Saturday, October 30, 2010

SKELETONS as in the closet kind

I really don't want to write this as it's very personal. (That would be a warning to anybody not looking for something awful to read.) I've been thinking a lot about family and the stuff that gets hidden and becomes damaging, the skeletons in my family's closet. I had been thinking about it quite a bit, because my daughter asks questions I have felt are not my business to answer, which leaves her hurt. Wynona Judd was on 'Oprah' the other day, she was telling how hurt she was to find out at 30 that the man she thought was her father and the folks she thought were her grandparents weren't hers at all, and that her younger sister Ashley knew, but nobody told had ever bothered to tell Wynona. . . I'm guessing there's a lot of that families do to each other. I don't intend to advertise this post, but I want you to understand, this is gonna get vile and disgusting. If you are my family reading this, I'm sorry, but maybe you should know.

My story is multi-generational. Nobody in my family will be happy I'm posting this, so I'm going to have to change some of the identifying points. I don't think that will matter, they will still not be happy with me. Of course, I've always been the loud-mouthed child, considered to be the one who didn't know her place. I will only tell what I know to be true, that was confirmed by other people, because what I know has been disputed as 'what I was brainwashed by my mother to believe'.

Most of this has to do with my mother. To me, every time there has been a major change in her life, she has had to become a different person. The person she is now is a lot like my grandmother was at the end of her life, sweet, humble, believing she is cherished (whether it's true or not) by all she loves, and completely dependent on others. Before she was married to my step-dad, she was very independent, made major decisions like when it was time to buy a house or a car, went where she needed to go and saw who she wanted to see, when she wanted to see them. (Part of the difference lately may be that she's retired, but to me that's only made it more striking.) When we children were all in the house still and she wasn't working outside the home, she seemed to be holding back from engaging in life too, maybe from depression. When we were very little, she seemed to be a bit 'Mommy Dearest' but that could have been due to the stress of where she was.

My mom was married the first time, I think, at 18 years old, had me at 19. She looks in the photographs of the time, to me, to be content with her decision, but not the overjoyed blushing bride you normally see. Many people are glad to get out of their parents home and be a grown-up, but I believe her motivation was beyond that. I believe the 'contentment' may have been due to the relief of being out of the house. What she has told me, and other family has confirmed, is that while her mother had been laid up due to back injury a couple of years before, she was molested by her father.

She didn't tell me this, of course, until I was very much adult, but it explains a lot. Her father has a hold on her and a couple other family members that is borderline sexual (which is stomach churning to watch when in his presence) and with his ability to manipulate others with money (their need for it and his having a little) has caused me to not want to be around and I have chosen not to when given the opportunity since my grandmother died, even if it means missing out on seeing other family members that I love. He has caused other kinds of pain to family members, some of which resulted in deaths of their children . . . That was not something my mother will discuss with me, she seems to want to cover it over. He has never apologized or been punished, has demanded love and respect as patriarch that I can't give. Of him I want nothing but to be left alone and will not encourage the association of others in my family with him. However much I miss my grandmother, however much I admire her dedication to her family by staying with him, when she must have known who it was she was married to, possibly believing there was no where else to go. I can't honor her by having anything to do with him.

Now, someone (religiously) may point out that this would be considered unchristian, or Biblically unrighteous, based on the commandment that we are to 'honor your father and mother', certainly I may have family members who would say that, and I would have to argue, being the loud-mouth child who doesn't know her place, I would have to stand up and say that would apply to individuals that were Honor-able. You can't honor someone who has no honor. The way that he would have earned honor would be to admit his sins, ask for forgiveness and worked to regain his honor even accepting punishment, which I have searched for and cannot see has ever happened. I don't wish to judge him, but to protect myself and those I am in a position to protect from life-changing hurt, I won't have anything to do with him.

If ever anyone thought that our life wouldn't be changed forever by that kind of hurt, I'd have to disagree with you, based on my own life.

My earliest memories are mostly being terrified of my father. When I was a preschooler, probably between 3 and 4 years old, he very nearly broke my arm. I had been standing on the floor between him and the television, and, with anger, he lifted my by that arm and carried me down the hallway and flung me onto the top of the bunk bed. It was three days before he took me to the hospital, my mom tells me, but what I remember was trying so hard not to cry over the pain of my injury that I nearly wet my pants trying to control my sobs. He spoke a different language from my mother, in that he could curse anything and everyone horribly, violently, where the memory of her voice at that time was gentler but anxious and worried. Later, when their were five of us, out of control and wild, her voice elevated to screaming, and that may be what my siblings remember. I had a fear of her, but I was terrified of him. He was so angry all the time that I did fear for my life. When I realized he was beating my mother, I feared for hers as well, and for us all if that did happen.

