I was waist deep in unrecovered memories. I couldn’t control what came in and out of my head. I was at the mercy of my mind, dependant upon its kindness – grateful that it seemed to be dolling out only what I could handle at any one time. My parents were still out to cover their own asses’; protect themselves. They could have helped- they didn’t. In retrospect, it is better that they didn’t. I wouldn’t have trusted what they said and that would have just lead to more questioning of my own sanity. I needed to omit them. Not just avoid calling them, not just to take a break – do you take a break from something that’s destroying you? No, you realize the level of destruction and protect yourself at all costs.
The memories would hit me in flashes, I could not escape. I spent day after day just trying to sort and make sense of what I could see, smell and feel in my mind’s eye. Simultaneously going numb and feeling elated by the relief that I wasn’t fucking crazy after all. Finally! It was all starting to make sense…
Two things were instrumental in my (eventual and partial) recovery:
My eldest sister said to me,” Those words you hear, they’re not voices – they’re him. That shit you think of, that doesn’t make sense – doesn’t feel like YOU, but is the first voice you hear…it’s him”
And after many conversations about the flashes of memory, my best friend said,” You have a right to your feelings, and some things ARE unforgiveable.”
Instantly, it felt right. I had been validated in one sentence.
I now know that the abuse started soon after birth. My triggers are sound and smell, two gifts/senses that develop prior to verbalization. I remember a specific incident that took place the night before my second birthday. When my mother asked him what he was doing, and accepted the response “Oh, I thought that was you”, I knew he was lying (because I was already used to what he was doing- it wasn’t new, or an accident) and I knew that she had forsaken me for her own selfishness. That was the point at which my mother lost me, our relationship from that moment on was contentious to say the least – and I never remember loving her. My life with her was unbearable. She was physically abusive and self absorbed. She told me once when we were watching Mommie Dearest, that you just end up feeling pity for them (abusive moms)…I do feel pity for her, but it doesn’t supersede my want for a sense of well being, even now.
So, at a very early age I realized that I couldn’t really rely on anyone.
(Side Note: My father had convinced my mom that weekends should be spent with him and his other family – to provide normalcy. Holy shit. Normalcy??? He convinced her I should have his last name, because it was proper. What?!?!? I was born out of an affair, what was normal or proper about any of that?)
Two other relationships confirmed it. My father’s second wife (the one immediately prior to his marriage to my mom, even though he’s never divorced her) was very kind to me. I called her mom until I was two (when my birth mother could put me into daycare and I was sent back to her) and then had to deal with my mother’s feelings being hurt because I was calling someone else “mom.” Anyway, she knew what was happening to my sister and me, but clearly felt helpless to do anything about it. I was always jealous of my sister for having a kind mom – I wasn’t under the impression anything could be done to stop him, at least she didn’t beat me when I got sarcastic or whined like a spoiled brat.
The other was my Aunt on my mom’s side. She and my Uncle were ahead of their time. An interracial marriage in the early sixties was NOT what it is today. They were beautiful, loving people whom I’d see on occasion. One visit, I erupted into some kind of tantrum to which my Aunt took my hands in hers, looked me right in the eye and asked,” why are you so angry?” I believe she said something to my mom about,” How can a child that age be capable of such rage?” I was three. I don’t know when it happened exactly, but my dad made sure my mom wouldn’t take me there anymore.
I knew both of those women felt for me, they just didn’t know what to do about it.
So, I feel as if I’ve been on my own forever.
Was there a roof over my head? Yes. Did I have food and clothing? Yes.
I have no doubt that they felt as if they were doing what they were supposed to. What I still grapple with is how much more there is to parenting than that.
I don’t know how parents, who were clearly mistreated by their own parents, are able to grow into people who don’t try to do any better by their children. They seemingly choose to do what is easiest rather than what is right – or at least an effort at what is right.
