The problem of an eidetic memory combined with dyslexia is that I can literally remember everything backwards and forwards. And as I am frequently paralyzed, or dealing with bathroom issues that take a few hours, there is plenty of time to review, to believe that with the best of intentions, I made wrong decisions from day one.
I wanted to grow up so badly, because I honestly believed that somehow, someone would help the pain to stop. Being hypersensitive to my body, to sound, to smell, to others’ emotions, and living in a large city of 16 million made me go into the woods, as far as I could get, once I turned 19. I did not eat a meal with my family from the age of 14, because using ‘ear plugs’ was ‘disrespectful.’ It literally hurt that bad. I couldn’t hear in class unless I was in the front or back row; I couldn’t go to movies unless the theatre was empty; and if it hadn’t have been for the inventions of walkman players, I would have been the nut pulled off the bus still trying to yank gum out of some yahoo’s mouth. Touch is like pain, sound is unspeakable, and the scent thing, well someone like me lived in Dublin in 17th century, named Jonathan Swift, and he severed a close relationship after being touched on the arm; his views on smells and sounds are described in detail in Gulliver’s Travel.
With my parents using the word ‘sensitive’ like it was akin to the scarlet letter and still unable to use it without the pause, such as my father would say, “you know we have tried to love you, despite how your…..’sensitive’ aspects took more time and effort.” He would also tell me every day, ‘Remember that you represent me, and my name in everything you do.’ Between people going, “oh, you’re Peter’s little sister’ and the genuine fear we all had of my father, it is a wonder I had any identity of my own. Didn’t being someone’s ‘Little sister’ or ‘you’re related to (insert name)’ the worst; knowing up front that they don’t see you at all, but someone else. And when you have teachers do it….ug.
All the time growing up, discipline was severe, ritualized and laced with humiliation. I don’t think you really know humiliation until you have been ‘disciplined’, on the sidewalk of Seattle, and then threatened to have it start all over again if my ritualized thanking of my father for hitting me, was not tinged with the appropriate amount of love. Any whiff of ‘rebellion’ or lack of appreciation, and it started all over again. When we look at family pictures, my mother will say, ‘Oh I remember that day, you two, it was always something, pouting or being too loud, but back and forth, the whole afternoon, when one of you wasn’t getting spanked the other was.’ In the picture, I am 3, my brother is 5 and we are by a blue plastic wading pool. I become speechless, not because of one view or another on spanking but because watching her children being spanked for ‘incorrect attitudes’ for three to four hour is a good memory to her.
For me, I remember going down and spanking my plushies, over and over and planning how many children I would have so I could hit them and hit them and hit them. I would be 2 and planning this out. This is what children unable to feel safe do. My father’s rules were that everyone got it, regardless who started it or why, and that you didn’t make excuses, even if it wasn’t you, you just took it, or you would get it for making excuses as well as the ‘crime’. At age four, my father had punished me severely for something I didn’t do, didn’t even know what he was talking about. He found out later, and came down with the wooden spoon, told me that he had been wrong and I was to hit him. Regardless of everything else he was my FATHER, the man who I idolized, I yearned for his approval, larger than life, grander and greater than anyone else, he was MY father, and he wanted me to hit him. I cried so hard, I couldn’t hold the wooden spoon. I knew he was going to discipline me for failure but I couldn’t hit him. Maybe other children want to hit their parents, but I didn’t, I wanted to help them be happy, to let them know they were loved.
And it is why I do what I still do, send gifts, send postcards. So that whenever a gift, rare and obscure is used, they will hopefully know that they ARE special, unique and wonderful. Because that is how I see people, and I know how hard it can be, due to various circumstances, to look inside and see any part of that.
For Mother’s day, at age 4, I built a boat, which was a three deck boat out of wood with a chimney. I hammered it myself out of scrap wood, had sawn the shapes. When I gave it to my mother, my father took it and announced the he was going to test it: he put water in the tub, he put in the wooden boat, and it turned upside down, as I had stacked it high cause that looked ‘cool’. He said, “So that’s your gift, a boat that kills everyone on board.” I never did woodwork or hand crafted a gift again. I simply could not take the pain I felt that day, and every day I remembered it.
But that is how he was: When I was 16, and we had a dishwasher, I had to clear the table, rinse the dishes then put them in the dishwasher, and turn it on. My father came by, opened the dishwasher, took out a plate which still had some food stuck to it. “So when we your mother, brother and I die tonight of salmonella, it will be your fault.” This was how things were, I didn’t miss a bit of food, I killed people. I didn’t pull out the vacuum cleaner cord from the wall by pulling the cord instead of the head, I had to help my mother bury her child. And those are the times when I didn’t just disappoint my father, but God the father, creator of the universe, who looked down on me, saw a creation flawed almost beyond redemption, because the placemats weren’t aligned equal distances apart.
