The context for my Borderline Mother’s letters will be clear in the book being written, but I couldn’t pass up posting this one that Mother wrote to her mother just before my 9th birthday. The context — well — it’s so staggeringly BORDERLINE it nearly defies belief. No, it DOES defy belief!!
This letter provides a tiny, tiny snippet of the kind of self-eroding verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse that was so much a constant part of the fabric of my family of origin that NOBODY questioned it. It had been there from the moment I was born.
Having just left our mountain homestead for the winter, we moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Anchorage (the 6 of us, with no furniture). Mother had just found out she was pregnant with her 5th child. Youngest sister was 5, next sister 7, me turning 9, brother had just turned 10. I added the bold type face, italicized words are Mother’s:
August 25, 1960 Thursday
Bill had to go on a two day trip suddenly for his work – so I had to come in to the apartment on the 23rd. (We only have one cot and three sleeping bags here!) I was so sick when we left I forgot the fourth bag for John and the girls had to sleep in two with one across the bottom – on the hard floor! Bill will gradually bring couch and chair down and will buy another set of Army bunk beds. They’re only $20.00 for two. It’s cheaper than $20.00 per month for furniture here all winter!!
But then we will need a double bed on the homestead and we sold two double beds at the beginning of summer when we moved from the log house for $20.00 each! I was so sure we’d remain somehow at the homestead this winter and anyways had no place to store them and I was mad at everything and everybody when Bill announced he was going on a trip I accused him of asking to go. He says he didn’t.
I said I wish I were a man. He had left Wednesday at 6:00 P.M. and got home at 8:00 – trying to find a home for the goat, rabbits, etc. and no luck yet! I was terribly sick all day and just lay in bed in that hut all day – felt horrible, useless, and mean for first time. [Yeah, right, “mean for the first time!” My GOD, how deluded she was!]
Well, we had to come in to the apartment and I was sick from the ride and lay here on an Army cot all day! Oh-h I was sick and Mom I’m enormous already and only two months along.
Well, next day – yesterday I felt better and did a month’s wash and hung it in basement and all over to dry. That’s done now!!
Bill got home late last night from his trip and we decided he should go home [to the homestead] with John and bring a load back. No money. For the first time broke – no gas money at all. This month as I wrote you has been murder!!
Oh Mom you encourage me and lately I’ve been so discouraged!! I’ve wondered if we did right in bringing children to Alaska. With baby coming I feel so different and yearn so for a home. I hate our children sleeping on the floor – ever!! Oh, how I pray our dreams will come true.
Well, to get back to last night! (Bill hates me to wind in and out like this) but you understand. Well, he and John left for the homestead and I went to bed. Later, in they came – Jeep wouldn’t start so Bill had to sleep on the bare floor.
Oh Mom. I’m so worried over Smokey. We fed them well when we left (her with ten pups) and she’s so thin now – how I adore her – oh Mom, it’s been over forty eight hours. I feel awful. Bill is at the garage now. I must get dressed too. He says it’s the battery. I didn’t use it at all (it hardly runs and we drive 20 MPH and it kills both of us). We hardly make the hills and have to put it in four-wheel low range to get home. It needs an engine – it’s gone! Damn!
I’ve been so blue and can’t get excited over baby – feel awful, but can’t.
Kindergarten will be $20.00 a month and Sharon is going! It is 9:00 to 11:30 and a teacher with twenty years’ experience – only two blocks away. It will get me up and out and I’ll write from 9:00 to 11:00 – two hours every day – come hell or high water!! Then we’ll see what comes of that!
The principal at Government Hill School was ever so pleased we were returning. The school is lovely and I’m so glad for all but especially for dear Cindy after her hectic first year and she did so well. She’s so mature – but needs love and attention but never asks for it or seeks it out. But she and Linda will go to Brownies.
LATER – Bill got the Jeep running and left – so will write while girls eat and then I’ll get dressed. I’ve enrolled Sharon in kindergarten. It will be $20.00 a month. She’s ready but still is babyish and I guess somewhat spoiled (certainly not by Daddy!) He’s just the opposite with her than he was with Linda. Critical, never plays with her and how she adores him. Of course his mind is on other things!! Well, she’s a living doll – a real lovely!! And so affectionate and smart!
John to Scouts but he doesn’t do his achievements. Still lacks three for his Bear badge – of course with me sick I’ve given little encouragement to any.
Linda – oh, what can I say? She’s her own selfish self when it comes to sharing or getting along with others. Loves to help me and is a help and I tell her so. She’s very unlike me and lacks the warmth of Cindy and Sharon and must be shown the way inch by inch (but then so does Bill.) Of course, she’s a smart girl in school – all A’s and loves it. I can see her as a woman engineer and she’ll never mind leaving her kids with a sitter. While it would break Cindy’s heart. She’s a homebody.
Oh, yes, her hate-full, spite-full, loathing, scathing, despising, cold, heartless words I KNOW were full of such cruelty to me set my blood to BOILING! If my face were any more puckered up in any tighter of a frown right now I would not be able to see out of my squinting eyes. I always struggle with my own disbelief. How was it possible for a mother to hate a child as much as she hated me? All of the intelligent logic I apply to understanding the dynamics between Mother and me never really helps me. I was too small and her hatred of me was too big.
Yes, to keep her Borderline world functioning at all she had to keep me in that hate-filled corner of her inner core matrix. She HAD to hate me. She NEEDED to hate me. Her survival and the good of her family depended on her continued hatred of me – no matter what I did, no matter how hard I tried to ‘be good’.
I had no choice but to ‘help’ my mother, and only in those actions was there any possible hope of pleasing her even a little, tiny bit. Her chores for me: An entire universe of madness in itself! Mother confined me to captivity with the chores, with keeping me as close to her as she possibly could – in the house – without play – without contact with anybody else.
Knowing how she adored her other children doesn’t help. Her rejection of me at the same time she worshiped her other children, that ALONE escalated my despairing sadness. Today it just plain pisses me off!
Mother never hesitated to fill her days and the days and evenings of her family with the kind of talk she wrote in those few words in this letter to my grandma just six days before my ninth birthday.
How could my siblings not, as the little children that they were, bask in the warmth of our crazy mother’s affections for them? I see the picture now. I see that I paid for every little tiny bit of goodness they received from her with my life – with nearly all of myself that she could not manage to find a way to bash into oblivion. Only because Mother could keep me in the hell she created just for me at the special center of her inner Borderline hell could she function at all.
I would have to approach this reality, my reality so closely NOW to be able to find the words I need to express what that reality was. I don’t want to go that close! Nobody in their right mind would want to go that close! I affirm and compliment myself, then, in my dissatisfaction with how I write about myself in my childhood. NOT doing this writing NOW – perfectly – happens because I wisely – in my right mind — keep myself safe.
Sharon is a darling butterfly and ever so social. John is still so shy! Sharon isn’t – she loves other children, people and clothes!!
All so different. John is OK – he is at a growing age and really he’s closer to Bill at this age. He’s so pleased about baby and hopes still for a brother!! — After all these years. He was most understanding while I was sick. The girls were –? He would say, “How can you giggle and laugh so loud when Mom is so sick?” He’s dear!!