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 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.


  1. This is devastating. I have no idea how you survived this! You are strong and brave!

  2. The older siblings were your cushion, they left by force and it left you exposed. I feel bad what your sisters went through before they left.