Sunshine soaked comfort
Caresses tender, innocence
Salt tainted sea breeze
Augmenting parched desire
An inner thirst
For a want, then unnamed
…Yet secretly possessed
For a pink bunny to hold dear
Your sweetness echoes
in floral strains, near
….A glimmer of me
Shadows of you
“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.
“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…)
A couple of days ago I was contacted by Roger from Indood.com with a request to publish one of my childhood stories Take me too !
Take a look, you’ll also find a carefully chosen selection of prose, short stories and poetry.
My finger-tips came to rest upon the golden door handle supported by a steady hand, delicately placed with all the resolve of a surgeon preparing for the first incision. It was quite a feat actually considering the rest of my body was shaking and I could no longer feel the carpeted floor beneath me. Continued…
My finger-tips came to rest upon the golden door handle supported by a steady hand, delicately placed with all the resolve of a surgeon preparing for the first incision. It was quite a feat actually considering the rest of my body was shaking and I could no longer feel the carpeted floor beneath me. I was aware the slightest movement of the handle would create a squeak and I had not made my mind up yet if I wanted to make my presence known to those on the other side of the door. The internal struggle was creating havoc in every aspect of my being. My lips quivered, sweat ran from my pores and the beating of my heart could not catch up with the pace of my breathing. Thoughts swirled around my head as if my mind was set to a rapid spin cycle. Should I or shouldn’t I? The temptation pulled with magnetic force but the risks involved were also quite prominent in my mind. This could mean an escape…a way out, the voice of hope persisted in my head, Given what’s happening they may not need to much convincing. Yes, but would they really take me seriously?
I can’t entirely recall the events that had lead to my predicament that afternoon as most of the visual memories present as images of the interior of my bedroom. Possibly I had the music turned up in my room to drown out the sounds of physical scuffles and hysterical voices on the other side of the walls. Plus, there were many scenarios in my family experience that were similar to the one playing out before me. This time it related to the youngest of my four brothers Aaron, and the constant struggle he found himself engaged in as he grappled with his intensifying anger towards our parents and his growing acknowledgment of their contribution to the miserable persona that engulfed him.
It is interesting how each child’s personality and specific traits impact upon their experience of survival from an emotionally destructive childhood. Personality impacts upon one’s level of resilience that in turn, affects the inevitable choice to either confront or deny the behaviour. My brother was at last attempting in his own way to confront our parents for the years of soul-destroying torment he had endured at their hands. Tortured by a stutter that manifested as a consequence of the anxiety experienced due to living within an explosive and unpredictable home, ridiculed for his sensitivities and set up to be ostracised by his older brothers, he had a fractured sense of identity that left a gaping hole in his core. I don’t think at that stage he was able to identify the link between the years of their belittling of him and his current state of social isolation and unhappiness, but the anger had risen to the surface and was directed fairly and squarely in their direction. I was glad of it. I was hopeful that in lashing out at them and at the world, he might be steered in the direction of help…outside help that was bigger and braver than anything I at thirteen years of age, could offer.
It seemed that he had already sought that help. And this afternoon’s experience taught me that therapists can sometimes offer rather strange advice. Apparently my poor brother had sought the guidance of a highly respected psychologist who suggested he “have a couple of stiff drinks” before approaching my parents to challenge their behaviour towards him. It may have seemed reasonable to the therapist to offer this type of advice to a twenty year old male but the risk of him taking the recommendation just one step further was indisputable and, I suspect it may have resulted in consumption of more than a “couple” of drinks. During the confrontation that ensued in the living room that afternoon, my parents who were unaccustomed to their authority being challenged, would have looked intently for any signs of influence to my brother’s newly ignited courage and located it on his breath. Unfortunately, this was perfect fodder for their catch-cry claim as innocent victims at the hands of the bullying of their children. And so they dialled 000 and requested the police attend the home as soon as possible.
“Our son has turned on us, he is going crazy and I fear he will attack my husband”, I hear my mother say down the phone in feigned tones of fear and distress.
The presence of three marked police cars in one’s street is not a welcoming look in a quiet middle class neighbourhood. No wonder none of the housewives who regularly witnessed such commotion at number 24 through their lace curtains, ever came knocking at the door with offerings of home baked muffins. As a child my world-view was one based on fear. Every occurrence, every outsider, every belief system or custom that differed from my own, was ingrained within me as having corruptive influences. It took a while for me to understand for those on the outside looking in to my world, the view would have been as scary as hell itself. For almost all, it was in fact too scary, to really want to get involved. I soon learnt there was no hope of rescue by an outsider.
