I’ve been reading this book about adults molested as children and how they can cope with the trauma and move on. And it’s really interesting, but it’s been a little hard to read. I mean, the writing is accessible and far easier to digest than many of the things I had to read in college, but it’s been emotionally difficult to read. I’m not really sure why, since it’s not getting into heavy details yet, just talking about some of the issues these children might carry with them into adulthood. Maybe that’s what hits too close to home: I see too much of myself in it. And, yes, my parents did things to me that they shouldn’t have, that turned me into a wreck for years to come–because if you can’t trust your parents to protect you from these things, what can you trust?–but that wasn’t all of it.
Some of my earliest memories are of this “game” my mother would play with me. I was maybe three or four, and she would go into the hall closet. I would see her go into the closet. And she would say, “Fee, fi, fo, fum!” in her best giant’s voice. I would get scared, but at first it was a fun scared. I could sort of see her through the slats in the door. And I would tell her, “I know it’s you, mommy.” To which she would insist no, she–this monstrous giant she was pretending to be–ate my mom, and she was coming for me next. This would continue for a while, me being a little less sure each time, until I was crying and begging for the game to stop, for her to come out of the closet. To which she reiterated that she’d eaten my mom and was coming out for me next. I would tug on the door to try to open it, to prove that mom was still in there, but she would hold the door shut from the inside. Finally, I would get too scared and would run and hide in my bedroom, always between the bed and the wall. Then mom would come out, stomping and continuing her giant voice, and I would be crying hysterically yet trying to be quiet so the giant wouldn’t find me. I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d messed myself, but I don’t remember. She would stomp into the bedroom and I would be too afraid to look, until she poked her head over the bed to where I was hiding. The peak of fear was quickly followed by the rush of relief.
I know as an adult that this was totally out of hand. Sometimes I try to reason it out to myself–mom was still in her early 20s, maybe she didn’t know any better–but it doesn’t work. She took pleasure out of torturing me, plain and simple. Which is so terribly hard to admit. Because what kind of mother can do that? I mean, maybe she didn’t realize at first how scared I was. But at the point I started crying, she should have stopped. And this should never have become a common game. But she didn’t stop. And it did become a regular occurrence. Which, looking back, foreshadowed much of what was to come between us.
She made it very clear that she doesn’t trust me either (although I’ve never come out and said that I don’t trust her, there would be hell to pay for that). When my parents were separating, when I was in the second grade, I did what a lot of children in that situation do and started lying. I didn’t lie much after that fiasco, just what I would assume is the normal amount for kids and teenagers (actually, I probably lied less than most teens). But anytime mom thought I was lying, which was much of the time, I would be told that she knows me, she knows I’m a compulsive liar. There were two traumatic times in particular when this happened.
The first was when I was about twelve or thirteen. Mom had this really expensive scale that she’d ordered through Richard Simmons. It was one of those where you stepped on it and the little dial turned around until it reached your weight. There was a wheel on the side to adjust the scale if it wasn’t set at zero in your bathroom. Someone had spun the wheel until the spring controlling the dial broke, and mom was furious. I understand this. I do not understand what she did next. She sat us all in the living room–my step-dad (who was also being accused, though not for long), S, and myself–as mom went around, screaming at us, trying to figure out who did it. Repeatedly, she’d come back to me. I was the only one crying, so I must be guilty (I cry when I’m yelled at; not a good habit growing up with mom). I wasn’t making eye contact, I must have done it. I wasn’t blinking, then I was blinking too much, so it must have been me. Granted, she accused each of us in turn, but I was the one she kept coming back to. This went on for hours. I started to think that maybe I had done it and just didn’t remember; surely if S or my step-dad had done it, they would have cracked by now. It was finally let go, but I think she still believes that I broke the scale.
The other time was a few years later. I was maybe sixteen or seventeen. She and my step-dad had separated and W was in the picture. And this time it was so much more ridiculous than a broken scale: someone had opened a bag of chips meant for the family and eaten some of them. The chips had been opened from the bottom of the bag, which I pointed out, and pointed out that it couldn’t have been me. I have OCD, and this was shortly after it had started manifesting. Even thinking about a bag of chips being opened upside down gives me shivers. And everyone knew this, since W insisted on opening the chips upside down, and every time he did, I had to opt out. I couldn’t even eat from the bag knowing they were opened wrong. But this didn’t change things. We were all sitting in the same spots (with W where my step-dad had been the time before), and mom was yelling at us in turn, but kept coming back to me. She could “tell” I was lying by all the same “tells” as before. This time she took it a step further, however. Between this time and the last, she had been diagnosed with diabetes. And this time she was threatening to eat a half-gallon of ice cream if the chip eater didn’t come forward. I was bawling, afraid she was going to kill herself over a bag of chips, and told her that if she thought I did it, I’d say I did it and take the punishment, but just don’t eat the ice cream. That wasn’t good enough. She wanted a full confession, not one couched in “if you wants.” When the ice cream suicide threats weren’t getting that for her, she threatened to take her newly filled bottle of diabetes meds. Every last pill. I was crying harder, begging her not to, fully admitting to opening the chips that by this point she knew I didn’t open. I turned to S and W, begged them to admit to it (I knew it was W, but knew I was in danger if I called him out outright). In the end, no one seriously copped to opening the chips, mom neither ate all the ice cream nor took all her pills, and the issue was dropped.
With mom never trusting me, never believing me, I started to not believe myself either.
Her big thing, from the time I was in middle school on, was that she always thought I was having sex. Mind you, I was hardly allowed to leave the house for anything beyond school, but in mom’s eyes, I was giving it away to everyone I could. Even though, in reality, I didn’t do anything with a boy until I was nineteen. I came home from school one day when I was in the seventh grade and I had grass clippings–maybe five or six clippings, tops–at the small of my back. Mom asked me if I had gym class that day, but I hadn’t. And I had no idea how the clippings got there. “Who were you fucking outside?” was her immediate response. I insisted no one, but she kept pressing until I was in tears and grounded. There were many accusations like this through the years, paired with her having me disrobe and lay on her bed so she could check to see if my hymen was still there. One time I must have had some discharge when she was down there, because she laughed at me for getting wet. These accusations were so constant, so pervasive, that when my period was late, I worried I was pregnant. Even though I knew that I’d never done anything required to get pregnant. I once even went so far to ask friends to drive me to Walmart and buy me a pregnancy test, just to be sure.
Given all this, it’s no wonder I have trust issues. That I don’t like to visit mom at her home, where we’ll be alone. That I feel guilty for things that I never even did, that have nothing at all to do with me. That I often find it hard to trust my own instinct. What I wonder is: will it ever get better?