The Dark Side of Mildred’s Mountain series – Angel book 2 beginning with the POP! Goes Alaska letters – chapter 19
19. Unfair at the fair
April 1, 2013. I did not find any reference to my sixth birthday on Saturday, August 31, 1957 in Mildred’s writings. Not a mention. Not a breath of a word. Nothing. Deafening silence.
Labor Day was celebrated on Monday, September 2, 1957, and on one of the days of this holiday weekend our family went to the Matanuska Valley Fair in Palmer. I was so small when I saw my first full grown hog at this fair, its back being nearly at my eye level, that when I next saw another one when I was 23 I was stunned at how small it was! Until I actually saw another one I had never questioned the impression of “great pigness” that I had stored away in my body-mind about hogs during this Labor Day fair visit on the weekend of my sixth birthday.
Something else that happened to me at the fair that weekend continues to defy my ability to counteract what I knew as a young child with what I “should” rationally know at this stage in my adulthood. There I am standing on a dirt area in front of a concession stand with my parents. Mother told us we could pick what we wanted to eat. I doubt she had ever let us do that before. It was a very big choice to make.
Once I held the stick in my hand that poked through the bottom of my caramel apple I turned to see each of my siblings holding a brightly colored fluff of spun sugar. My sisters’ held pink and my brother’s was blue. Instantly my heart sunk in disappointment.
Oh, that I had opened my mouth only to take a bite of my apple. Even now 55 years later what comes to mind next is, “How could I have been so stupid not to have been able to anticipate what would happen if I let out my sigh with the words that followed?”
But, no, child that I was I made the mistake of forgetting to remember that never was I safe to be myself or safe to be a child. But I didn’t know this! What young child can think such thoughts and then have the smarts to NOT do what I did?
I am sure the expression in my face gave me away before any words popped out of my mouth. I must have looked as downcast as I felt when I let it slip out, “Oh! I wish I’d gotten one of THOSE!”
If it is possible for a grown human to jump down the throat (as the saying goes) of a little girl that’s what Mother did to me. Accusing me of never being content, of selfishly wanting what everyone else had, of never being happy no matter what anyone did to try to please me, of being jealous of my sisters and brother, of being greedy and always wanting more more more, of always spoiling everything nice for everyone else ON PURPOSE, Mother continued to roar at me. “You made your choice! Nobody forced you to get an apple. That’s what you said you wanted! You don’t deserve anything! Give me that apple right now.”
I guess Mother taught me a lesson that day alright. I’ve never forgotten standing there sad with my family at the fair with my hand empty. Mildred brought up her abuse litany segment about how this was “just like when” I was four and “complained” when our 4th of July fireworks sputtered out that there wasn’t any more, when I sighed, “Oh! They were so pretty! I wish there was more!”
I had been slapped and “spanked” and dragged to my bedroom that day. There I was in the same kind of trouble again. What is wrong with me now that I want to say, “I didn’t mean to do it?”
I am a mother. I raised my children in the opposite way I was treated. I logically know that a loving, calm, rational parent might have taken my disappointment at my own choice when faced later with the glowing beauty of colored cotton candy as an opportunity to talk to me about feelings, about choices, about consequences and about changing my mind.
No healthy parent would have berated and beaten a young child in a situation like this for making an unforgiveable mistake! Yet unlike how my consideration of the actual size of a hog changed in my adulthood, I cannot find any way within myself to take the word “mistake” out of my thoughts about myself at the fair that day.
The truth is I wasn’t told I made a mistake that day. I was told in every way Mother could manage that I WAS a mistake. I WAS trouble. I WAS bad. Being an irredeemable mistake was who and what I was.
I know the utter despair I was thrown into through yet another one of Mother’s ceremonies of brutality against me right there in front of the concession stand, in front of my family. Like prey cut out by an attacker relentlessly pursued I had no way to defend myself or escape. I had no choice then but to be resigned yet again to the isolation I knew as the only child in my family doomed to fail because I WAS the failure half of Mildred’s mind.
How could I know or understand any of this as a child? I could not. The sad fact and the mystery to me is that no matter how hard I work at it knowing or understanding all of this is still beyond me. I would have to start off in life all over again and have all of that torture absent, start over again to grow an entirely different body-brain without all the trauma built into it to be able to make right inside of myself what I cannot make right today.
I sank into darkness on that day in a singular way because I did not have a single shred of resistance to what happened to me. I could not hold some of my own light inside of me where I could find it like my mind did when Mother’s version of what I had done didn’t match what I knew had happened. I always knew what I had done all of the time. I knew my own truth because my mind was not broken. I knew reality.
This ability served me well. It kept me intact in my mind when I was attacked for doing things I had never done. But this time was one of those different times. This I had really done. I had done what Mother said I had done. This time not only was I under attack with Father there doing nothing to help me, but I could not even save myself with my own mind.
Tone of my mind
I can use the word “tone” to describe the difference between my mental experience of these two types of Mother’s abuse. As I look back to those times I was “punished” for something that had not happened at all the way Mother insisted they had, even though I suffered through the agony of her attacks my mind was very clear and strong. At those times I was shielded from the kid of inner personal crumbling of my experience of being a self separate from Mother that happened to me when I was attacked for things I “really” had done – like what happened at the fair.
The strength of the tone of the “muscle” of my mind as it contained my core vision of me NOT having done what Mother battered me for kept me from dissolving as a person within her abuse. When I was “guilty as charged” the tone of Mildred’s mind washed over me like a Tsunami because I had nothing in my mind to resist her with. I had plenty of both types of abuse from the time I was born.
