She asked, “is that from a song, or the name of one?” I smiled and only nodded, but when I said it, I was lost in thought. Confused by my lack of response, she ventured off in the other room, allowing me to be alone with my previous thoughts. There was something to be said for secrecy.
When I was a child, my best friend and I always seemed to have a secret to tell. We made a game out of whispering something in the others ear and then swearing that to secrecy as if someone’s life depended on it. Our pinkies crossed, we spit in our palms and shook as we saw the boys do. There, now we have a solid promise with double insurance.
What on earth did a couple of 8 year old little girls have to keep so private? I guess it was the first act of many that would prove the other trustworthy. It wasn’t that those secrets were so deadly, offensive or of trouble, but there was something in the process of swearing to God, the famous pinky promise and the disgusting exchange of slimy palms that just made it all so pensive.
Did we ever go back on our word? We shared a lot of those so called secrets over the years and I don’t recall any repercussions like my hand falling off, or my skin peeling away and we are still friends to this day, so I guess we shall never know, but can safely assume we did abide by that strict code.
I flash forward back to this present day and forget about the lyrics to that old song as I retrace those memories and wonder where they came from. What ignited the buried remembrances and why? Again I murmured under my breath this time, dirty little secrets, hoping to find the thread and rip it out.
My mind took control and before I knew it, together we were recapturing or more like trapping, the images that were replaying in my head. What do you want, I asked as if they had the ability to answer, but I waited nonetheless. No answer came and I was forced to watch what felt like a movie of my life playing only I wasn’t the star. Suddenly it had become clear what the fuck was going on.
I’ve lived a life this long and the story is so far from over yet for all this time, I have not been the leading lady starring in my own life. I got it, the message was clear. I am beginning to feel the cuffs are loosening, the chains are breaking and the bondage is slowly being freed…
I turned my head for just a moment and you were gone. A panic washed over me as I frantically called your name. Pushing garments of ladies apparel aside, rack by rack, I could hear a faint giggle. You were only 2 and you loved to play games like that. Unbeknownst to you, the fear that arose in my chest, as you would grow accustomed to saying, “I got this mom”, and you always have. Somehow that would be your way of assuring me you would always be okay, no matter what.
I feel so lost without you now. You got this, right? Yet that all too familiar panic has risen up and taken residence in my heart. This time I blinked and tried again, but I don’t hear the giggling in the air. I can’t see your face. I can’t find you anywhere.
Before you could form sentences or even threw your binky away, I could tell there was a mystery about you. Over time it was the little things that made you cry, often inconsolably and I couldn’t figure out why, but you knew.
Years would pass. You were growing up, trying to find the place where you belong. Never feeling liked by the kids on the school ground, not knowing how much you actually were. Was it your hyper activity that kept you moving? Sports became an outlet, baseball, soccer, dirt bikes, skateboards, bikes and scooters. Anything that would occupy your energy and free your spirit, but still, you sought after anything that would grant you acceptance. You tried basketball, even wrestling and joined the school band on drums. Then one day you asked for a bass guitar. Please mom. Happy birthday sweetie. You joined brothers, forming a band, the 3 of you, so young and talented, you were more than good, you were amazing.
Sports and all “that” began to fall away. You’d found this passion deep inside playing bass. Self taught, you wouldn’t allow me to “waste money on lessons when you could teach yourself” and you did. Yet all those years I’d watch you on stage, self conscious and insecure, as if you were still searching for that place of belonging, because you were.
Your pain continued to haunt you. I couldn’t read it, put my finger on it, then he left and you were devastated. The dad you tried so hard to please, to be like and feel included by. This was a whole new level of despair while I was desperately working to be all I could for you 3, but somehow I saw it in your heart, for you this grief of loss was affecting you in some other way. It was different and deeper.
That same 2 year old resides within, still inconsolable, try as I may. “I love you” are all the words I have, with everything I know. Life was harder back then, but we were gaining everyday as we made our way through, just us 4.
We got this, right? Wrong… “We” crumbled. My turn. You’re gone. Here I sit. Motionless. Breathless. Helpless. Guilt. Hands in the air. Heart splitting in 2. Inconsolable. I’m still searching for that place of belonging, just for you.
