Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Solitary Confinement

   My mother's scheme worked.  The Army yanked my father's chain and he came back to her.

   Everything had a price, that wonderful, carefree Summer's bill came due. I paid for it many times over. My father imposed new rules. I was to stay in my room. My brother would bring me my meals. I could only leave to use the bathroom and go to school. And more importantly, most cruelly, no one was to speak to me. For three months. And so it was. I stayed alone, heartbroken, more buried in myself than ever before. My mother in her own way tried to help me deal with this by passing me a pile of paperbacks. A stack of her romance novels. They were not the reading material of most eleven-year-olds. I stuck them in the back the closet. I spent my time drawing and praying to a God my father didn't believe in. At this time we lived in Germany, in Army housing. We had an apartment on the fourth floor. I remember standing at my window looking down at the cement trying to get the courage enough to jump. There was a small grate on the window, but I could easily have gotten over that. Somehow, I couldn't do it. I can still see it in my mind's eye. The concrete landing for the basement was directly below my window, I see it still.
     Whether it was out of fear or hope I don't know which,  even now.

   I don't know if you believe in God, but I do. I always did. I don't know where I first heard of him, but he stuck with me.   When was five or six, I remember someone coming to our door, wanting to share the truth of God, to make sure we were saved. My father's response was short and to the point "Go the fuck away, we aren't interested." But I was interested. I felt that they were part of a club that I wasn't good enough join.  I don't know why I thought that. I mean I was five, six at most, so my views on religion were pretty loose.  They seemed so good and clean and happy. I wanted what they had. That goal gave me hope, so I made a habit of prayer.

   Time passed, years and things became more complicated. Junior High lead to High School and a whole new world. My father was stationed in Texas by then and retired there. He was hired as a police officer in a small town, and then another and another. He didn't seem to stay with any department very long. He could always find a smaller town in need of his services. He grew more angry, meaner than before. He was rougher with me, where before he had been coaxing, now he was aggressive and more violent.

  I threw myself into school. I made friends, took extra classes. Anything to stay out of my parent's house. I saw my freedom getting closer. I had been counting for a long time by then. I became moody, and for the first time, mouthy. I dared my parents to hit me. I became openly defiant, it was thrilling. I reveled in it. I felt in control of myself for the first time in my life and I had no intention of letting them take that away from me. Neither of them knew what to do with me. My mother tried to be friends, to talk it all out. I wouldn't let her in. It was too late to be friends. My father tried arguing, yelling at me. He rarely hit anymore. My brother and I had both been treated for concussions due to his abuse by then and I think that scared him.

   My freedom came earlier than I thought it would and it was SO simple. My mother was in the hospital having had back surgery. My father came after me as he always did. But something in me had changed. Maybe it was being fifteen or having friends. I don't know really. I stood my ground, looked him in the eye and told him if he touched me again, I would call the cops. At that moment everything changed,  I was free. He turned away from me, grabbed his keys and left. The next day while we were at school he moved his things out for good. Why hadn't I known those words before? They were magical and I felt safe.

  My mother was crushed, angry and she blamed me. She was vicious and mean-spirited but none of it touched me. I stayed out with my friends, joined drill team and did all those things teenagers do. I felt normal. I fit in. I was not going to let her take that away from me. She found where his new girlfriend lived and went into her same diatribe about his violence and constant job changes and of course her ace in the hole, me. It did no good and she got madder. She called his job and then showed up there with me in tow. No one listened. No one believed her. She was powerless to do anything to bring him back nor she couldn't corral me. And so, I felt, she had no further use for my brother and me, she left too.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Call in the Military