So no surprise that not one person who came to visit overnight EVER came again, until I stopped asking, somewhere around 14 or 15. My father told them that ‘under my roof, it is my rules’ and apparently even in the same cult, ‘his rules’ were enough to make sure I never had sleepovers.
That is not to say I did not have fun, but often due to lack of any accommodation to my ‘sensitivities’ or that we were children the kindness, the fear, the terror, and the punishments all roll into one. I think that the second greatest fear I had was that my father would find out that who I was at school was not who I was at home; and the greatest was that he would somehow, like God, see into my mind, and be forever disgusted and aghast.
I did not sneak out after curfew, I did not go to clubs or pubs or bars or parties, even class parties, I was not in trouble with the law, and I had a job, from age 8 for summers and from 12/13 onward full time. Yet, I knew I was ‘bad’, because I was told so. Peter used to say, ‘don’t worry, just tell them what they want’ or ‘they’ll forget, just let it go’ or ‘he won’t find out, why confess?’ He never got how I actually believed all that crap, and I never understood how he could knowingly lie, not just to my parents, my father but to God, and not seem to care.
I love my parents, I love my brother. It is a love that has never stopped, not one moment from when I was able to communicate. My grandparents and parents used to laugh at me because I would be nine and have lots of gifts and notes with love written on them. I couldn’t understand why they laughed, and so I hid and cried.
I learned two things: that power, including the power to hit, whether the face, the body, the hands; or the power to treat a person as a thing, a possession, it is something that is hard to let go of, particularly when someone feels threatened - if that is what they know, they will return. And second, we all, when things are desperate and all else is failing turn to the model we saw day in and out: we become that mother we promised we never would be and say those things we vowed would never be said, because they hurt us so badly. To stop myself, or for anyone to stop themselves take on the worst they ahve seen modelled is day to day, and most needed when things are worst.
My brother knew me best, because he knew that withdrawing love, when I would not give him what he wanted, would use that lever to force me to give him money, or whatever he wanted, when he wanted, when I was a child. As an adult, once I was able to be free of him, he knew that while he could not find me, he could hurt me, by never replying or returning a message, by openly withdrawing love.
That’s not to say I don’t want to see my brother. Or that, if will forgive me, for the hurt I have done him, and wants forgiveness for his hurts, I would welcome the gifts of forgiving each other. So I have asked, many times, offering places we could meet over the last seven years, but he declined.
My parents, who I saw, a flash of several years ago, when they appeared at a Terry Fox mile marker, said nothing, then disappeared again. Google showed me they had bought a condo in Arizona, but I know, and Linda knows that just to spend time with them, a few days, it is something that will not happen. Not before I die.
I think they might feel that ‘I made this bed so I will lie in it’, as if anyone wanted to stop writing, stop fencing, stop running and hiking and working and going on vacations and end up on pain medication and dying instead. But then again, when they moved they got rid of their phone, there is no email for my mother, my father screens his emails and I don’t have an address, and they both closed facebook pages, so I am thinking that they don’t really want a lot of ‘uncontrolled’ communication from anyone.
I can’t believe I idolized my father into my 30’s, and only know that they are gone, accept them both as humans, not superheroes or villains (though the sheer number or illegal things is impressive), but just folks. Maybe stubborn or silly or hurtful folks, but who isn’t in some aspect or another. I try to reflect and change myself for the better each day; limit reactions no matter how much pain I am in, not shout, be open, be honest in all ways.
It is hard, with my father so long as an actual ‘authority’ figure, making decisions on people’s lives like a police chief, I simply don’t know how to respond when he shows or states no remorse or desire to do things different for those years before moving here when he knew of women who were being raped and others beaten regularly, and did nothing. When he says ‘Why should I call the police?’ because no one told him to do so. Yet he was the minister to the people in that province, in a group that didn’t believe in confession, but did see itself held to God’s laws first and man’s laws second. So was the hiding of rape, beatings, incest just protecting the name of the church? Year after year, mothers and daughters beaten and raped, showing up to church bruised. And I was too stupid to get why they were ‘sick’ so often.
And the racism: splitting up blacks who dared to engage with a white, forbidding to marry them, all because God had in his plan, after the ‘sin of Ham’, required black men and women to serve the whites, the true ‘children of God’. And in the same way, a woman was subject and slave of men, and most of all a husband. But any man could order any woman in the group. And he says he was for women’s rights, but my mother didn’t work but 2-3 years for my whole life, and yet neither has ever stopped giving me guilt over not working enough, or hard enough, even after I got ill. Was I supposed to stop working once I got married to a guy? Or, when I went to a ‘worldly’ college, did he accept me as lost. These are questions I am curious; as I think most children want to know from parents: “Do I make you proud, do you want to understand me? What do you think of the choices I have made?” So when I was ‘cautioned’ for having black friends, does he regret that now, or was it ‘just doing his job’ or ‘just following orders’ or ‘I had a different understanding’: so when he said that ‘It is okay to know them, to be polite but not to befriend them.’ Would he see that as racist now?