When she was a young girl, before the insidious abuse began, it was just the 3 of them. Her mama would often make her way into the single bathroom they all shared and look in the mirror beside her then 7 year old daughter and smile. “Do you think we look alike?” she would ask. Daughter grinning back at her pretty mama, “yes!” They would giggle and go about their grooming and silliness before the school bell rang and her pretty mama would head off to work. She was learning at a very young age what being a soft, feminine, sweet little girl was by watching and learning from her very young mama. At 26 years old, she was the most beautiful, kind person in this girl’s life. She loved her with all her heart and she knew her mama did too.
They were essentially growing up together, but she also knew that mama was the adult and she had to follow her rules. Her big brother was only 16 months older than her and he loved them both, but somewhere he began growing up faster than she did. Maybe this is what happens to a young man when there isn’t a daddy around. She loved her big brother. They had fun playing outside, riding bikes and skateboards, tossing the football and playing catch. No one ever told her she couldn’t play like the boys and when his friends came over, they didn’t mind having the little sister tag along, much. She had her own friends too, but being with the boys was fun.
As she got a little older, this eventually started to fade. Either way, she was outgrowing them or they quit liking the baby sister hanging around. This is when that new man came into mama’s life and our lives began to turn upside down. Mama gradually stopped visiting her in the bathroom mirror and she was beginning to look elsewhere for validation and approval. She was turning the corner on adolescence when a young lady desperately needed her mama to keep teaching her about being that soft, feminine, young lady she was emerging into. She was losing her, or was mama losing herself?
Her teenage years were approaching and while other girls seemed to struggle with the normal issues of confidence, self esteem and courage, she continued to spiral down in her own self worth and doubt about her appearances. Boys were the topic amongst all these girls she was getting to know in her junior high days and she was becoming more shy with every passing day. Attention she received embarrassed her and she didn’t quite know what to do about it. She secretly had crushes on this boy and that one, but that was all she knew, how to like them, but not talk to them. She was getting good at hiding.
By the time she was in 8th grade, her family had moved to a new area which meant she had to start a brand new school and make new friends. This was especially difficult for the extra quiet and shy girl she had become. He immediately liked the new girl on the block and by that winter had become her first boyfriend. She had gone from admiring boys from afar to holding hands in public and at school with this assertive young man and she liked it. He was well liked and everyone knew him in this tiny little school. She quickly made a handful of new friends and was no longer angry about being uprooted from the only home she had ever known. This didn’t increase her confidence or boost her self esteem, but it did create an addiction to love and affection that would affect her relationships from there on out.
She learned that being with that special someone no matter the cost, was always better than being alone. This was the pattern she had established at the very young age of 15 when they entered their sophomore year in high school still a couple. What can you possibly know at that age? Was being in a committed, long term relationship normal at their age? Apparently to them it was. He told her often of her beauty and built her up the best he could, but she couldn’t receive his words of her external looks when she was fighting an internal battle for so many years now.
This would go on for years to follow, clear into adulthood. Her inner beauty so lacking in the strength and confidence a father typically instills in his little girl early on. Having an absent bio daddy and an abusive, substitute, narcissistic step monster who began objectifying her at age 14, she just wanted to be invisible and she worked hard to succeed at that. Her mama had long since been able to replace any of the hurtful, demeaning words that humiliated her since she herself was suffering most of the abuse from this monster. Her once, beautiful, spirited, lovely mama was just gone. Deep in the pits of despair she was cast and there she remained until her death.
By the time that young lady was married and a mama with 3 babies of her own, she had attempted to follow the beauty regiment she had learned at such a young age. She often recalled those intimate, special moments buried in her memories she shared with her mama. She recoiled at remembering his disturbing leering and twisted innuendos and once again chose to be invisible, rejecting the advances of her own husband and father of her children. Her head was muddled and certainly fucked up as she thought, what sort of woman doesn’t welcome the compliments of her own husband? Surely there is something horribly wrong with me she thought, but still she couldn’t shake off the shivers that haunted her. Don’t look at me, don’t see me and please, whatever you do, just don’t notice me.