  So, my mother's dream marriage was not all she had hoped, but she hung in there. And she utilized her own unique skills to hold her ground. I had no understanding of her words. She poured a small glass of white wine watered down for me. "To calm me down." And she attempted to explain the way of things now. I could not understand her. How could I, a slightly buzzed ten year old make sense of anything in my parent's world?  It seemed they were always imparted adult things on us which we could could not decipher the meaning of. This little snippet is indicative of discussions with my mother.  She had no boundaries. She would say the most bizarre, inappropriate things to justify her position, to exact her will. I think she believed what she said; every crazy word of it. This was the life we lived, my father visiting my room. My mother taking my brother and leaving me alone with him. It was a grueling existence, and then it got worse. I had never seen my parents argue, never a hint of a problem. My father's word was law, his whims, our reality. He a military man. A soldier. He ran a tight ship with a hard handed command.  We were in Germany, living on base, when something between my parents finally fractured. Our father moved out. Unlike that first abandonment years before,  this time it was wonderful. My brother and I had the best Summer of our young lives. We laughed and played. We were kids without fear. I slept through the night. We felt....FREE. Unfortunately, my mother wasn't having such a good time. She seemed to be livid.

  Her husband had a girlfriend. While she would put up with his dalliances at home, in choosing another woman, he had gone too far. There was talk of divorce. We were to be sent back to the states. I was filled with joy. For the first time I saw my way out. But of course, we had all under estimated my mother. She had a plan. First, she called the woman in question. A family friend with young daughters of her own. Who had come to holiday dinners my mother had labored over. My mother threw everything at her. His violence, his temper and of course his fondness for young girls.  If she was going to go down, it was going to be fighting. She put me on the phone and screamed "TELL HER! TELL HER WHAT YOUR FATHER DOES!" I don't remember what I said, I just remember that the woman hung up the phone. This was the beginning of the war of wills between my parents. We never saw him or talked to him during that time. He wasn't missed. My brother and I talked endlessly of going back home, of seeing our siblings, of visiting our grandparents, going back to a school we both loved. We were living in our own halcyon days. Carefree and light but oh, so fragile.

  Of course, my mother wasn't done, not by a long shot. She took us to dinner one night and then sent my brother to the neighbor's. Out came the wine "to calm me" she said as she poured. And then she laid out her plans. She explained we had to help my father, we were a family. She spent what seems like...hours, coaching me on what I was to say....she had made arrangements. The next day I was to go to the doctors. I was to talk to them; to tell them things she told me. Just the way she told me to. Not the truth...a watered down version of being fondled, only once or twice...nothing too serious.... Over and over she made me practice. Quizzed me and praised me for getting it right. This was honestly the most attention my mother had given me in my life and I wanted to get it right. And, I was scared OUT OF MY MIND. I didn't want to talk to strangers. I didn't want to say what happened.  I didn't want to have to try to remember lies. I can still, now relive so much of that appointment, the lady who checked me in asked if my tummy was okay. That was the rouse to get me past the front desk. I wanted to tell her my stomach didn't hurt. I wanted to go home, but instead I followed another woman into an exam room. She gave me a gown, a cloth one. Not those blue paper ones that they use now. I was cold and I didn't want to take off my under ware. My mother said I had to. Then the doctor came in. He had dark hair and eyes. He was very matter of fact, distant. He said we were going to do an exam and then we would talk. The same nurse who gave me the gown helped me up on the table, she put my feet in the stirrups, and told me to scoot down while she held my hand. I closed my eyes. I remember hoping for death.  After he was done he told me to put my clothes back on and he would talk to me. He stood on the other side of the curtain while I did as I was told. He said I was lucky. That I was still a virgin. That the "activity", that is what he called it "activity", was annal. I didn't know what a virgin was or what annal meant. But I knew I didn't feel lucky. The questions seemed to go on forever. The same ones over and over. I knew I was being tested. That I had to get it right. I was good at remembering things, learning to do as I was told. I told myself silently that I could do it, and I did. I got it all right. "No, my father did not hit me." "No he never threatened me." "Yes, it was only once or twice." "It happened when he was worried about being promoted." I had it by rote. In the end the doctor sat me down across from him with our knees almost touching and told me it was going to be alright. He said I was safe. That it was never going to happen again and then he put his hand on my knee. I didn't move. I stayed still. I wanted him not to touch me, but I wanted to believe him more. And that was when I tripped up. Where I got it wrong....I believed him. I really, really believed him.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Mommy's little helper

