Do as I say, not as I do. There’s an old trope. I hear it going through my mind as she screams. Mostly the words don’t really appear. I stopped listening a long time ago. Bitch. Stupid. Nasty tone of voice. I am supposed to be all sweetness and light. While she is… what exactly? I don’t think I am going to follow that trope. I snap back to attention when her hand impacts my face.
“Kristine Lenora I am talking to you!”
This is it. I get to decide now. Am I done or not. I feel the pressure erupting from the pit of my stomach. No. I am not going to do what you tell me to do.
I notice all of a sudden that her hand is holding her cheek. She looks shocked. I can’t even remember hitting her. I turn around and flee back to my room. My hiding spot away from them.
She never hit me again.
Which isn’t to say that I stopped the violence in my life, far from it. But it changed in quality. I had acknowledged her as the enemy and struck a blow for my own defense. I declared that I was now an adversary instead of a subject. That’s an important distinction when you are a terrorized child. Every burst of self defense is symbolic. I have often thought that if I were to get to teach classes to young children on how to survive being abused the first thing I would tell them is the most important thing they have learned is that they have to take care of themselves in this life. It’s a hard and a sad truth, but it is part of life. If you have to take care of yourself you need to figure out how to go about doing that. Really taking care of yourself involves a lot of long-term planning.
Do as I say, not as I do. In my family advance planning is a joke. Everything is done late, at the last minute, there is never enough money to meet all of their obligations. But they sure know how to party and relax. Is it any wonder that I believe I must have a long laundry list of work I have recently accomplished at all times? My alternative is to be a loser. I will not be like them. I have gotten out. My life is different.
The thing they never tell you when you are signing up for “healing from childhood trauma” is there is no guarantee that life afterwards will really be better. Partially because life is unpredictable but, honestly, it is mostly because people who go through trauma are not as good at the long-term planning thing. I think that my ability to plan is a lot of why I got out. I held phrases in my mind from key moments and they were my magical talismans. The man who evaluated me for the GATE program told my mother, in front of me, that I was probably the brightest child he had ever met and it was a good thing or I would be incapable of learning given what was happening in my life. My mother was a bewildering mix of angry and proud and I didn’t understand why. I knew that this man had just said truly wonderful things about me, why did my mom get so nasty? Now I understand that she felt judged because my life was so messed up.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my mother. I am grieving more for her than for Uncle Bob and that feels disrespectful. He’s the one who is actually dead and all. But she is dead to me in spirit. It is hard to realize that for me unconditional love doesn’t exist. I feel like that makes me defective. I want to cry and scream and beg people to please understand—it is just that I can not forgive. I suppose that’s the hard part. I do love her. But I cannot forgive. There is no forgiveness for what she permitted in my life. The scope of trauma I endured goes beyond neglect.
When I close my eyes and think about the day Michael raped me I can’t remember if I tried to explain to my mother why I was screaming curse words at him. Every time I hear my daughter sass me with, “You don’t get to say that to me”, normally after I have enforced some odious and draconian rule like “Don’t hit your sister,” I feel this burst of pride. My daughter will not be 30 years old and hiding in the garage to cry. My daughter knows that she is good and wonderful. My job is to not beat her down the way I was beaten down. Aside from the issues with my father, my mother was ridiculous. I was chased home by neighborhood bullies and my mother’s response was to beat me. She didn’t ever stop to think that I was not the kind of kid who really did terrible things. There was no question—I was bad.
There was no point in defending myself. There was no point in explaining. There was no point in telling the truth—not in any part of my life. The best thing for me to do was to build up this part of me that was separate from them and defend it with all force. My relatives often use physical intimidation as a way of enforcing control and they resent that I refuse to buckle. I really am a spiteful little shit. I mean, my sister threatened to beat me up at my baby shower and I wouldn’t even acknowledge her superiority.
That was another lovely tense moment. I could feel my adrenaline rushing. I wasn’t sure how far she would push it and if my friends would be sufficient buffer. At the pressure moment I decided that I didn't want to get into it. I fled the room. Of course I was just over reacting. I always am.