I am going to share an example of my search to find my own goodness in this memory I have worked on for the book. First I will share my mother’s words as I found them in her 1957 diary that refers to two memories I have always retained from when I was 5 1/2 years old. The first ‘movie related’ memory I shared in a recent post about ‘The Fox’. The other memory evidently was created on the very next day.
As I write for the book, and as I work with myself, with my OWN memories (still in rough draft format) from my abusive infant-childhood I am realizing how clearly both the good of ME was included right along with the BAD of what was done to me. I want the good — it is me and it is MINE. (Do other severe early trauma survivors have memories that clearly contain their own good right along with the bad?)
Sunday, April 21, 1957
We kept Linda home – only the 2nd time in her life for lying [coming home] from a movie we attended tonite. – “Westward Ho, The Wagon”. I must find some effective punishment. She accepts punishment so easily that it’s hard for it to be effective. I told her we were going to the park tomorrow for a Holiday picnic and we would take her little friend Debby. I hope it will be the beginning of a new week and start for Linda. I read the children the story of Lincoln and Washington and emphasized – telling the truth and their good virtues. She listens so carefully but goes on her own way. Well, we’ll see!
Monday, April 22, 1957
OH NO! AGAIN!
Can she help it – Yes, she just doesn’t want to badly enough.
Tuesday, April 23, 1957
Bubble Gum Episode
One lie leads to another – and that leads to another. How can she be so crafty?
Wednesday, April 24, 1957
– 1. Always be honest
– 2. Be careful to keep your promises
– 3. Always do your best.
These are the 3 rules by which I live my life and hope to train our children to live theirs. Today I am so unhappy. I feel I have failed completely with Linda. She lies no matter how I try to teach her that honesty is the best policy and pays. I truly am broken-hearted by the lies and deceitfulness.
She started at least 3 years ago – as soon as she could talk. She will accept no criticism no matter how sweetly and tactfully put. As a little girl if asked nicely to do something she would give you a ‘dirty look’ and bang her feet going down the hall – why? She can be sweet and nice IF nothing crosses her.
For the first time in her life she has been whipped soundly.
Thursday, April 25, 1957
Perhaps it’s the one thing that has been needed. I always thought love and kindness was the only way but she has only taken advantage of that.
I gave her a room to herself and moved Cindy in with the baby. I will try rewarding her and praising her for her good points and see if I can’t do away with little criticisms such as “pick up your room, play nicely” – because if she has her own room it will be easier for her to keep it picked up and her play won’t matter so much! I must conquer this lying. It has gone on much too long now and she’s getting too old.
She knows better and has a marvelous memory for the things she wants to remember!
What I wrote:
I must have awoken the morning after the movie with swollen eyes, puffy and red-rimmed from my tears the night before. I must have had red marks if not bruises on my body, but I don’t remember those. I do remember the dress I wore that day. Light weight red, blue, green, gold and white Scotch plaid with buttons down the back, gathered at the waist, Peter Pan collar and two pockets on the front edged with narrow white lace. Before we left the house this morning Mother handed each one of us a wrapped piece of Double Bubble gum. I didn’t eat mine right then. I pulled out the edge of my right dress pocket as I carefully slid my piece of gum inside to save it for later.
I can vaguely remember all of us packed into the car just as it backed out of the driveway in a turn, straightening out to head off into the neighborhood to pick up my friend, evidently named Debby.
I have always remembered the lush, dark green, evenly mowed damp carpet of grass my feet ran across. I remember playing the game Debby and I invented that day, and we had so much fun. There was a dip that ran a length of the park, a sort of little valley with a giant tree standing right at its center at the bottom. I remember running up my side of the gentle hill, turning around and watching Debby do the same thing on her side. “Ready, set go!” We shouted together as we raced to the tree.
When we reached it we each had to run around to the opposite side of the tree as fast as we could, and whoever sat down first with their back against the tree was the winner. Over and over again we raced up and down the hill. I remember when we decided not to play any more because we were tired. So we each just sat there on our own side of the tree and rested for awhile.
