Happy Family Holidays
“But we always took her on family holidays !” became the familiar retort espoused by my mother in an attempt to defend her ‘excellent parenting skills’ around the time I finally sought help to leave home. She’d tell anyone who cared to listen… the family doctor, priest, police, social worker, judge…man on the street. She even tried the defense on ME as she barricaded me from exiting the front door on my eventual day of exit from the madness. It was an attempt to paint me as a spoilt, ungrateful teenager; which in hindsight was of course as transparent and feeble as the ice queen was herself.
I had neither the opportunity nor resolve during that period to illuminate those whose opinions may have mattered regarding the truth of what a ‘happy family holiday’ realistically entailed; yet the physical reaction her comment evoked within me was palpable. The inner turmoil in response to her audacity broiled inside each time I heard the defense repeated. My breathing accelerated and the veins in my neck and arms were hit up with intense shot of adrenaline. Yet at that time, even as a sixteen year old I still did not have ownership of the release of expression from my lips. Subsequently they remained in their locked pose, except on the handful of occasions when I simply knew my future depended it. Somehow then, I found the words.
“You’ve ruined my make up !”, she screamed, the accusation sweeping through the two bedroom cottage like the scream of cyclonic wind signalling an encroaching storm. “What have you done? You’ve ruined all my make up”.
I was eight or nine years of age. My parents had agreed that I could invite a friend from school on our trip to the Grampians, a rugged mountain range in the Victorian countryside. I looked at the figure of my friend Siobhan who sat on the opposite bed in the small room we had just begun to settle into after finally arriving following the long car drive. Her small frame shrunk back into the shield of the curtains, surrounded in the late afternoon light that filtered through the ominous mountain ranges surrounding us. The eerie fall of dusk across the vast national park had already set the tone for the first night of our stay. I had tried to shrug it off as my regular “doom and gloom” outlook that must have snuck into my suitcase as I packed that morning. Perhaps it too wanted to have a holiday from the oppression that typically created it, unaware it was hitching a ride with the perpetrator.
Coming to my senses, I quickly leapt up from the bed and stepped into the hallway, urging my school friend to stay put. Poor Siobhan sat frozen with a stunned expression, utterly flawed at my mother’s sudden outburst. I had no idea what I was walking into, but experience told me it was best to try and shield my friend from at least some of the commotion and just get it over and done with.
As I closed the bedroom door behind me, a hand clasped my shoulder and I was spun into the front room of the cottage where my mother had started to unpack her things. I blinked and tried to gather my bearings, unfamiliar with the wooden paneled interior of the holiday cottage.
There !” she pointed towards the dresser where her tan vinyl make up case sat innocently staring back at me with equal amounts of confusion.
“You touched my make up and now look at it. It’s ruined. RUINED”, she screamed hysterically, both hands now upon my shoulders.
My body rocked back and forth to the rhythm of her ranting but my consciousness sat squarely within my head which was spinning metaphorically as I struggled to make sense of her accusations. Whilst I concentrated on anchoring my feet to the floor, as the room swirled around me, I retraced my steps from the moment we had arrived at the cottage. We had all brought various pieces of luggage in from the car, my mother, father, Siobhan and I. Did I pick up the make-up case ? I couldn’t recall. Could it have been tousled about in the boot of the car enabling the contents to end up in the strewn about fashion they now resembled ? Possibly… but dare I suggest it ? I was exhibiting text book behaviour of a victim of abuse at eight years of age by questioning my own actions and sense of responsibility for my mother’s distress.
“But I didn’t touch your make-up!” I cried…then instantly regretted it.
“Don’t lie to me ! You lying, dishonest child” she shrieked as the sting of a open palm reverberated across my face.
I spent the next hour ‘cleaning up the mess I had made’, painstakingly attempting to filter bits of powder back into little bottles whilst Siobhan sat bewildered and most likely quite frightened, in the bedroom. What would I want with your make-up ? I thought to myself angrily as I worked, As if I’d want to paint myself to look like you !
I wonder why my father does not feature in these memories at all. I believe at some stage he emerged from the shadows, by which time the scene had played out and the damage done.
Needless to say, Siobhan was not the only friend to regret agreeing to accompany me on a ‘happy family holiday’. There was more such fun to be had…
(To be continued…)
This is very lucid and candid writing, as usual Colleen. Children can also be used as diversion tools. Admist blazing rows, which we always provided the audience, the arguement was nearly always diverted by turning on one of us ‘Have you had your mother’s shoes again?” was a particularly favorite one, especially reserved for me. My mother’s feet are and have always been 2 sizes larger than mine – but no matter, the accusation had served the purpose and brought them back together – united against one of us! Plus with the added bonus of us thinking that the original argument had been in some way ‘our’ fault too! I can now spot these tactics a mile off 🙂
April 5, 2010 at 11:06 pm
HI, yes I can chuckle when I think of all the amazing skills I am now equipped with like diplomacy and the ability to really read people’s behaviours well ! There’s always a silver lining despite the trauma. I am glad that my inner strength and resilience as a child fostered within me a deep and true understanding of the complexities of human nature. Admittedly, it’s taken 34 years to get here through…and I’m still learning ofcourse ! Thanks for your visit.
April 6, 2010 at 2:40 pm
I don’t even know where to begin, except to send you a huge hug and tell you how wonderfully your write. Such heartbreak and poignancy, such sorrow. How courageous an example of hope you are for your girls.
April 6, 2010 at 12:01 am
Sending hugs back at you Sara ! xoxoxoxoxox
April 6, 2010 at 2:41 pm
Your mother sounds like a carbon copy of my father, Colleen. While my mother just stood in the shadows too, watching the abuse and doing nothing to help her kids.
Nice piece of writing; so real.
April 9, 2010 at 1:10 am
Hmmm..it’ still hard to comprehend isn’t it ? Thanks for your feedback Paul.
April 9, 2010 at 4:59 pm
You do have a very nice style of writing that makes the reader feel welcomed. Thanks! 🙂
April 9, 2010 at 10:13 am
I’m pleased you enjoy my writing. Thanks for the feedback 🙂
April 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm
Intense memories. Great writing. I was there with you.
April 10, 2010 at 7:07 am
Thank you for visiting. Glad you appreciate my writing style.
April 10, 2010 at 9:57 am
Such wonderful and honest writing. The truth in your words, mixed with your amazing writing makes for great work. I will have to come back often and read more!
May 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm
Hey, thanks again. I’m always grateful to hear that people appreciate reading about my “story”. Thanks for visiting and your kind words.
May 8, 2010 at 4:21 pm
Colleen, dear girl, I wonder if anyone can tell a story like you do. I hope you are still working on putting these all together into a book, your biography that would touch so many hearts and souls. The poetry above is so moving.
May 27, 2010 at 11:34 am