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Erin Grace

Monday, January 30, 2012


So much of me wants to race through writing my life get it over with. I'm so scattered with my thoughts. Supposedly I have ADHD. Whatever. Shame. I'm letting the shame get to me. It's so easy to do. It's the worst thing about going through all of this. You cannot seem to escape the feeling that it was your fault. You're crazy. You're a bad daughter. You should NOT be talking so openly about this now. I imagine people saying, "How could you talk about your parents that way?" I have to remember that they were two people who could have handled things differently, considering how many times they did eventually reach out for help and people did try to help. Especially my mother. My father carried a great deal of shame around. It wasn't hard to see in him. Head down, very quiet. He'd try to stay out of everyone's way. My mother was very demanding on him, despite her knowing he had schizophrenia and knowing his life story. When you're aware of what someone you love has been through in their life, their losses, fears, etc., not to mention their mental state, you're supposed to be sensitive to that: appreciate it and act accordingly. She did not.

For as bad as things were with my father, he showed me what I thought to be affection and love. Maybe none of it, with him, was good but she didn't show me any, except for her manic nights in the living room, dancing with me in the dark, to The Doors. I always felt more like her mother. She is a very selfish person. I know that sounds terrible to say but it is what it is. Even when my father was dying, she refused to give him his medication on schedule. She told me and the doctors, "I can't get up at that time and give him that medication. No, I simply can't." If you try to confront her with any of her behaviors, she has always said, "What??! I did that? I would never say/do that!" I finally resorted to saying, "Geez mom, do you have multiple personality or what?" She actually has said, "Maybe I do." She does not. I know her intelligence and her memory well enough to know that she remembers what she wants to remember. She has even gone so far as to tell me how she deals with people she doesn't want to talk to. I've cornered her on her behavior so much now, that she just gets frustrated and hangs up on me. Eventually she'll talk to me and act like nothing happened, just like she did after dragging me up the stairs as a kid, biting me and gouging my arms...she'd disappear into her room for an hour or so and then re-appear and act as if absolutely nothing happened. Nothing that happened prior to that was ever talked about. Talk about confusing for a kid. That, to me, was normal. Pick and choose what to acknowledge. SHE was in control...if she didn't remember it, it didn't happen.

My parents pretty much isolated themselves and didn't encourage me to get out and socialize. All I learned from them was how to be quiet and very polite. I was sick so much, with all sorts of infections and strep throat, that I began to welcome it. It was too much trouble to try and be around people, when you are so unsure of yourself. Some people say they remember me never making eye contact in high school. I'd stare at the floor. I starved myself and then hid behind black baggy clothes. I'd do things to get attention and then want to hide myself at the same time. I joke that I wasn't bi-polar but my life was. Even now, as much as I love being around people and I have a much easier time socializing, I still have to work at getting out around people. Old habits die hard. People have said, "Aren't you afraid people will think you're mentally ill too?". I was. Especially in my 20's. Schzophrenia seems to first show itself in young adults and I was so scared through my 20's. When I was in trouble a lot in high school (drugs, drinking, truancy, suspension, detention), I even overheard my mother talking to my guidance counselor about me and she broke down crying, saying that she thought I was going to end up sick, like my brother and father.

Role Reversal

Again, I am not trying to be hurtful to anyone's memory by writing about my life. It's difficult when people talk about growing up because when I say my childhood wasn't normal, people say, "Well, no ones family is 'normal'." I just end up not saying much of anything. What could I say? I'm tired of  keeping quiet. I've had therapists encourage me to write about how I grew up but I have been so afraid of being disrespectful, plus, my memories before age 10 are very spotty. I've noticed, compared to other people, I don't remember much at all. Pretty much all I remember, is what I talk about here. As much as I want to write about this, I'm having a lot of trouble focusing, I try not to jump around too much in my writing, if I do, I apologize. 

I don't get jealous of much of anything but when it comes to hearing about people from much less troubled families, I can't help but wish I knew what that was like. There was really no semblance of normalcy in my family, at least by the time I came along. It wasn't difficult to see my family's issues...there wasn't much hiding that something was wrong. I've heard stories that things were a little better before I was born, that the up's and down's were more spread out.

I'm actually quite a happy person, I don't like to dwell on the past but I don't think we should ignorantly forge ahead without trying to break harmful family patterns. There is always something we can improve upon. I hope my children will learn from my mistakes and dare to do something differently than I have done. I've told them if there is something that you didn't agree with, change it, do it differently. Don't be afraid. If parents love you, they'll respect your choices. I do my best but especially in a family like mine, it's a tall order to not repeat the past.