I remember the dampness of the grass we sat on between hard gnarled tree roots that swelled out of the ground. I can feel the rough surface of the bark poking against my thin back. I can feel the softness under my palms as I placed both of my hands on the grass beside me and gently pushed down. I spread apart my fingers and closed them again, trapping little lines of grass between each one. As I lifted my hands I could see the imprints my hands left behind.. I remember sitting there. I remember what I was doing, what I was thinking, and what I did next.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my piece of bubble gum. I unwrapped it, lifted it to my nose and deeply smelled its rosy sweetness. Holding the gum in my left hand I unfolded the cartoon paper inside with the tips of my fingers so I could look at its bright pictures. I squashed the wrappers up and put them back in my pocket and ran my finger down the little grove between the two halves of my one piece of gum.
I thought about my friend sitting behind me with her back to the tree. I liked it that she was there. I liked it that we had played the running sitting game together. I felt happy and warm inside. I also knew that while I couldn’t see her she couldn’t see me, either. I knew she would never know if I popped the whole piece of my gum into my mouth and ate it by myself. I can still remember all of this. I have always remembered all of this clearly. I have always remembered that I decided to do next. My pink gum was warm and a little bit soft so it wasn’t hard to break it down the middle on its sharing line. Then I reached my arm around the tree behind me and called to Debby, “Here. Want a piece of gum?”
I don’t remember a picnic. I don’t remember the ride home from the park. What I remember next is out kitchen. I can see it clearly. Inside the front door there was a door into the kitchen on the right. On the left were doors that were open because my mother had just finished washing a load of clothes there and dried them. I was sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of the open turquoise drier oh so carefully rolling up the family’s warm socks.
I picked each sock, laid it along my leg above my knee and smoothed it out in a straight line. Then I found another one just like it, smoothed that one out too, and then rolled rolled rolled up the socks together. When that was done I carefully folded over the top edges so the sock looked like a perfect little ball and then I added gently on top of the right pile I had made in order for everyone in the family. Big dark socks were Daddy’s all the way down to Sharon’s cutest little socks. I worked hard on my job with the socks. I knew Mommy would be happy with me if I did everything right. I liked it when she wasn’t mad at me.
Next to the closet that held the washer and drier was a little countertop next to the turquoise stove. Mommy was cooking supper. She walked back and forth between the stove and the sink in front of a big window as I worked at my job. On the counter to her left under the cupboards were metal (silver spun aluminum) canisters, each one in line by how big it was. I heard the little scratchy sound of my mother scooting one of these canisters away from the wall. I heard the sound of her lifting open its lid.
Right here I heard her scream. Right here I have a small warm sock bunched in my left hand. Right here I turned to look over my right shoulder, and there she was in full bound toward me with her arms reaching – and WHAP! She hit me so hard across my right cheek I tipped over to my left and all my piles of socks broke as I fell into them. (And, no, I can’t write this without these immediate tears. They stream down my face. I tell myself to breathe, breathe. My tears burn my eyes as if they are made of acid.)
She grabbed my hair in a fist with her left hand and yanked me up with my feet off the floor, socks scattering everywhere. Screaming and slapping and pounding, “What have you done with my bubble gum, Linda? I know that you stole it! I saw you at the park sitting by that tree. I watched you give Debby a piece of gum! I saw you! What have you done with the rest of my gum? Where is it? What did you do with it! You THIEF!”
I didn’t know where her gum was. I didn’t even know what she was talking about! I didn’t know what she was mad about! I tried to tell her. I tried to tell Mommy I didn’t do it. I didn’t take her gum! I wanted to tell her how I decided to share my gum with Debby, but she wouldn’t let me. She just got madder. “YOU LIAR!! I’ll TEACH YOU NOT TO LIE TO ME!”
I wasn’t lying! She didn’t listen. She didn’t believe me. She hit me harder and harder and harder as she dragged me out of the kitchen past the living room toward the hallway that went down to the room I shared with my sisters. I saw Daddy. I saw him standing in the living room. He didn’t really move. It just looked like he did because I was being dragged and shoved and beaten past him. Daddy stood there. He disappeared because I was being pulled now down the hallway.
