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.