There are terms in psychology called "parentification" and "spousification", forms of role-reversal between children and their parents. Parentification involves an exploitative relationship in which the parents' expectations exceed the child's capacities, the parent ignores the child's developmental needs, or the parent expects nurturance but does not give it reciprocally: the relationship is not a truly supportive one because the parents' emotional needs are being met at the expense of the child's. When my mother wasn't in bed, she leaned on me emotionally. If I was away from her for long, she would cry and beg me never to leave her again. I could see the desperation. My mother was scared to be abandoned. I felt torn between her and my father.

Spousification is another exploitative form of compensatory closeness or child-as-mate, between an unhappily married parent and a child of the other sex. Blurring of the boundary between the marital and child subsystem can lead children to become inappropriately involved in their parents' marital problems. Although spousification is often considered to be a form of role-reversal, it is distinguished by the fact that the parent is seeking a special kind of intimacy, or it can be hostility towards the child, meant for the other parent. My relationship with my father was both of One minute my father could be so kind and generous and the next, so furious and terrifying. I learned to change gears quickly. Nothing really shocks me. I tend to tolerate too much, even now, because it's all I ever knew. I'm not scared of what I should be scared of and I'm scared of things I probably shouldn't be scared of. I notice that has made it easy for me to let the wrong kind of people into my life, if I'm not really careful: people with no boundaries. Especially men. Other adults would joke that I was like the little wife to my dad. I'd cook and clean and I was never physically far from him. He eventually insisted on sleeping in my room. I remember I hated when he whispered in my ear. It gave me the creeps. The only time I'm not bothered by people whispering in my ear, is when it's my children.

My father hated that I was close to my sister, or rather that my sister tried to be close to me: she knew how bad it was for me because she lived it too. When she turned 18, she told my father that she wanted to adopt me. His answer was an angry, "No! She's mine!" I was his possession. I didn't see much of her after I started living with my father. She tried to keep in touch with me but he wouldn't allow her to visit. I really missed her, I wanted to be with her. As much as I could, I would skip my bus ride home from school and walk into town to her apartment. She was always at work but I'd sit outside on her porch, waiting, watching the neighbors and the wildlife...when my sister came home, usually 2 or 3 hours later, she'd warn me that dad would be looking for me but she kept me there as long as she could. She's a fabulous pianist, artist and cook. She would play classical music for me on her baby grand piano and read the bible to me. I'd help her with chores, do my homework, play with her pets and eat dinner. Then my father would come and pick me up, angry at her because I wanted to be there.

 My sister's place was such a nice escape from my fathers dungeon of a house and his daily rants that I could still probably recall, word for word, if I tried. It was like listening to the same recording...over and over and over and over. It was scary and sad and like clockwork. "Your mother is against me, your sister is against me. They're out to get me. I think the mob is after me. You need to be careful who you talk to. I think I was followed yesterday." On and on. If I tried to change the subject, I heard, "Yeah, you don't want to hear it, you're going to grow up and leave me or turn on me just like them." When he was especially stressed, it all went into overdrive.

When I lived at my father's house, I remember being sick, a lot. I missed school constantly because of strep throat, kidney infections, urinary tract/bladder infections, even surgery. I've had therapists point out that it's unusual for a child that age to have had so many infections and to be acting out sexually, as I described doing a lot, at a young age. They said it is a sign of sexual abuse. Like my fathers' tenant, who took me in his van, the other few memories I have of being left with people (always men), are fairly clear at the beginning and then they just stop. Before I started to have the memories of the guy in the van, I had a huge panic attack when I was "parking" with a boyfriend, in his van. I remember the look on the poor guys face. I scared the shit out of him. It's very frustrating because I can remember feeling very scared of those people and not wanting to go with them but I was so afraid to say "no". As a child, you figure, if mom or dad wants you to go, it must be okay. I was raised in a family of manners and politeness, I wouldn't want to offend anyone, now would I? 

Still, no clear memories of any sexual abuse....until I went to live with another relative. Those years I have no trouble recalling.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Deep Breath....Here I Go.

I'm the youngest of five. There's twelve years between me and the next child. The oldest is nineteen years older than me: he's sixty years old now. I was and still am, closest to my sister. She was fifteen when I was born and she was really the one who raised me. If not for her, I'm positive my life would have taken a very different road.