Then the whole issue of ‘trusting God’ instead of seeing doctors. And the shame involved with those who were not physically ‘pure’ – and I mean, if God loves you, you will have a perfect body. I still don’t think my mother or father have been able to say ‘Anorexia’ yet, though I was and am, and fought it for 13 years, and fight it still, but beat it by seeking medical help instead of just prayers. The depression I had, early on, I made the mistake of asking advice from my father. So I am sitting there, with 1,500 people when my father tell all of them, the church, that my depression was because I did not focus enough on God, but on myself. I was 16 when he gave that Sermon. Those slight disadvantages of the Minister’s daughter: for decades my life was juice for his sermons, yet the double standard on how I am to keep all things quiet and buried on the blog…
So when I see the KKK march, and I think of the teens that my father had kicked out onto the street for having a black girlfriend or boyfriend and not ‘repenting’ – and I look at my own life, I remember every sentence and I am ashamed. I made a racist joke I heard from an adult 10 years older than me to one of my closest friends, who was black. I didn’t get the punch line, but from his face, I could tell he did. And though I apologized, sincerely, it was never the same. And who could blame him. I wanted to impress him and I hurt him deeply, in a way that he could never fully open up to trust me again. I was a junior racist, and my brother, who went to racist university (unaccredited at the time), and learned about the sins of misogynation (the intermixing of the races). And so did we all. And now, when Peter McClung sits with his black co-workers, does it matter that he watched his fellow college students, like all ‘real believers’ to ensure that no black man danced with a white woman at his college. And that while a bunkmate may threaten to kill someone, or as he told me of a fellow who had to have his job changed after being caught having sex with the bovine, those weren’t sins like…..being gay, or dating a catholic, or a Hispanic.
My father told all a list of those who ‘think themselves Christian but are not..’ It was a long list, but Catholic was up there, along with JW, and so those couple thousand in Regina were told, they are NOT like you, and thus will never see the face of God. And I look back at myself in my mid-twenties, and my pride, hearing him say that, knowing that people knew I was his daughter and how he was ‘rightous’ and I feel sick, phsyically ill.
I don’t know if Peter or Murray or Pat feel differently. I was told I was a hairs breath from being expelled for dancing with a black classmate, and only my graduating in a few days was what had saved me. I was unrepentant. But I still had so much racism that had been pounded into me and that I had lived with and around, that I am still trying to root it out of me.
Perhaps it is because I remember so much that my family stay away. Or because I feel that the best way to move on is not to try and bury the bodies deeper, but have the light sun on that, ask for forgiveness, and then do the part I still struggle with, forgiving myself. Every hurt look, every time I said or did something, even as a child, I regret it. I told my aunt to save herself and turn to OUR God, I was 10, she laughed with good humor, but I still regret it. She had left a man who beat her to save her children, and her family; MY family here in Victoria, left her in the woods. When she married and her husband got cancer, they laughed. When my cousin had a learning disability, they told him he could never do anything above menial labour….and made jokes. I love them, I miss them, even though I haven’t seen them for…um…12 years or more? The last time I visited, they tried to get a restraining order against me, and to force me, and get my father to force me to not see my Grandmother. I had come out a couple years before. Me in the UK being out was okay, me actually TOUCHING their mother with these hands…not okay. But I still miss them. Like Linda says, family is family.
And I would cover for them, warts and all, because family is family. Except that they aren’t, or they have made it clear I am not, and we have been cut off from them, who live a few miles away, by their choice. I wish there was a Thanksgiving dinner. I wish my parents would show up sometime and invite us out to Starbucks. But as I told my mother the last time I saw her, “I want a relationship with you, but however much or little you want of a relationship, I will meet. If that is three days a week or one day every two weeks or emails once a week, whatever. But you make the choice, and let me know.”
And as my father used to say, “The absence of choice IS a choice.” And he was right on that. People have and make choices. After watching me send out emails to try and start a relationship every month or two for a couple years Linda finally said, “Beth, they don’t want one.” But I keep trying, just less often, it hurts less that way.
I worry that I push those in my life to some standard in my head. That the pain of all the previous and ongoing rejection gets mixed and muddled, and that I am not a good friend, or one who is too demanding or not there enough. I don’t want the hurt of being left make me a person that pushes others away. It is hard when the past hurts and the present hurts get all mixed up to know what is reasonable, and how to just ‘let it go’ – but I need to.
So I will keep trying to get out there and join some groups and meet new friends. And give time to the friends I have. As I have, in the two decades, to live life openly and honestly, which ends up having unexpected results (if having your brother sending notice of suing me isn’t unexpected, it was for me). I wish the past and present made more sense than it does right now. And perhaps, once Linda has a job, and we have stability again, and she is walking again, with her leg healed, life will look different. I just really, really hope I am still here and alive to see that.
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