“Get me that gum RIGHT NOW! Where did you put it? Where did you hide it – you are a BAD GIRL! A BAD GIRL! You are the WORST GIRL A MOTHER EVER HAD!”
I know a full-blown beating followed, always the kind where she first yanked down my panties and screamed at me to “Bend Over” but she still beat me everywhere on my body, anyway. I don’t remember that beating. But I remember a lot of what came after that. I was forced to go to bed. I was forced to stay there. In her diary piece Mildred says she “I gave her a room to herself and moved Cindy in with the baby.” That just means she wanted to make me be ALONE – all alone – in solitary isolation not even with my sister in the room, or coming into the room with her little 3 ½ year old footsteps, tiptoeing into the room, having been told NOT to talk to her SISTER!
No more little whispers to me in the darkness. Alone in the room, a big room, with me in my single bed against the far corner of the room when you came in the door. Beside the window. Beside the long window with the two curtain rods on it, with the pink (eyelet) curtains with the little flowers cut out, with the lace on the edges, the little one across the top and lower down the bigger one. Closed, curtains closed, always closed, for days and days and days. The room was dim in the day and dark at night.
The memory I have of the days that followed seems to cover a period of three weeks. I don’t know why I think three weeks. Maybe I knew from the pattern of my father being home on weekends and then not home during those days and then home again on those days until three weeks passed.
I remember the pink chenille bedspread on my bed. I remember the dark wooden table next to my bed that used to be in the living room next to the couch. I remember my stack of nickels I kept there on its lower shelf. Mommy had given me a nickel every time I had done a good job dusting the living room. I was very proud of those nickels. Because I was very bored and I didn’t have anything to do I played with those nickels. I pretended they were people and cars and animals. I made roads and valleys in my bedspread until one day she stormed into my room ‘to check on Linda’ and found me playing my game.
“You HORRID GIRL! You are in here playing after what you have done? You don’t even feel sorry! You’re not even crying! I will give you something to cry about!” And off she went again with another beating. I was very sad that she took all nickels away. I would lay in my bed and stare at the empty spot where the perfect stack of shiny nickels used to be. (I think those nickels were proof to me that Mommy loved me. They were my hope.)
The pattern of those days: I listened. I had no choice but to listen. I heard my family doing things, things, more things. They talked and laughed, the children played. They played without me. I remember my mother coming into my room at different times, night or day whenever she wanted to. If I wasn’t crying again she would repeat, “You aren’t even guilty for what you have done! You aren’t even ashamed of yourself!”
If I wasn’t crying she would ‘give me something to cry about’ again. If she came in and I WAS crying, she would start in again only this time with, “You are in here CRYING? You are in here feeling sorry for yourself? What do you have to cry about? I’m the one that should be crying, having YOU for a daughter!” And off she’d go again, yanking me to a sitting position by my hair, slapping my face, beating me.
I remember her coming through the door at supper times carrying a bowl of saltine crackers all broken to bits and soggy in milk held out in front of her. “This was good enough for me when I was a naughty child. This is what my mother gave me and it’s all you are going to get until…….”
The driveway ran by the corner of the house by the wall where my bed was, and one day as I lay in bed in my pajamas with my head upon my tear stained pillow always wet from crying, my father was washing the car there with the car radio playing. When the song “Cindy oh Cindy,” (1956 by Tony Brent) started playing Daddy turned up the volume and called Mommy. She excitedly called the whole family – except of course for me – outside to dance and sing around my father and the car to this song just ‘about’ their beloved daughter, Cindy.
I joined the Navy to see the world but nowhere could I find
A girl as sweet as Cindy, the girl I left behind
I’ve sailed the wide world over
Can’t get her out of my mind
Cindy oh Cindy, Cindy don’t let me down
Write me a letter soon
And I’ll be homeward bound.
How did I feel while this was happening? I could I have felt? Hungry, hurting, tormented and tortured and under continual threat day and night of my mother’s random returnings, terrified even when I needed to go to the bathroom and didn’t dare, I am not sure that the family’s joyful romping had much meaning to me at all – except that I have always remembered this. Was, as the saying goes, ‘insult added to injury’? Did I have any room left in my thin little 5 ½ year old body for any more sadness than I already felt?
