Bubble Gum Incident
“The simultaneous activation of perceptual (seeing the dog) and categorical (having a category for “dog”) neuronal groups is thought to produce the internal sensation called primary consciousness. There is an awareness of the sight as a familiar animal, a “being in the moment” with such a sight, which heightens an internal conscious sensation. This is the remembered present.” (bolding is mine, siegel.tdm/170)
I did not have “permission” from mother to have a self, and did not have permission from her to have a consciousness.
I am thinking at this moment of the bubble gum incident. At age 5, this I’m sure was only one of hundreds of related incidents that had occurred and continued to occur as I grew up. But this is one that I remember because it was in her beating repertoire and in her beating litany. She kept it there because it proved that I was a liar and a thief.
I have to get out of these “memories” what I can, even though they are a part of the shared consciousness I had with mother – or the shared reality she forced me to share with her. I have always remembered what MY part of that day’s reality was. Being at the park, playing with a little girl my size, running down opposite hills to the big tree at the bottom of the little valley, each running around the tree and being the first to sit at its base was the winner of the race.
I took the piece of double bubble gum from my dress pocket and unwrapped it. As I looked at it I thought about sharing it with that little girl. Thought about breaking it in half along its little line, knowing that she would never know if I ate it all myself. DECIDING to share it with her, reaching around the tree had handing her the other half while I popped my half into my mouth.
That was a manifestation of my intent, my decision. That was my dress with my pocket and my gum. I was playing my game with my friend and shared my gum with her. This had nothing to do with mother other than the fact that she took us all to the park, and she allowed me to play.
What happened once we got home was mother’s part. Me, sitting on the kitchen floor rolling up the socks, warm out of the drier. She was making supper. Looked in the cookie jar to get a piece of gum, not finding the rest of the package there, accusing me of stealing it.
Of course I said, “No, mommy! I didn’t take the gum!”
“You are lying! You always lie to me, you evil child! I saw you give that little girl in the park a piece of gum today down by that tree! I thought “What a nice girl Linda is being today! Look, she gave that little girl her piece of gum.” But look at this! You stole my gum! All the rest of the gum! Where is it? You stole it so nobody else could have any! Give it back to me right NOW! Go get it!”
Of course I couldn’t give her back the gum I never stole. And of course she yanked me up off the kitchen floor by my hair, started slapping my face, screaming and yelling at me, hitting me with her fists as she dragged me down the hallway to my bedroom. She kept a belt handing on a hook on the back of the bedroom door so it was always right where she could grab it when she wanted to beat me with it, and that she did.
And put me to bed. For two weeks. I don’t know how it was two weeks, but I know that it was. Days of being left alone there when my sisters got up and got dressed. “Get out of that bed and make your sister’s beds!” she would scream at me. Of course terrifying them. Day after day. Day sounds as everyone else went about doing their day things. Like the day Dad was washing the car outside. I could hear him, with the car radio on while “Cindy, Oh, Cindy” was playing. Mother calling for everyone to come and hear “Cindy’s song playing.”
And the wading pool outside on the driveway that was outside the wall of my bedroom, filled with water, my siblings playing and laughing and splashing. Me with only the flittering reflections of patterns of light on the bedroom ceiling that made it through between the pink ruffled eyelet valence on the top rod and the pink eyelet lace lower curtains covering the bottom half of the bedroom window to the left of my bed to marvel at. I wasn’t angry that my brother and sisters were out there playing while I lay alone in bed. I was just grateful and amazed to have that beautiful pattern of light dance on my ceiling to keep me company.
This punishment carried its own pattern of time passing. The times when mother would pound her way down the hallway, “Let’s see what Linda is doing,” meaning, of course, only she would see. Horrid. What a horrid child I was the day she came into the bedroom in the middle of the day and found me playing with my nickels that I had kept in a little pile on the wooden stand beside my bed. I had been given them because I “earned them” when I “did such a fine job dusting the living room, just like a big girl!” I had made little roads and valleys, hills and meadows with the folds of my bedspread, and was using the nickels to be people and cars and animals in the fields. Of course she took them all away from me, with a beating.
“What are you doing, playing in here? Playing when you know you are being punished for stealing and for lying to me? Over and over again, lying to me? You will stay in this bed until you tell me the truth!” She would scream at me, over and over again, “Get me that package of gum, you horrible child!”
Of course I couldn’t get the gum for her, and could not prove to her I wasn’t lying. Could not prove to her I was telling her the truth. I could not prove to her I was innocent of the crime I lay so miserably accused of. If she came storming into the bedroom to “check on me” and I wasn’t crying, she would yank me out of my bed by my hair and beat me. “You don’t even feel bad for what you have done! Look at you here, having fun while you have made me so miserable! You’re not even sorry for what you have done! I’ll give you something to be sorry about! I’ll give you something to cry about! I hate you! How dare you steal from me! How dare you lie to me! Pull your pants down!” she would scream as she slapped, punched and hit me in her out-of-control enraged frenzy.
And if she came into the room and I was crying, it would happen all over again, only these times to the refrain, “What are you crying about? You have nothing to cry about! You’re just in here feeling sorry for yourself! I’ll give you something to cry about, you horrible child, you curse upon my life! I’ll teach you not to steal from me! I’ll teach you not to lie to your own mother!” And the beating would start again.