With my ear pressed up to the gap between the bedroom door and the wall, I heard a police officer guide Aaron from the front of the house away from the commotion and down towards the end of the hall way, just outside the door to my room.
“Ok, have you had a couple of drinks mate?” inquired the friendly sounding female constable.
“Well maybe…” responded my brother breathlessly as he tried to elaborate on his distress.
“I can see nothing is going to be resolved here”, the policewoman interjected.
“How about I walk you outside and you head off then?” she offered.
Take me, oh take me too!, a voice inside me screamed silently as my body stood frozen behind the door while my energy pulled violently towards the hallway.
The police had no idea I was there bearing witness from behind the scenes to all that was going on that afternoon. When I had glimpsed their vehicles arrive from behind the heavy curtains that framed the front living room windows, my parents had ordered me to my room. I was happy to comply.
Maybe I won’t need to come out voluntarily. Maybe they’ll come looking for me? Surely they’d want to know if there were any other children in the house?
I stood immobilised as I listened to their footsteps walk back up the hall in the direction of the front door.
EMW9WJYNBAKN The moment I alighted the family station wagon that sunny morning of the 6th of October 1982, I had no choice but to succumb to the senses of hearing and touch in order to access clues to my environment. I allowed my feet to take my body in the direction I was being lead and became conscious of the stony gravel crunching under the soles of my sandals. Some even managed to slip through the gaps in the leather between my toes where dusty sand began to gather. A warm sea breeze played cheekily with my hair, which flipped about in a pony tail tied loosely at the back of my neck. Excited tones of children’s voices lapped at my ears and my heart rose in my chest with the anticipation of all that was to come.
My inner voice was particularly audible in this moment, perhaps due to the loss of one particular all-consuming sense that otherwise took centre stage. The presence of the blindfold, a thick woolen scarf that was successfully meeting its obligation of blackening out the scenery before me, suddenly gave permission to that inner voice to leap forth in my consciousness.
“Just be prepared, alright…that’s all I’m saying”.
I swallowed hard. I knew it. I knew this was too good to be true. There was always a catch….always a let down. Where there was enjoyment, the claws of disappointment lay waiting for it’s prey. Me. My stomach was in knots by now. The ride was over. Metaphorical kicks landed in my gut…pound, pound, pound.
“Why did you allow yourself to feel it?”, the inner critic scowled at me like I was a silly child.
Well…I was a child…a child excited at the prospect of a surprise birthday party organized by her parents.
“Gee, sorry for wanting some well-intentioned excitement to materialize in my life!”, I retorted despondently.
After all, I hadn’t been completely naive. Nagging thoughts had plagued me that something was not right with this scenario unfolding before me, ever since it was first suggested by my mother a couple of weeks earlier. I had simply shoved them to the back corner of my mind and dumped a few piles of hopefulness on top to keep their muffled screams stifled for a while. A kid’s allowed to have some fun surely!
Even whilst I meticulously addressed each hand written invitation to the eight or so children I had mustered up the courage to invite to my seventh birthday party, I had watched my hand become uncharacteristically shaky as it swapped between rainbow colored scented pens. Reality was never really far from the surface despite my longing to slip into a world of Brady Bunch like contentment. I could not help but ask myself the questions.
Why was she doing this, I pondered with bewilderment and awe. Why would my mother be acting with such sickly sweet generosity ? I gave up long ago on any attempts to decipher her motivation behind such uncharacteristic behaviour. This time she had suggested that she would arrange a birthday party at a surprise location and that I may invite eight of my friends. The laughter filled hub of activity that now surrounded me was materializing as the unidentifiable location, and I was terrified. It felt as if one more step forward on my behalf would be all that was needed to smash though the trip wire that I knew was an inevitable obstacle in my path.
It was time. I felt hands maneuvering behind my head as the tightly bound scarf was given reprieve from its task. I chimed in on the tail end of its’ own sigh of relief, however once my eyes focused on the scene before me, my breath escalated to a high-pitched gasp. I covered my mouth with my hands in shock as my eyes darted over to my mother in disbelief and then back again to make sense of what lay before me. All the other seven-year-old children who were gathered around squealed in delight and giggled in response to my reaction. I could not share their enthusiasm.
