I mean, who really does want to wake up at 3:00 a.m. on the 3rd day before their 60th birthday caught in a spider web of forgetting and remembering while writing the story of their severely abusive childhood? Which is the web and which are the spaces between those thinnest strands of so-strong nearly invisible thread that make up my own life of childhood? How does forgetting form this web even far more than remembering?
What have I forgotten? Why have I forgotten it? Everyone forgets most or nearly all of their childhood, don’t they? Then doesn’t that just level the playing ground, then, so that my childhood remains just as mediocre as anyone else’s?
So why am I trying to write a book about my abusive childhood, anyway? Isn’t this job worse than hopeless — being stupid?
What do I remember? What CAN I remember? What could I remember that I don’t remember if WANTED to badly enough? Do I WANT to remember?
And WHY would I want to remember? Why does it grow so to bother me that there are months and months of my childhood at the age I am writing about now — having turned 10 — where I can’t-don’t-won’t remember anything at all? Could I remember if I tried harder — hard enough — or EVER no matter what I ‘tried’ to remember?
I seem to be all tangled up in this web of forgetting and remembering and of not wanting to do either one. “Who is doing this remembering? Who did/is doing this forgetting?” Is it better to let the sleeping dogs that guard the gates of hell alone, just let them lie?
Or is that exactly the problem? They’ve been lying long enough?
If I can’t remember — “It didn’t happen.”
If I don’t remember, can’t remember — “It didn’t matter. It wasn’t that bad. I made it all up.”
Am I chasing my memories or are they chasing me?
I have spent the last four or five days of my book writing following the nutty track of where I lived during months and now years of my childhood as recorded in my abusive Borderline Mother’s letters. If her letters had not found their way into my hands, if I had not spent many hundreds of hours sorting and ordering and transcribing them I would NEVER have been able to even begin to think about my experience growing up with her in anything like a coherent, linear order.
I woke at 3:00 a.m. this morning knowing that even with that track to follow, that bread crumb trail of history covering these years of my childhood, I have managed to do exactly what she would have wanted me to do (not that she would have EVER wanted me to have these letters in the first place). I have let myself become mesmerized by her words until I hit a brick wall last evening when I quit my task for the night. I am believing her lie.
In my later efforts I have been amalgamating her words. I have been taking parts of one letter and combining it with parts of the next letter to cut down on repetitions in my attempts to find the ‘picture’ of how her continually shifting thinking — as presented in these letters she wrote to her mother — dragged her family hither and yon through one move after another in so crazy a pattern that NOBODY could have remembered it all if it wasn’t written down — finally — in the fashion that it is.
The moves themselves, as tied to her Borderline Personality Disorder as they were, being the nightmare that they were, I see now created such a fabric of uncertainty, unpredictability, and continual trauma of change that the abuse I suffered as her singled-out target for abuse simply fades into the background.
If I let it…….
During this past year I have been covering, from the end of my 4th grade year of school when the 5th of the Lloyd children was born all the way through my 5th grade year, what ACTUALLY happened was that we lived not in ONE place at any ONE time during this year — but in TWO places at ONE time. Like a string being continually folded back on itself so that the beginning, middle and end of it are lost in some big resulting tangled mess, this year of my life was probably one continuous thing and one thing only: HELL.
Not only did we spend the better part of my age 9-10 year living in two places at one time, but one of the places we lived in — the canvas Jamesway Quonset hut on our Alaskan mountain homestead was itself undergoing continual change at the same time. But these changes are not accurately or specifically recorded in Mother’s letters. They are only alluded to. When were the additional 4-foot wide additional ribbed sections added onto that hut, making it grow longer on both ends like some monstrous dark caterpillar within which we walked around, slept — and me, the abused one?
When did my father cut into the sides of this hut, lift up parts of its wall, cover them with wood and add in the windows? When did he lay the flooring on top of the rough Army green plywood sections of floor boxes? When did he put in a wall partition that separated the front end from the back bedroom end?
This is what the hut looked like when we first began our journeys living in — and out — of it on this isolated Alaskan mountain:
THIS ‘house’, this Army surplus portable housing tent, was a tunnel with two very small plastic windows on either end, each made of two sheets of worn plastic with wire mesh in the panes. They were dimmed with years of encrusted dirt sandwiched between them that could not be removed. Neither could we see out of them and they let in very little light. And by my 5th grade year we were a family of seven living on again-off again on this mountain.
Alaska, known for its frequent heavy clouded days, was even darker for us as this level on the mountain was in the ‘cloud path’ so that we were often captured within thick fog.
Up and down the mountain we traveled with my father on school mornings as we had ‘left’ the rented rambler log house for the last months of my 5th grade year. Back and forth down the Eagle River valley on the Jeep road. Hours and hours we spent commuting. I was following all of this in Mother’s letters, doing my combining of her words, following, following — and then suddenly BAM!
In a letter dated Monday, May 14, 1962 there is a description of events that I entirely missed until I had traveled a few letters forward in time — and then, last night at ‘closing time’ as I folded up my computer files and ‘called it a day’, I realized I had moved right on past Mother’s description of the beginning stages of what was one of the worst of her abuse ‘episodes’ of my childhood.
I sit on that cusp. I am on that threshold in my book writing now. I have to go back, back, not very far back as it turns out — because I WOKE UP out of my mesmerized following-Mother’s-account-of-the-years-of-my-childhood stupor in full recognition: “What time is it?” It’s the time Mother attacked me with a two-by-four board, the time I barely escaped with my life.
“Oh, THAT time!”
Did Mother breath a single word in her May 14th letter, or in the letters that followed it about what was REALLY going on as she spewed out her trivial spatterings about ‘our life’ as she wanted her mother to know about them?
Not a word. Not a clue. Not a sign.
THIS IS MY JOB! The truth-telling is MY JOB!
I’ve written before about ‘the shampoo incident’ and about my running away. Am I going to rewrite my version of what happened all over again? Dare I enter that memory — which I know I can do — and relive that special horror all over again?
Can I? Will I? Dare I?
Mother chased me through the Jamesway, finally catching up to knock me off balance. As I fell I remember rolling wildly around on the double bed in the little bedroom in the little old trailer attached to the Jamesway trying desperately to avoid the full force of Mother’s two-by-four poundings as she hysterically raged. On this day she would have killed me. I got away from her. I dodged under the worst of her blows, snaked my way out from under her crashing arm. I bashed my way past her out the back door of the trailer and took off running through the field grasses toward the woods with banshee screaming, club-wielding Mother in mad pursuit. Father stood at the edge of the field cutting firewood — watching. I was 10 years old.
I ALMOST missed this! I have now found the EXACT day this ‘incident’ began — because I recognize it in Mother’s invisible version, her left-out version. I know the other version of what happened — the real version — that Mother DID NOT tell my grandmother. It started on Mother’s Day, May 13, 1962, but it did not end for a long, long time.
I might not be able to write about it today. I might wait a few days until after my 60th birthday on Wednesday to write it. I first need to have some serious conversations with myself about why I am working on this book at all……….
For now I have a fence built against remembering. I know it’s my fence, and I know I’ll sit on it as long as I want to — or need to.