  Please be aware this blog may contain triggers

       My mother didn't have an easy beginning. Her parents came out of the Depression and it never left them. She was the oldest of six children. Born to a woman who didn't seem to put much stock in children and a stern disciplinarian. She was often left to care for her siblings, which, as a result, meant that she too wasn't fond of children. My grandmother lost her own mother to cancer when she was very young and when her father remarried a widow so that his girls would have a caregiver, well it wasn't an ideal arrangement. His new wife had her own child, who could do no wrong and my grandmother and her sisters became her burden. I can see why my mother had trouble connecting with her own maternal instincts, she didn't learn any. She learned children were a necessary evil. Her parents raised their four daughters to find a good husband and make babies. Their two sons they sent to college. So, it could be no surprise that my mother became pregnant with my oldest sister while still in high school.  It was another time. One in which her growing form was seen as an embarrassment to her entire family. I think she just wanted to be loved and like so many before her, she made a trade not knowing how much it would cost her.   It was her bid to escape...to be free of a harsh household that was suffocating to a budding teenager trying to find herself. I think she just wanted to breathe.  She had three children by the time she was twenty. Her first marriage was short lived. Her husband was violent, blaming her for traping him.  Soon enough, she was right back under her parent's roof. No more free then when she left, but surely more broken.

  How she met my father I don't know. It's a story that has gone untold. And in her heart, she believed her dreams were answered. Here was a man who loved her, didn't mind that she had three children, in a time when such things were considered a stigma. Surely, it had been the answer to her prayers. And I think, for a while it was. I have no idea when she found out. I don't know when her carefully constructed fantasy came crashing down around her. I do know what she chose to do with the little shards that were left. Nothing. She stood in the middle of the devastating abuse of her children and closed her eyes.  I later found out that other family members knew as well, and told her, still, my mother stood her ground. Surrounded by the rubble, she did not blink.

   I was born in the summer, two years after my parents were married. I have no early memories of my mother.  My sisters raised me and my younger brother, who came a year after me.  I always felt her children represent the shackles she was burdened with and she resented us. My father was a sometime playmate. He would tickle me and tease, but one had to be careful. One never knew what his mood would bring. His violence was a mainstay in our home. They both had tempers, he would hit, she yelled and sometimes, threw things in our general direction. I was often perplexed and constantly on guard. My father was very proud that he taught me to read, write and count by the time I was four. He had a very special method. While I can't see any preschool adopting it, it worked wonders. He'd stand me in front of him and go through my numbers and letters every time I got one right, he would move to the next one. Every time I got one wrong, I would get hit. It was a simple game, just couldn't get it wrong. I practiced with my older siblings. I recited words and numbers when I couldn't sleep, which was often.

  When my sisters and brother left us, that's how I still think of it, as an abandonment, my brother and I were devastated. They packed their things and headed for the coast. With no warning, no explanation and we, who had been five in the morning, were two by night. At four and five years of age, we couldn't possibly understand. It was like a death. I only saw them three or four more times again in my childhood. We never had that bond that's shared when you lived in a war zone, trying to stay clear of the land mines. My brother and I were alone, and we felt it. I was now responsible for both of us. If my brother did something wrong, Lord why was he ALWAYS doing SOMETHING wrong? I got the punishment, for letting it happen. I was mourning the loss of my family and trying to be what was expected, as much as a five-year-old can. Feeling pretty sad, really. But I had yet to learn the rules. The truth, the agreement between my Parents.  My father started visiting my room soon after my sibling's exodus. At first it was fondling that left me full of fear and shame. Later, it was worse. Then my mother started questioning me, asking me questions I didn't understand and others I knew not to answer. It frightened me.  It felt like a test that I could only fail. My mother and I never bonded over anything. She is as much a stranger to me now as she was all those years ago. And now as then, I feel myself a burden. A reminder.

  She would corner me in private with an urgency, she would repeat for years to come ask if my father touched me? Had he asked me to do things? I was so scared, stuck between those two titans that ruled my world. I didn't tell, not then. When she found my panties hidden and stained with her husband's mark, she asked again. I said nothing and she turned away. Things went on in that arrangement that we three shared for years, for an eternity, for a childhood.