As I write about these differences in my inner experiences between these two patterns it seems to me now that had I not had the opportunity to endure Mother’s horrendous attacks against me when she was delusionally psychotic (beating me for what never happened) – as they gave me the chance to exercise the powers of my own mind with this sense of myself intact and in operation – I might not have survived her. Except for one incident I will write about when I get to my middle childhood part of my story, the intensity and viciousness of Mother’s attacks did not vary between her delusional and her non-delusional abuse (the fair being in the non-delusional category). The difference between them was only tied to the additional “punishment” I received for “lying” to her when I could not admit to her delusions.
Even when my mind held a clear vision of a reality I knew as different from Mother’s delusional ones I had no ability to THINK about what I knew. I felt a quality kind of confusion which I know was an excellent sign. Although my confusion was appropriate I could not wonder why she accused me of doing something I had not done.
I would have had to travel all the way back to her accusations that I had intended her to die while birthing me and then travel all the way forward through my childhood to have begun to unravel how Mildred came to her conclusions. I would challenge the best minds on earth to work their way successfully through that maze. I sure couldn’t do it as a child although I am finally making some progress in that direction now.
At times when I was in “trouble” for something I had “really” done I equally accepted what Mother did to me in supposed consequence just as I had to do when she was delusional, but when she was not delusional (making me “guilty”) I was not accompanied through her attacks by my own self at those times. To be viciously berated (and no doubt physically battered) as happened on the fair day for saying something few parents would ever be concerned with in the least, was to experience yet another collapse of my own ongoing experience of myself in my childhood.
Mildred added my fair “crime” to her abuse litany so that along with her psychotic repetition of all my other “crimes” I was reminded of this one with every beating I received until I left home at 18. Because her litany was itself psychotic it made no difference if the “crime” added had really happened or not. I continued to be “punished” for Mother’s version of reality year after year after year and there was NOTHING I could do to stop it.
In the aftermath
Added to the horrors of my childhood was the fact that if any similar “infraction” such as the one Mildred attacked me for at the fair was ever done by one of my siblings her reactions were usually the opposite of how she reacted to me. She would have made sure my siblings had what they wanted at the fair. I had no way to think about the massive gap that existed between the ways I was treated compared to my siblings. The negative impact on me was that I was missing any words to use to think about myself in relation to the abuse I suffered. The positive impact was that I did not feel the complication of feelings I could not have resolved such as anger at Mother, envy of my siblings or any self-pity.
Writing even about this comparatively very minor abuse incident today has been very hard on me. On some level I am aware of how much horror I have to hold at bay to go back to retrieve this much information about that day. The process exhausts me. It leaves me wondering – again – how I survived 18 years in that home.
I had no choice but to live through whatever that woman did to me. I had no choice but to be the child that I was. I WAS a child! I had feelings in response to my life AS a child has such feelings.
Whatever it was about my having chosen a caramel apple over gaudy cotton candy that flipped on a little dismay switch inside of child me there was nothing wrong and bad and awful and horrible and evil about me that caused me to have my feelings. I did not intend to “ruin everyone’s day.” I did not deserve an attack from Mother over this, nor did I deserve to be chastised and berated, scorned and shamed over this same “crime” countless more times before I left home.
Through these repeated patterns of abuse I was not only deprived of the right to be a child, I was also deprived of the ability to grow up knowing what being human even was. As I have written before, I struggle with the underlying and pervasive damage done to me on this level every day. Nobody can wake suddenly at 18 when they escape a psychotic Borderline Personality Disorder parent and instantly know every antidote to every cruel and biting debilitating criticism every leveled against them from birth. The awakening has to happen gradually if it happens at all.
Who was Mildred that she had the right to dismantle my sense of self the way that she did? She was a mentally ill woman whose ability to (a) self regulate her emotions appropriately, (b) to use higher cortex brain functions to anticipate consequences, (c) to make wise, informed and reasonable choices and decisions, (d) to experience empathy and exercise compassion, (e) to even have a human conscience had been removed from her by her illness. Yet while I rest my case on my knowledge of her illness I cannot ever pretend that her treatment of me didn’t hurt and harm me greatly.
When a parent competes with their offspring for available resources the child always loses. The imbalance of power in our family disempowered all of Mildred’s children but none as severely as I was. Being suddenly handed the power to choose something I wanted at a fair’s concession stand overwhelmed my abilities. What other choice had I ever been allowed to consciously make on my own before that moment? Probably only a few.
Healthy parents begin to empower their children with the process and language of choice before they can talk. Choices that young children can be empowered to make might seem to be very small ones from an adult’s point of view. Those choices, however, when presented clearly and age appropriately, build choice-making abilities into the brain-mind-self of a child as the foundation is being built upon which all future choices and decisions will be made.
Mildred was a professional bully when it came to me. She was a tyrant and a terrorist. The power to know one’s self and to anticipate outcomes from actions based on choices is one of the most important skill sets we leave our childhood with. Mildred, in her sickness, did everything in her power to make sure I could not succeed.
I don’t see that it is possible for any abused and neglected child to enter adulthood with their sense of self and their ability to choose healthily intact. Missing these abilities puts child abuse survivors at the highest risk for confusion and for making small and large decisions in the best way that they can – that will likely lead to a lifetime of difficulties. Adults who were not abused as infants and as children do not suffer from this great debilitating disadvantage.
This great discrepancy between the “haves” and the “have nots” is a major contributor to what we see as quality of life differences across adult lifespans. People who did not leave childhood knowing and loving themselves and who do not have the capacity to make wise choices are the ones most likely to create “trauma dramas” in their lives that pass onto their offspring the same patterns that so harmed them.
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