy visiting with her and talking about arbitrary and unimportant things but as of today I am letting my unrealistic dream of her go. I will accept her as she is and I will respect her boundaries, for she is entitled to them. From this day forward I am setting us both free…free of my need for more. However, I will continue to love her unconditionally…

…and she will continue to love me in the only way she knows how…from a vague and safe distance and from a comfort zone where we talk mostly about the weather.

The Path Of Least Resistance…

I’ve debated for a while whether or not to tell this story. I try to stick to the stories that involve only me. The telling of this story will hurt those I hold dearest to my heart; it’s going to hurt my mother, it’s going to hurt my brother and it’s going to hurt my sister…should they choose to read it. It’s the telling of our family dynamics and while it is not my intention to inflict pain, I believe that the pain is already there. Perhaps in the telling of the story the pain can become more understandable, possibly more forgivable and that much easier to let go of.

In order to understand the pain of the second generation one must strive to understand the pain of the first…namely my mother.

My mother is the baby of her family and she was raised in a household where children were seen but not heard. The only life goal presented to her and her sisters was to grow up, get married and become wives. She was reared by an actively abusive mother who treated her children as slaves and a passively abusive father who looked the other way. When she was seventeen she fell in love with a boy in her high school. Perhaps he had the potential to be a good husband but we will never know as one night after school he was brutally murdered by an angry man. In her grief she turned to her boyfriend’s best friend and shortly thereafter they were married. It was the path of least resistance, a replacement marriage and also a way of sharing a tragedy. As soon as the ink was dry on the marriage certificate her new husband showed his true colors. He isolated her from her friends and family. He chose what she could and could not wear and controlled her every movement. He refused to allow her out of his sight and she was forbidden to even look at another man. He was physically violent and psychologically terrifying. When she found herself pregnant with me she knew she had no choice but to leave and dissolve the marriage. As her own mother was extremely unkind and she was afraid to be on her own at night due to nightmares and loneliness her only refuge was her older sister. My aunt, along with her husband and their young son took us both in and we were able to live with them for about two years until my mother could get back on her feet both financially and emotionally.

My mother attended college and started studying the Bible with some religious friends of hers. She found comfort in the daily routine of school and contentment in the spiritual structure of a solid belief system, one in which all the rules were laid out and following along didn’t require much thought or effort. Her and I went along fairly well on our own for the next three years.

One night she went to a party at her sister’s house where she met her brother-in-law’s cousin. This new man offered to help her tidy up the kitchen after the party was over and she was immediately impressed by his kindness, kindness she was not used to receiving. They hit it off and he ended up going home with her that night. Sex without marriage bothered her conscience and so twelve days after meeting him she married this man in a small ceremony. Marrying so quickly appeased her spiritual side and validated her feelings toward this man. A hasty marriage was the path of least resistance…far easier than taking time to actually get to know this man before marrying him and far easier than having to struggle with a troublesome conscience over physical wants. Unfortunately, once again her new husband showed his true colors as soon as the ink on the marriage certificate was dry…and so began nine long years of psychological terror minus the physical violence. Without the slaps, shoves and punches she didn’t recognize that such a life was bad…it was what she was used to, what she had been raised with and what she considered normal. Even though she “fell out of love” within two years she stayed in the relationship because it was the easiest thing to do. Doing otherwise would have been going against convention, not to mention the spiritual implications of divorce. Staying was the path of least resistance.

The second generation…

When I was born I was allergic to everything, including breast milk and I had a constant rash all over my body for several years. My mother tells me stories of how people would come up to coo over me only to pull back in horror when they saw me up close. No one wanted to touch me as I looked like I had leprosy or something equally horrific. (Thankfully I recovered by the time I was three and ended up with skin more or less associated with a healthy human being. The reason I include this information will become apparent later in the story.) When my mother remarried I was, for whatever reason, deemed unacceptable by my new stepfather and so emotionally excluded from their new little family “unit.” My mother became “off-limits” to me and I was required to live on the outskirts of my mother and stepfather’s lives. For my mother, going along with my stepfather’s wishes was in all likelihood the path of least resistance.

My mother and her husband tried for three years to have a baby together without much success when finally, finally she became pregnant with my brother. When he was born he was physically underdeveloped. He was missing the palate in his mouth and a part of his lip. Both were common conditions known as Cleft Palate and Cleft Lip. Thankfully he was born in Texas where leading surgeons in this field of birth defects practiced medicine. This was back in the day when babies were taken from their mothers and put in separate newborn wards with the mothers only allowed visitations for nursing and occasional cuddling. My brother couldn’t nurse though due to the hole in his lip…he wasn’t able to get suction as his lips could not form a sealed circle.

In order for my brother to be released from the hospital he needed to have two surgeries that would enable him to eat orally and without feeding tubes. He would still only be able eat slowly and with bottles, never nursing. He then would be required to have another surgery by age three months where the surgeons would first close the hole in his lip and then remove part of his hip bone and graft it into his mouth as a new palate. A final surgery due by age six months was also scheduled. He would need further surgeries on his nose but not until his late teens and only after his facial features had matured.