  When I was ten I finally broke down. I couldn't hold the secrets and pain in any longer. I told. I told her everything. She said she would handle it. She told me about the others, that it had happened before.  All I could think was that she had known it was going on. She said she knew that I had lied to her. She said it in an accusatory way as if I had been stealing from her. That's exactly how my mother came to treat me, as a rival, a thief. She held me responsible for what happened between my father and myself and that was how it was to stay. I think she may have loved us, as much as she could. She just loved him more.

   No matter what game I had to play in an attempt to survive, it was important to know the rules. And just like with numbers and letters, I learned fast and played by their rules.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Things Remembered

Please be aware this material may contain triggers.        
This one is hard. I wrote it in 2007 and just discovered it on here. It gets better...it does. 

     My early memories of my father were pleasant enough. I knew he could be mean to my siblings but my child's mind couldn't process that yet.  I wasn't afraid of my father, not then. He was playful and kind to me,  always had time to fix my broken toys or place band-aids on skinned knees. That all changed the year I turned five, once I had seen who he really was, there was no going back. A once seen a monster cannot be unseen.  It was a normal thing to be called into the living room of our small 1950's house with its postage stamp size lot, to watch my father beat my half-brother, who must have been about seven years to my own four then. My father would pick him up and throw him into the walls. My brother would slump to the floor, laying as still and silent as he could, but It didn't matter how compliant he was. My father kept picking him up and throwing him until he tired himself out. Meanwhile, my other three siblings stood silent. We were powerless to do anything, to say anything that would change what was unfolding in front of us far too many times.  I can't remember my brother ever doing anything wrong and as I would learn all too well later, my father didn't need a reason to hit us or at least not one that had to do with us. If he couldn't find a lighter could mean a  clap to the base of your skull, as his running out of cigarettes could, dinner being served late or heavy traffic after work. Really, anything could be the impedance of a violent outburst. This highlighted my feelings of worthlessness and a sense of deep despair.

   I recall my mother's response my father's episodes well. She would scoot past her children, lined up like tin soldiers, awaiting a firing squad. She'd whisk down the hallway into her room, waving a romance novel and complaining of a headache. She completely gave us up to that man, who one day, would go to prison for molesting 6 little girls.  My mother carried her own demons.  She was no match for her husband's fury.

     I remember my father once threatening to pop my sister's head off and being four or so, was the way my Barbie's head came off and being afraid for my sister. I don't remember getting hit a lot in the beginning, not like the others. Not until my three oldest siblings went to live with their father.  My younger brother and I did not know until they left that they had another father, but we quickly decided we wanted one too. That did not go over well with my mother, she had a certain passion for raising her voice,  usually before she threw something large and heavy. It was a kind of early warning system. My mother had an uncanny aim for someone who hated all forms of sports.
   Four and five-year-olds do not really recognize crazy when they see it in their parents. We just learned to duck.

    Living with my parents was a crapshoot. One day I was second youngest and the next I was the oldest, no preamble, no warning. Then came a stern lecture regarding the fact that we had gotten away with murder for long enough, now we were going to start towing the line. Now, at five years of age, I was very literal so spent the entire recital trying to figure out who I could have murdered. I, of course, had learned by then not to ask. All I knew was that half my family was now gone and I was somehow to blame. Children don't naturally take these things well and being new to first grade, I started the school year by wetting myself in class. That by the way, does not make things go better for you, in or out of the classroom. As a coping mechanism, I don't recommend it. This coincided with my father's first visits to my then, nearly empty room. We, three girls, had shared one bedroom and sometimes one bed. I hated having my own room and would sneak into my younger brother's room, who was equally lonely, now that our older brother was gone as well.

    When I was ten, my mother told me she sent my sisters away so they would not become pregnant. She said this as if this was done for their benefit, at great sacrifice to herself. It would never occur to her to leave the man who was sleeping with her thirteen and ten-year-old daughters. My mother blamed them and later me, for my father's predilections. She felt we were trying to take her man from her, and by god, she was not going to let that happen. We somehow were temptresses, she was not pleased.

     It was hideous after my sisters left. I had to keep the house clean, watch my brother and try to deal with my father's "special" attention, which caused another kind of attention from my mother. Unfortunately, there was no spare father standing in the wings to send me to. I can see now why a child might have an accident or two while trying to balance on a tightrope she is predetermined to fall from.