The first time I remember they were separated, came when I was in the first grade. I was surprised one day when someone from the office came to get me out of class with all of my things. My grandfather had come to take us to his home away from my father and all of my family and our belongings were packed in their trucks. My mother reconciled with my father about a month later, but I stayed behind at my grandparents house to finish out the school year. Later, I was told by a family friend that there had been irrefutable proof that I was being molested by my father. I don't remember that happening. I do know my mother was miserable. She was trying to do the right thing and being told by my grandfather that she was stupid and couldn't do anything right that she felt compelled to go back when my father said he was sorry and he would be better. She had to believe him, because the alternative wasn't a very nice option either.

When it was time for me to go home, too, I was surprised that it was only him that showed up to collect me. On the journey home, we stopped. That was the first occasion I remember him touching me inappropriately. However, looking back on it, I was not surprised by his actions, so perhaps it had been happening before and I was just not aware it was wrong until then.

As a child of a violent parent, I think there is a tendency to attempt to please, in order to direct the parent's anger elsewhere, or to calm the anger. Dogs do the same thing: a person can beat a dog mercilessly and the dog will turn and lick that person's hand. I believe that I tried to ignore it as inappropriate and tried to believe that by participating I was gaining his love. He told me so, and that this activity prepared me for adulthood and it was his job to prepare me for a husband.

When I was in the third grade, my mother got him out of the house, I think she had him arrested. I'm not sure now how she got him out, but for a while he was gone, and during that time we went to court. I had to testify in a judge's chambers, in front of a group of strange men (the only woman was my mother and the only other person I knew was my father) of how he had touched me and describe where and when. The result of all of this was that he had to see a therapist. My mother told me that this therapist basically blamed her for my father's actions and he came back home. I don't know really what the therapist's opinion was, but I know from my own experience that it is very easy to be made to feel that way.

Over the next few years, we made visits to my grandparents house. I have an uncle who was about six years older than me and an aunt a few years older than him who were both living at my grandparents house. My aunt was very hard-working and had many responsibilities, and we admired her for all that she did. My uncle was constantly in trouble. We kids thought he was just like us and we loved him too. Over those years, he starting taking me to hiding places around my grandparent's home and asking me questions about what my father and I had done (apparently he'd overheard some of the grown-ups conversation that I hadn't) and having me demonstrate on him.

In fact, I believed that sex was happening everywhere I turned. The neighbor girl who lived across the street and I were running around playing one day and we ran through the front door to her house. Her father had her older sister naked on the sofa and was on top of her. She must have been a teen-ager because I remembered seeing her pubic hair and wondered if she got it because her dad was touching her and then dreading when mine would start.

There was a place in the basement of the house where my father started digging a hole. It was about four feet by four feet and the depth eventually became about 12 feet, I think, as a child I thought it was incredibly deep. He had all of us kids working on it, believing it was for a swimming pool or a tunnel to China. The dirt was piled around the foundation of the house, in the basement. We worked on this hole for years, and it became wider at the very bottom.

After I was done with the fifth grade, the school district we lived in made some changes and I was assigned to go to a school hours from home by bus; desegregation. My mother was worried about me on the bus so far from home for so long every day, but my father's issue was that I would be going to school with black kids. So, my mother held me out of school and he searched out a new neighborhood to live in. Eventually, he found one about 30 to 45 minutes away, and they enrolled me in that school district. That meant I was in the car with him every morning and at night after school until we could get moved. I dreaded that time in the car every day, sitting in silence worrying about my new school and classmates, watching the cars pass slowly and the changes in the weather through the fall, listening to him cuss out the other drivers.

One day, I remember my mom was really quiet and her eyes and face were puffy that morning when I saw her briefly. He was more silent than usual, not speaking to me or cussing out the other cars. That night, he picked me up and took me home and immediately left for work. It was then I found out he'd attempted to kill her the night before. There were horrible, deep scratches on her wrists and neck, and I remember a lot of bruises. Later, she said she understood what that hole in the basement was for: he'd made a pine wood box that would have fit into the bottom of that hole. We'd been told it was for the move but there was only one box, too small for furniture and too big to be filled with smaller household items, it would have been too heavy to carry anything at all. She believed it was to dispose of her body.

After the move, things became impossibly strained. My mom was going next door to make phone calls to her parents when he was gone, and grandma's letters were full of coded language. A couple of months later, right as I turned 12, she had a friend drive us to the bus station, each with a suitcase and we left him again, for the last time. I only saw him once after that, when he brought the station wagon filled with stuff we'd left behind.