It would be years later, five years post divorce that for the first time in her life, there was a man who did in fact, not only notice her and made her tummy flip, she welcomed his advances and wanted him to indeed see her. After the first 6 months or so his love bombing had hooked her so deeply she couldn’t get enough of his attention and longed for more. At some unknown point in time, after all the confidence and uplifting he had poured into her, she had changed her appearance to the point that he took notice of people noticing her and he loved that. As long as she was by his side, protecting her from other men, she felt safe. For the first time in her life, she thought she had been found and actually loved.
A secure sense of belonging overcame her for the first few years. One day she saw something different looking in the mirror at this indescribable image, she no longer recognized the lady looking back at her. The closer she gazed at the reflection, the more distorted and unfamiliar the features became. She had quietly been slipping away and was reverting back to that young girl, desiring nothing more than to be invisible once again. She had become her beautiful, lost mama after all. Fuck.
The compliments and uplifting expressions they keep tossing at her, are words and verbalized observations of her outward appearance. They haven’t matched her inside disturbance since she was that 7 year old, standing next to her mama, staring in the looking glass. Now she says to them…
Married at 18, 2 kids by 19, divorced by 21, remarried by 26, 1 more kid by 29, fading into the darkness by 33 and by 41, she was dead. So what happened to this lady during those in between years? Her death, though shocking and painful, was not too mysterious, yet a heart wrenching loss to those 3 children. Could she have known the ramifications that leaving them would hover over them for the rest of their lives? Her first 2 born already suffered from abandonment from their father leaving when they were toddlers and now there was new fuel added to the fire. Her youngest child would never fully heal from the shock and all of them would be left with this poor excuse, version of a worthless father. Well, technically a step-monster to the older ones and short-changed, selective, convenient, when it worked for him, weak father to his one and only blood offspring.
As life would have it, the abuse happening to her would later manifest into PTSD. She was a newly 13 year old girl, trying to cope with life the best she could when her once devoted, doting, loving and proud mom that she had known was beginning to fade. Shortly after marrying this man and the birth of her baby brother, mom began drinking, heavily, and daily as anger was ranging inside her. She remembers every detail of what mattered to her as she was growing up, but then developed amnesia for the parts that created her traumatized soul. What the fuck was happening? She couldn’t stop her world from spiraling down and the more she tried the worse it became.
This broken framework of a family would move to a whole new town, several hours from the only place she had ever called home. She now had to live in a town so small they only had one stoplight. Her anger intensified, but it had been serving her. It’s what kept her safe and from falling apart inside. It fueled her so others would perceive her as confident. What they didn’t know was it kept them at a distance, far enough so they wouldn’t learn her secrets. No one else lived this way she couldn’t imagine. This dark place where her mom drank herself into oblivion every night so she wouldn’t have to feel, could hide from the truth of her torment and his cruel, viscous ways. Take her into the land where no one spoke of the dismissals and discarding she experienced so he could continue his sorted affairs, blaming her for his indiscretions. This once beautiful, vivacious, confident, fun loving woman, reduced to nothingness. Stripped of her self worth and told of her undervalued existence. This replacement father wasn’t just an asshole, he was a fucking asshole and I had wished for so long that he would die.
She started maturing into a young, pretty teen and by 15 she had her first boyfriend. Really he was the excuse that got her out of her crazy ass house on a Friday night. She had convinced herself she was in love with this boy, as much as 2 teenagers could be, but they bickered more than they got along. Could her hostility have been the cause for that? She wondered today. The asshole, as she so fondly referred to him as now, had started snooping around in her room when she wasn’t home. She found this out when her mom brought the contents of her diary up in a private conversation, asking about her losing her virginity. She was fuming, seeing red and wanted to kill him, but her mom was gracious and kind about it. Now and then that loving, adoring mom would surface, in a semi sober state. Terrified her only daughter might end up a teen mom too, but was satisfied to know the 2 of them were “safe”. Humiliated and pissed beyond measure, she broke up with the boy she “loved”, leaving him confused and hurt, but she didn’t care, much.