Before me stood the tallest, most ominous looking slippery slide I had ever seen. Standing at the base it towered above me, its’ rainbow coloured paint-work shining rapturously in the bright morning sun. But I knew, just like the colourful costume that clowns wear, this was simply a façade that served as an entrapment to an unsuspecting child as they raced up the stairs clutching their heshen sack. I however, saw straight through to the harsh metal base, the perfect conductor for the brutal Australian heat. It glared down at me, causing a chill to run down my legs that were now wobbling beneath me like jelly.
My eyes darted back to my mother and I stared at her intently in disbelief. Then I promptly burst into tears. They knew I was terrified of slides. She knew I was terrified of slides. All slides…any slides…anything to do with slides. Even the local park variety of slide installed within me the greatest terror. I’m not sure how the fear originated but I do recall even as young as four years of age, crying and attempting to resist the coaxing of my older brothers to join them on a water slide at a water park we were visiting during a family holiday. At the time, the thought of the combination of height, speed and rushing water was just too much to contemplate, and in hindsight, understandably so. However, my participation appeared to be a mandatory clause I had somehow overlooked when signing on for this family, and so my father forcibly sat me on his lap and down I went. Once was enough. Apparently this was all that was needed to ingrain the terror in me a little deeper.
And here I found myself once more, with the same urge to run and nowhere to go. Backing out was not an option, despite the copious tears that drenched my party dress. I looked up at my parents in disbelief. Why would they plan this knowing full well of my fear? How could this plan ever be envisaged as the perfect celebration to brighten my birthday and fill me with joy and delight? Oh, that’s right…ofcourse…This was the catch. Again I stared intently into my mother’s eyes and recognized the signs of satisfaction…almost glee, that she seemed to obtain from orchestrating another’s heart-ache. Forgive me if I am sounding melodramatic, but this terror was real and demonstrated previously on countless occasions that made it impossible for anyone who knew me closely, particularly my parents…to deny. And here I stood in a dusty suburban theme park, having been lead specifically to the Magic Mountain of Slides. To me, this was no “Fun Park”.
And then I also had to contend with being confronted by the shame and embarrassment I felt in this moment as my peers and their parents stared at me in confusion. This was a scenario that would haunt me in similar social situations throughout my childhood as I found myself caught in the predicament of rationalizing my responses as my parents stood perfectly composed, presenting their well-rehearsed middle-class niceties, seemingly bewildered by my behaviour. Unable to explain my distress through muffled sobs, I was left looking like a spoilt little brat who was not pleased with her birthday surprise. As my mother tightened the grip on my arm whilst still smiling through her red lipstick, she lowered her mouth to my ear and in inaudible tones to the rest of the gathering, she ordered me to join the other children on the climb to the top of the stairs.
I have never quite understood what was at the core of my mother’s hateful behaviour. As a child my worldview was solely and heavily influenced by the “God versus the Devil” formula for conceptualizing my circumstances. I therefore came to the conclusion at quite a young age that my mother was simply corrupted by some sort of evil force. I recall hearing from my older sister that our grandmother, our mother’s mother, had told her that even as a young child, my mother’s manipulative personality wreaked havoc in the family. My grandmother had said that her sister called her one day to advise her that my mother was no longer welcome at her house, so could she please not bring her when she came to visit. Apparently, my mother’s aunty claimed that she was tired of my mother pitting one cousin against the other which always resulted in dramas and tears. It made perfect sense when I heard this tale and almost brought a sense of relief that her problems were evident long before motherhood took place. Maybe to the child me, it confirmed what I really felt deep down, that I was not to blame and that I was not just simply being overly sensitive to a mother with an exceptionally domineering personality.
What a terrifying thought to a young child, for whom the threat of the fires of hell loomed consistently in the face of ‘bad behaviour’? The thought of one’s own mother being possessed by an evil, un-godly force made me more and more repulsed by her demeanor and presence. It was the callousness of her behaviour that stung most painfully, particularly when I saw it aimed at her own children. On reflection, despite not having any first hand experience of it in my immediate world, I clearly held a definite view of the devotion and loyalty that should naturally be evoked by a mother’s love for her children. When I recall scenarios from my childhood that stir the greatest emotion within me, they are often related to a sense of betrayal by both my parents due to their lack of empathy and compassion for their own flesh and blood. Yet, even amidst the turmoil that typically engulfed me as my older brothers either chose to harass or deny me, I recognized their struggle to manage their own emotional neglect and suffering. And I still ached for their loss.