Daylight out the window. Darkness out the window. Daylight out the window. Darkness out the window. Sisters coming in and getting their pajamas on. “Don’t you DARE talk to Linda or the same thing will happen to you that happened to her!” Sisters getting up in the morning and getting dressed. “Don’t you DARE talk to your sister or the same thing will happen to you that happened to her!” Me engulfed in my small world of misery the size of my bed. Pillow always wet from tears. Not allowed to speak to anyone. No one allowed to speak to me.
I had to listen very carefully to try to determine where she was and what she was doing so I could sneak out of my bedroom and down the hallway to go to the bathroom, always terrified that she would catch me. Listening for her to come down the hallway. Never knowing if I was going to be in trouble for crying, or for not crying. Finally I just had to lay on my back with my arms down straight beside me and tight against my body, because I would never know. Often being yanked from my bed in the darkness of nighttime by my hair from a sound sleep and being beaten, “How can you be sleeping? How can you not be feeling guilty for what you have done?” Listening for her to come down the hallway when I was so hungry, see her opening the bedroom door with a bowl of saltine crackers soaked in milk in her hands. “Here,” she would say. “This is all you deserve until you tell me the truth! And you don’t even deserve THIS much to eat, you horrible child!”
Day after day. Night after night. The monster would come. The monster would go. I could do nothing but endure her and the punishments she devised. And then one day she opened the door and said as she walked away, “You can get up now.” Nothing more. My brother, John, was the one who told me later that she had found the gum in one of her dresser drawers.
Not only did she never apologize to me, but she remembered her version that validated the incident in her mind throughout my childhood. In this way it became a “member of the beating litany,” so that it would come up in her mine within the whole chain of such incidents that proved I was guilty of every mortal sin possible to commit – this one being that I was a liar and a thief. Any time she would beat me for years afterwards, as she pulled out her “rosary beads” of “horrible evil Linda” incidents, this one would come up and fuel the fire of her inner rage at me, fuel the fire of her physical body, giving her revived and renewed strength to continue beating me longer. And as I grew older, and the “string” grew longer, the beatings lasted longer each time they occurred.
Fifty years later I only refer to this as “the bubble gum incident.” In my memory today the self of me today can move close enough to see that little girl at the park. I can run down the soft green grass of the little hills and feel her sitting with her back against the rough tree bark. I can feel the gum in my hand, my hand unwrapping it, my hand passing it to my friend around the tree. I can be in the little girl carefully rolling the socks perfectly so that her mother would be proud of her, approve of her, compliment her. I can see the kitchen, and watch her go to the cookie jar and lift the lid. I can see her body tense and tighten when the gum she was expecting to find there is not there. I can see her turn toward me, but when she reaches her had out to grap my hair, with her other hand pulled back far behind her so that it can hit my little face all the harder, I cringe inside.
I can see that little girl Linda hovering into the mattress when she heard her mother’s footsteps coming down the hallway, as if she could either leave with or without her body, or turn invisible instantly before the bedroom door opened. I can see the little pile of nickels on the bed stand. I can see the pink curtains and my chenille bedspread. I can see where the room is placed with the single bed head against the outside wall. I can turn my head upwards towards the ceiling and watch that magical dancing of light beams. I can stand beside that little girl and watch her, but I cannot yet BE her.
And what I am extremely clear about is that I did not do what they call dissociate THEN. I was there. I felt every mesmerizing moment of breathless anticipation as I listened every moment I was awake for her coming. Listened after the day I tried to entertain myself by playing and she took away those nickels I was so proud of. I felt her every blow upon my body. I felt every pang of hunger, every torturous moment when I had to go to the bathroom when I was terrified beyond measure of being caught. I remember that slow door opening, that slow, silent tiptoeing to the toilet. That paralyzing fear that if I flushed it she would hear me and if I didn’t, she would know I’d been there.
I felt the aloneness, the not belonging-to-the-family-ness. I felt her hatred. I felt the horrible confusion of not lying, not stealing and when I at first tried to defend myself by sobbing this to her, the rage it would build in her until I stopped telling her any more that I wasn’t lying, that I didn’t do it, that I didn’t steal that gum.
But today I will NOT be that girl. It is not safe to do so, and I know it. There’s never been a time when it has been safe to be her. But I carry her pain. Every day and every night I carry her pain.
“Just forget about the past,” people have told me. “What’s wrong with you! Get on with your life! Put the past in the past!” They have no idea. No possible idea.
And what’s even worse for me now is the growing realization of the fact that her hatred and violence toward me originated the moment I was born. Knowing that no one and nothing intervened from her being able to vent all of it on me from the time I was tiny tiny tiny. And what’s even worse for me now is the realization that her earliest violence toward me so formed my brain and my mind, even by age 5, that I was incredibly strong to have even attempted by then to stand up to her with my words. To have dared to defy her even for an instant. And that my mind even by age 5, could not win over her and could not stand against her.
I had no weapons. I had no choices. I had no salvation. I had no allies. I had nobody. And any time even a tiny bit of my self tried to emerge in my little mind, she just strived even harder to obliterate it.
It. Yes, like in the book, “A Child Called It” that David Pelzner wrote about his experiences with his insanely abusive mother. But unlike the gift that Pelzner was given, the “idyllic childhood” until the age he was five that he stated he had with his mother before the abuse began, every day of my life from the moment I was born, way before I ever got to “the bubble gum incident” when I was five, was a living hell. I suffered what Pelzner evidently did not: Infant Abuse! And that fact makes all the difference in the world, and in my life.
And if you were abused as an infant, it makes all the difference in the world and in your life – to YOU!