I believed it was my fault that our folks split but I was too afraid of him to think of going back. I also thought that what had happened to me and what I felt was the same for my brothers and sisters. I couldn't have been more wrong, but didn't realize that until just the last few years. Our father has visited my brother and he has gone to visit him, and he has discussed his visits with our mom and my siblings. My mother, naturally, is horrified. The rest of my siblings are like him, don't understand why our father was taken away . . . When I try to explain, I am the 'one repeating my mother's words'. I think they are good people who think that our father is like them, all good people who try to do the best for their children. I really can't impress upon them enough without going into sickeningly, graphic detail, that this really did happen, he really was that way, I won't visit him, I won't tolerate his being told about my whereabouts or well-being.

My uncle, too, got into lots of trouble, beginning with breaking and entering, and getting into drugs. Eventually, he went to prison on multiple accounts of child abuse. Very early on, my mom and I had a conversation about him, when I told him of what he'd done, and when he was initially punished, I believed it was because of me, too. Later, my mom told me she didn't know and doesn't remember ever having had that conversation with me. It turned out that what I told her was universally unknown and he was never brought to account for it. Much to the detriment of others that I loved. I think some of the information about his child abuse case was hidden from me, purposely, so that I wouldn't get involved, open my big mouth and be the child that didn't know her place.

So. Three skeletons in this closet, accounted for. There's some other stuff but these are the only ones that affect me directly.

During my teenage years, I came to realize that I probably was damaged goods and no one that I admired would think I was marriage material. When the son of the elder in my faith said he needed me for his wife, I was very, very honored. So shocked, that I didn't question that he never said he loved me and refused my kisses. I also knew that he'd also had some inappropriate sexual encounters and was found masterbating by a parent. I have to call it the first two of the three 'sexual encounters' I knew about, not rape because they did not involve someone who knew better taking advantage of someone who didn't. The last one I would say was rape, he was molested by an older male. I was led to believe that these instances were something he looked back on with shame and sorrow and wished never to think about again.

Our relationship was not what I'd hoped it would be. My hope was that we would be able to work together toward a common goal. I couldn't understand why there was no intimacy ~ not sexual intimacy, but the kind where a couple in love are bound together, attachment, craving to be in each other's presence. Home. I tried everything I could think of, and studied ways I could make that happen. I really don't want to go into detail about our sex lives, but I will say this: I always initiated sex. When I realized this, I would wait to prove to myself I was wrong. Eventually, I would be so depressed and blaming myself that I would initiate again, but I knew I was not cherished in the way I should have been. For a while I saw a therapist, who had my husband come in once and they basically said my issues were my fault ~ the same as what happened to my mother.

Other odd things manifested over time. It became apparent over the twenty years that we were married that those sexual encounters that happened before we were married was not something he looked back at with disdain but with longing. There are things that disgusted me when I found them out that I have an issue sharing them here, but in the interest of identifying the skeletons in the closet I feel I have to. I found out when our daughter was about two years old that my knitting and crochet needles were being misused ~ I won't go into how that occurred, but I did entirely give up all of my knitting for about ten years, only to taking it up with the largest needles. The other thing was that one of those previous instances (before we were married) was with a dog. That craving did not go away as I would have hoped, because I found e-mails requesting that kind of porn (incidentally on our 18th anniversary) that included a very nasty account of the occasion, with the response that this request could not be fulfilled because it was illegal in this country. This happened when I had been refraining from initiating again for the three previous years and was about to capitulate again. Finding this convinced me to give up trying to be close to him, finally. It was not a surprise to me, however, that he found a boyfriend after we were separated. My shock on that score was that I thought he intended to continue to hide that side of him from his family and our daughter.

These individuals are not people I will seek to have contact with. I will be civil if I am ever unavoidably required to be in their presence but I will not share anything about my life with them. Others in my family who would defend them or attempt to force me to associate with them are not individuals I will seek out either. The ones I love won't force me and never have and have always been honest with me when I need to understand, which makes me love them more.

I doubt that these skeletons will every truly change their location, as in out into the open, but they don't scare me. I know that they will receive their judgement someday. I know I won't be standing next to them when it does, because the loud child who doesn't know her place is the squeeky wheel that gets the grease and gets on with her life.

1 comment:

  1. There is a lot you had to get past and speaking your truth takes courage. It amazes me how there are amazing stories of fortitude and endurance in people we least expect because of their capabilities. Then we read or hear something like this and find out what's under the surface. Thanks for posting this - hugs - jann