All I can assume is that my mother panicked at this onslaught of information and that she was afraid…afraid for her child’s apparent vulnerability, his supposed fragility. My brother was neither…he was strong, he was resilient and he was a fighter. He came through it all with flying colors but our mother did not. Due to her fear she spent the first three days of his life avoiding him, refusing to touch him. Maybe she thought he would break, maybe she froze with no one there to tell her what to do as she was far, far away from her family that was back home on the west coast, likely her husband blamed her for his son’s birth defects. Perhaps doing nothing was the path of least resistance. Regardless, it happened. When my brother finally came home from the hospital about a month after he was born I could sense our mother’s emotional distance. Feeling fiercely protective I declared that this tiny little boy was ‘MY‘ baby and he and I became inseparable. I fed him and laughed with him when his food came back out his nose due to his lacking a “roof” to his mouth. He was the happiest baby I had ever seen as he chortled in constant delight and amusement. I cuddled him whenever I wasn’t in school and I watched over him like a hawk. He was mine. He was also his father’s son, pride and joy. Staying distant when there was me and the boy’s father to take care of him was most likely the path of least resistance for my mother and the easiest option while she overcame her initial fears.

My brother would have been none the wiser to our mother’s distance in the beginning but when he was in his late teens she felt a need to tell him the story of how she couldn’t bring herself to touch him when he was born. They already had an acrimonious relationship and this didn’t help. Hearing this story broke my brother’s heart and it broke mine when he relayed the incident to me. He was blustery about it, trying to “suck it up” and shrug off the hurt…a feeling I knew only too well when it came to our mother. Our mother wasn’t trying to hurt him…she was careless with her words, that’s all. She had, and still has, a very real disability of constantly putting her foot in her mouth when she’s trying to convey a message, even a nice one. This wasn’t a real nice message though and damage was done, pain was inflicted.

Along came my sister two years after my brother’s birth. She was blonde, blued eyed, adorable and physically perfect…the complete opposite of my brother and I…who were both darker toned and far from being physically perfect when born. There was no impediment to our mother latching onto our sister like the lifeline she was. Here was a child that she could bond with by breast-feeding, a child that wasn’t frail with birth defects or skin disorders, a child that she could squeeze and cuddle without fear of doing damage and a daughter that her husband actually allowed her to interact with.

As an eleven-year-old girl used to being ignored I was happy for my mother that she now had my sister. I wasn’t jealous…I understood. My two-year old brother didn’t and he continued to not understand as he grew older. It caused a lot of problems between my brother and sister, this underlying jealousy. The two being so close in age created an atmosphere of competition, which could be seen as fairly regular behavior for children. Even the jealousy would have been normal if it was simply an older child resenting the additional care a younger child required…but in my brother’s case it was more. Deep down he could sense the difference between him and our sister and how differently our mother treated them. He was too young to understand the reasons why, too young to comprehend our mother’s state of mind and her lifelong coping mechanisms of taking the path of least resistance.

My sister, she is the baby of the family and she still gets the lion’s share of our mother’s attention. I am emotionally okay with this as I am thankful that the two of them are able to have a “normal” relationship. My brother still struggles with his hurt. My sister would argue that she is not “perfect,” that she is a normal human being with normal problems (which of course is true) and that she has had to “share” mom with the two of us too. She’s never going to understand because she’s never had to stand on the outside looking in…not really, whereas both my brother and I have.

I suppose it’s safe to say that parents are destined to disappoint their children and our family is no exception. It’s an inescapable fact of life. Children, when we are born view our parents as “Gods” that have all the answers. It’s only as we mature into adulthood ourselves that we reach the heartbreaking realization that our parents are not, in fact, almighty beings sitting high up on a pedestal. It’s a huge blow to our belief system that our parents are fallible, that they are merely human and that they make a lot of unintentional mistakes. It’s only once we reach this conclusion though that we can then start to learn about them not just as parents…but also as people just trying to do the best they can. Once we understand this simple truth we can then start to see our parent’s choices through their eyes…and somehow this helps the hurt to fade and hopefully to heal.

 

$1.67 Incentive -OR- She Was One Smart Cookie…

“Go clean your room.”

“Aw, mom” I peevishly reply as I hunch my shoulders, mentally roll my eyes and express my over-the-top agony…agony of such a dramatic nature that only an 11-year-old girl could convey it properly.

“Go clean your room. Now.”

“Jeez! Fine!” I say as slouch my shoulders even more and shuffle off to my room as if I’m headed to the gallows.

As I start to pick up my toys and the various clothes I have lying around my room I find a dime under a pair of socks. “Weird” I think absently. Then I find a nickel under a book. “Strange, why is this here?” I wonder. Then I stumble upon a quarter lying beneath a shoe and my brain starts to kick into overdrive. I’m both worried and a little excited, worried because I knew I hadn’t left any money in my room and excited because, well because it was money and I usually wasn’t in possession of money. I took my dime, nickel and quarter to my mother. “Mom, there’s money in my room.”

“Really?” Hmm. I wonder how that could have got there?” she says and with a twinkle in her eye she tells me to go and see if anymore coins can be found.

“You mean there’s more!?” I shriek. “Maybe. I guess you’ll have to clean your room to find out” my mom tells me.

I race off to my bedroom in excitement. I straighten every nook and cranny of my room, put away every stray item of clothing, pick up every toy and shelve every book. In total I find two quarters, six dimes, nine nickles and twelve pennies.

It was a $1.67 of pure heaven…and not just because it was spendable cash, although that part was awesome, but also because my mom purposely created the game just for me. Hands down it was the best treasure hunt EVER and it’s still to this day one of my most favorite memories of me and my very wise mother.

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