Was my father a great dad because he didn’t split my head open with an axe (like his mother had done to him)? No, no he wasn’t. He went the other way – took advantage of an infant whom he groomed into being a willing participant. A toddler who felt like her father’s “other, secret” wife…who grew to think sex was love. And at five, when it went from oral to penetration – I literally woke up the next morning and said, out loud to myself, “I can’t deal with this right now, it will have to wait”
From that moment until the first flash of a recovered memory, I would defend him to my sister who hated him. I defended him to my mom when she bad mouthed him. I loved him and put him on a pedestal – which only confused and angered everyone else who was hurt by him. They misconstrued that for me not being abused, and thus took out their rage for him, on me; because I was special to him.
I was glad to be on his good side, it kept me from getting beat.
(Side Note: My sister who was 8 years older than me, was treated horribly in addition to being raped. He said hateful, cruel things to her WHILE sodomizing her. I believe, in part, to keep the rest of us in line, as well as be the “good guy” when it came to my mother and our relationship.)
He was a complicated person, he struggled – and his inability to atone, and apologize to not just me is why I chose to exclude him from my environment. I couldn’t (and still can’t) get him and his misdeeds out of my head, but I sure as hell didn’t have to take my kids out there for the holidays or talk to him as if nothing ever happened. The one time I spoke to him about it, he wanted to blame alcohol – he didn’t remember because he’d been drunk. He thought then that it was his place to “teach” his daughters…The excuses felt like I was being hit. I literally left my body and watched from 5 feet away as he tried to explain, excuse or justify it. I couldn’t hear him after a while, I just took in what was happening. I watched these two people, both desperately aware that the wall of bullshit was coming down – only one of us knew we’d be okay. He was still the manipulative, fear driven and controlling person he’d always been. Out to protect him self and look out for his best interest… after 25 years nothing had changed. He hadn’t been introspective, he hadn’t reflected, he hadn’t done any of the work I have had to, that’s for sure.
That specific disappointment is what validated my decision to just cut ties entirely.
I didn’t cry when my sister called to tell me he’d died. I grieved for the apology and accountability that died with him but in general, I was glad. He was finally out of his misery, or (if there is a God,) he’d finally be accountable to someone.
In the years that have passed, I’ve come to believe that the Universe put me in his path to remind him of the fact that some humility and gratitude to the generations of people he’s fucked up were in order. That I am strong enough to overcome what is considered a crime against both God and Nature.
The decision to exclude both he and my mother from my life, and the lives of my husband and children has been rarely lamented.
I could have continued to be someone I didn’t recognize (when around my father) or be someone I didn’t like (when I was around my mom) but I just couldn’t. My energy and focus had to be my sons, not be re-traumatized every time they were around. And when people who supposedly love you, do nothing to help you when you are struggling – and admit no wrong doing, it becomes complicated very quickly; too complicated to raise children around.
I was concerned at how my parents triggering my behavior could jeopardize my sons’ feeling of safety and well being.
I’ve made a million mistakes over the course of raising them, but what they know is that I’ve gotten better – not worse. I am certain that would have been different had my parents been around. Instead of roadmap TO dysfunction, I tried offer a roadmap OUT of dysfunction. Every day I got up and tried to be better than the day before. I believe they saw that and I pray that they are able to forgive what I didn’t know how to do and about past mistakes I can’t change.
In the end, I believe that my parents affect on me was sufficient, they didn’t need to see me and my mother argue – it was enough for them to know that we didn’t get along. Now that they are both young adults, I don’t know if they need to know to what level or degree that was. I believe they are strong enough to recover from my rearing. I know that people grow up and find mentors, friends, heroes who are not your parents anyway – why would I expose them to people who are supposed to love them above all else, but could never be selfless long enough to appreciate them?
The bottom line is that my parents did not respect my being. I had to put up with it, until I didn’t. When they chose to forsake me again, as an adult, they lost the privilege of knowing my sons’ souls.
In closing, there are a many more stories but what it comes down to is that how you were raised will come into play later. It’s up to you to make an effort by looking at what made you the way you are. It’s up to you to make sense of it all and apply responsibility to the right people; to know your thoughts, not repeat the thoughts of others as if they are yours.