As each brother matured and began to date, on the odd occasion they brought their girlfriend to the house I would silently jump for joy inside at the thought that perhaps they had found their escape. This sensation was particularly striking when the second eldest of my four brothers suddenly announced his engagement to a girl he had been dating for what seemed like a relatively short while. The wedding was planned for only a couple of months time. Seated on the brown fabric couch in the living room, I watched them holding hands as they informed our parents. She was slightly older than my brother who was in his mid twenties. He was the class clown, a jovial ruffian, and she appeared almost quite motherly and professional. They asked me to be a bridesmaid. I was ecstatic! Secretly, this brother was my ‘favourite’ of the four, so to be designated a special role in the wedding party was particularly meaningful. Visions of a fabulous dress, a pretty floral tiara in my hair and taking my place as my brother’s sister on the altar quickly took a hold and I was instantly swept away with the excitement of it all. That lasted all of about five seconds.
Suddenly I found myself whisked away into the kitchen and with a sense of déjà-vu, found myself cornered under the picture of the Pope that hung against the green paisley wallpaper.
“You don’t want to participate in this wedding do you?” my mother sniggered at me. It appeared to be more of a statement than a question.
“She’s pregnant. They have committed the greatest sin against God. This union will not be blessed. What were they thinking sharing the one small tent?”
Oh, that’s right. There was that one small additional piece of the puzzle the pair had just added to the picture. Apparently they had gone camping for a weekend together a couple of weeks previously. My new future sister-in-law came back pregnant. ‘How exciting!’ I had thought, ‘I’m going to be an aunty’.
“You are to go out there and tell your brother you do not want to be a bridesmaid because they have committed this sin”, my mother instructed me. There was no room to protest between her nose that loomed down at me and the finger that wagged between my eyes.
By now my brother and his fiancé were in the front garden. With a heavy heart I found my way up the hallway and met him on the front porch. I delivered the message between desperate gasps for air, as streams of water ran down my cheeks and formed pools around my feet. What other choice did I have? This was the reality of how things worked in my family.
The drama continued to unfold the following night when my older sister came to visit and I happened upon a discussion that was occurring between her and our mother in the laundry. “It’s probably not even your brother’s baby”, I heard my mother say, “She has only recently broken up with her previous boyfriend. I am certain it’s his”. The disdain in her voice repulsed me. I kept walking past, lowering my eyes and head to avoid getting caught in the crossfire. I heard incredulous tones of disapprovement come from my sister in response to these hateful accusations as I closed the door to the hallway behind me.
After the dust had settled, the wedding proceeded despite my mother’s protestations. Yet the smoke from the fire of my mother’s spitefulness would soon be whipped up again by her lust for drama, and the damage that was inflicted upon all involved remains to this day. Yet a strange period of calm did emerge for a while following the wedding. During this time my new sister-in-law appeared to befriend my sister and with her insights as a psychiatric nurse, lent support to the theory that my mother was a force that needed to be managed before more of her children were impaled by her malevolence. As I had predicted, this alliance would not succeed in avoiding my mother’s radar. I soon discovered that she had concocted a clever tale to douse upon the smoldering embers that she clearly feared if ignited, could potentially overthrow her. With all the sincerity of a devout god-fearing woman, my mother informed my sister-in-law that my sister had been spreading a rumour that my brother was not the father of their child.
That’s where the relationship between the two women, and that of my sister and brother ended. The smirk on my mother’s face was enough to induce a desire within me to vomit all over her “holier than thou” Sunday church shoes.
Forgive me Oh Mother
For I am your child
I am heartily sorry for having offended you
By daring to ask
To be held in your arms
And in your heart
Bless me oh Goddess,
See me bow my head
As I revoke any longing for your approval
I detest all my childish neediness
For I dread the locked gates of heaven
and the pains of hell
Hear my confession, Oh mother
I have been impure of mind and body
For I have looked in my heart
And am no longer afraid
Release me Oh Mother
Watch my spirit soar !
Towards all who are good and deserving
of all my compassion
and all of my love
I firmly resolve
with the help of my inner grace
to honour my choices
to turn fear into love
and to cherish myself for who I am