Yet for all the ongoing family living that went on while I was held prisoner alone in my bed for these weeks there is only one more clear memory of that time I have never lost. Again, the memory is tied to the joyful sound of my siblings at play together without me. I could hear their wild loud squeals of glee, their laughter and giggling matched by the sound of great splashes of water as they jumped in and out of the wading pool that was placed on the front lawn right outside my double tiered pink curtained window.
Yet again this memory is not about envy or jealousy or anger or even of wishful childhood desire to be outside playing with my brother and two sisters. Though I might have experienced these things, I don’t remember them. What I do remember is something that struck me as being pure beauty itself, something so rare I had never seen it before, something I felt simply appeared magically out of nowhere as it came just for me.
Looking back I of course know now what I didn’t know then. The sunlight reflecting upon the ever-changing surface of the pool’s water reflected up on the ceiling of my room close to the pink eyelet curtains. There was just enough space between the upper valance and the lower curtains for this image to enter my grimmest of dark, dark worlds and light up my life. If I had witnessed the arrival of an angel I couldn’t have felt more at peace. I couldn’t have felt happier. I could not have felt more joy. I could not have felt more delight.
By this time in my concealment I had completely given up even moving in my bed at all. I could listen and listen for my mother’s steps coming down the hallway toward me, but I never knew what she was going to say or do. I didn’t know to cry when I wasn’t crying. I didn’t know how to stop crying when I was crying. So I posed myself on my bed flat on my back with my arms stretched straight along my sides and stayed there. When the light came shimmering and glowing and dancing in a great gleaming circle on my ceiling, I watched it. I didn’t take my eyes off of it. I watched that light as if my life depended on it. Maybe it did.
Many many many days after this hell began, it suddenly ended. My mother sent my brother into my room to tell me, “Mommy says you can get up now.” If Johnny hadn’t added his own words, I would never have known the truth about how this all actually ended. He told me, “Mommy found the pack of bubble gum in the top drawer of her dresser. It was under something.”
My mother never put the rest of her package of Double Bubble gum in that cookie canister on the kitchen counter in the first place. NEVER did she apologize to me in any way. No word was ever said about this ‘event’ again, but I believe the core of the “You are a liar” part of this was directly attached within my mother’s inner Borderline mind to me in my ‘evil matrix’ anyway.
Every single thing about my life with my parents was a tragedy. That seems like such a small and insignificant word to describe acts against a child so horrible they are almost beyond belief. As I look at the Greek origins of this word I see the connection to ‘sing for the goat’, in other words in my mind, ‘to sing the song of the sacrificial scapegoat’.
Could my family’s life only go on because I was sacrificed? AS I was sacrificed? Did whatever existed of any outer Borderline stability my mother had – with which she raised her other children and did her ‘wife thing’ with her husband – ONLY exist because of what she did to me? According to my own matrix pyramid conception of the structure of my mother’s inner and outer Borderline realities, my answer is YES.
That was ME remembering my friend, our game, our fun, the beauty of the grass, my decision to share — that was ME remembering the beauty of the circle of swirling light on my ceiling. That was me rolling up those socks, trying to do my job perfectly, wishing so much to please my mother. That was me remembering my own truth. That was me who tried to tell my mother. That was me surviving. That was me — for whatever reasons — who did not feel anger, jealousy, envy. The rest was what was DONE to me — and it had NOTHING to do with me AT ALL!!! Nothing. Those things belonged to my parents’ story, not to mine!
And this is me that has always remembered this memory of wholeness – keeping associated both the good and the bad so that I could return now 54 years later to see what this means to me. At the same time I read my mother’s (as I have posted in recently) 9-year-old ‘Mischievous Bear’ story and see at the end of that story how her brain was processing the ‘all good’ dissociated from the ‘all bad’. Here is where her brain broke – and mine did not – and I believe the ‘place’ of my wholeness and of her breaking was smack in the amygdala region of each of our brains.
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