Soon after, the leering was becoming more intense and uncomfortable to the point that she loathed having to even go to the kitchen for a snack or even water for fear of him being in the living room where she would have to pass through. Usually no words were exchanged, only a slithering, slimy look that made her shiver with ice through her veins and blood in her eyes. Sickened by the very sight of him, she found opportunities to be gone more than she was home. One day she came home from school to find a woman in the kitchen, a stranger to her. Thinking nothing of her until mom came home and asked if she saw this person. A few months later, these parents would separate for what ended up being 1 1/2 years this time. Another discard, the fond, control game he played. By this point she had deemed them both crazy and she wanted no part of their insanity. She declared to them she had a job, a car, friends, school and a life, finally and would not be moving. She further informed them that she knew they would reconcile and the fuck if she would turn her life upside down for them ever again and she didn’t.
She had chosen the worse of the 2 evils to remain in this God forsaken town that had grown on her. Convincing herself this was temporary and short term. He works a swing shift so she would rarely have to experience the abuse and inappropriateness of his behaviors. She could handle this. She had toughened up more than ever. Her life depended upon it. Less than a year went by and they proved her right when they bought their next home on the other side of town, big enough for us all to have our own rooms. It was 2 months before her graduation and she’d had enough. She was done. Dramatic exit scene. Her first experience with her newly developed dissociative behavior. A screaming match with her mom, explosive words of I hate you! Followed up with shaming accusations of you’re weak, why can’t you just quit drinking?! A quick packing of her things and she was gone. There may have been more expletives, but she was tapped out, checked out, already gone. She left behind an older brother whom she loved and wondered why he stayed after graduating the year before and her baby brother whom she adored and worried so over, but she feared to stay even though she was terrified to leave, but what choice did she have? This would start her pattern for the rest of her life.
The next 5 years would deliver her into the early makings of her first real, adult relationship with the man she eventually would marry and have 3 sons with. She never went back to their home, not to live, but now and then to see her growing up little brother and even her mom. She avoided interactions with her first abuser as much as possible. She often wondered if her mom ever knew, had any inclinations or concern for her only daughter’s well being, but then how could she as she was drowning deeper and deeper in her alcoholism. That was a word she had learned and identified with, qualifying her mom as one. Anger was still very much alive within her, seething at the core of her being. It was just showing up as less of a frequent visitor. As those years rolled on, her mom sank further into depression and into her bottles, hiding them more and better, so she thought. She came around less and less trying to normalize her own life, whatever that meant. It mortified her to remember this once shining light of a lady who was reduced to her darkness of hell. She blamed him for all of it. Mom’s shame, her pain and our abuse and neglect.
It was nearly the weekend and her mom called, wanting to visit her now grown, young, adult children and their significant partners. We lived close by one another and just short of flipping a coin, she surrendered and said mom could stay with us for the weekend. We all got together for a family dinner, just the 4 of us and mom. By Monday morning everyone had work to get to including mom. She needed to “get going” she told her. Reluctantly, they said goodbye, unbeknownst to any of them it would be the final time they would see her sad, sweet face. It had been a surprisingly pleasant weekend. She chalked that up to his absence. We parted ways, as we all went off in our separate directions to live our own lives now.
A week went by and it was 5 am on a Saturday. She was at work when she got the call. His voice on the other end, so blunt and cold, your mother was in an accident, she didn’t make it. She sank to the ground, the corded phone still in her hand as the tears sprung to her eyes and ran down her cheeks. All she could repeatedly ask him was, “was she drinking?” His answer never came, but in her heart, she knew. She sat there, numb, not knowing what to do, needing to do something, but what? Last week she had a mom. A mom she had forgiven after all those years of despising what she considered her weakness. A mom who loved her with all she had, but had none to give herself. A mom who she accused of neglecting her for some man who abused her, them, all of us. A mom who deserved to live because she had so much to live for, but she never knew any of it. A mom that was loved even though she couldn’t love herself. She will forever wonder… Where had she gone?