There was a lot of physical abuse and mental illness in my family. My sister tells me of all of the violence that occurred before I was born but she said at least the kids had each other for a while. She said I was just left to my own devices, to do whatever I wanted because they were all leaving home by the time I was born. I remember being so lonely in the country. Neglected. I used to beg my mother to take in a foster child.

 My father and my oldest brother had schizophrenia. My parents were also hoarders. My mother says I was a "pleasant surprise" but I now know I was an excuse for her to remain with my father because in those days, there was little to no help for families like ours. She had me at 44 years old, in 1970. 

My earliest memories were of waking up from a nap at two or three years old to find my father straddling my mother and strangling the life out of her. I remember hearing her gasping and my fathers angry voice (he could change from the kindest man ever, to an absolute terror, in an instant: his voice and whole demeanor would change). I pushed open the door and there they were on the bed. I just stood there frozen, not understanding. My mother looked over and desperately waved her hand, as if to say, "Get out." I backed out and closed the door and just walked away. I learned to ignore things that went on right in front of me. In time I got so I could tune anything out.

My mother says she and our father never should have had children. All I remember of her from my childhood is her sleeping the days away, while I was tied in my crib. Yes, when I became too mobile, I was tied. When I cried too much at night, the crib went in the basement. My sister would come home from school and find me unfed and unchanged. When I was older, she would be cleaning the house and find old food that I had hidden behind furniture, I suppose as a way to ensure I wouldn't starve. My mother would try to get me to obey her and we would physically fight. I had no respect for her. I had no idea this wasn't normal and I would go to school with bruises, gouges and bite marks on my arms. It wasn't until one day when a classmate asked about the marks, that I realized I probably should cover them up. The only good memories I have of my mother was when I awoke to The Doors playing in the early morning hours and I'd go down to the living room and see my mother dancing in the dark. She'd see me and sweep me up in her arms and swing me around, dancing for a long, long time. She called me her little "dolly" then.

The most confusing thing was when I mouthed off to my mother, in front of my father, he would get the wooden spoon, a belt, or most commonly, bend me over the utility sink, with a bar of Ivory soap jammed in my mouth. It wasn't your typical "mouth washing"....he made me eat used bars of soap. Swallow chunks of them. Like making a dog swallow a pill, he'd rub my throat until it went down. I can remember the stinging in my nose, I remember the stinging in my throat. To this day, I hate to even look at or smell Ivory soap. He could abuse my mother but how dare I disrespect either one of them. Daily I heard, "You're going to grow up to be JUST like your mother." That was no compliment. My father also had a habit of strangling and threatening to kill other people who pissed him off. I witnessed him strangling my schizophrenic brother in the middle of the night, as they argued on the stairs to my bedroom. Again, I was only two or three at the time. Eventually, my turn would come, years later.

Almost right after I was born, my parents separated but never did get divorced. I jumped between two houses but with mom in bed ALL day, every day, with shades drawn, dad seemed to be the more "attentive" choice. When he wasn't in an agitated, paranoid state, he was so loving and generous. Picking what I thought was the lesser of two evils, I went to live with my father permanently, at about 8 years old. He tried to let me be a kid. There wasn't a carnival or fair he wouldn't take me to and I had such adventures by myself on his farm. In the middle of winter, when a calf was born, we had to bring the poor thing into our kitchen or he'd freeze to death. With his little legs flailing this way and that on the linoleum, we would make it his home until the weather warmed up. We'd feed the calf out of these huge bottles of formula and I'd cuddle with them and let them suck my fingers for comfort. I adored animals. They needed me. Those are the memories that do make me smile.

 I was very troubled though too...I remember taking my aggression out on other animals around our property, like cats and snakes and being absolutely fascinated with fire. I set fires daily, somehow never managing to burn anything down. I was also a terrible bed wetter and thumbsucker. When later in life I researched severely abused children and serial killers, it struck me how many similarities I had with them. No worries, I have no killer instinct but it scares me how much we had in common. Research shows it only takes the influence of one stable, loving adult to help a child in crisis and that person has always been my sister.

There were people my father would freely leave me with. He couldn't seem to discern how to make safe choices as to who I should or should not be left with...I remember one time a tenant in one of his rental properties asking to take me with him into the city to pick up his daughter. The man always gave me the creeps and was an alcoholic but I was too scared to say no. The only memory of that day that I have, is the man looking down on me in the back of his van and me being curled up in a ball on the floor. We did not go to pick up his daughter. I have had a fear all of my life of vans and have convinced myself that sexual perverts drive vans.

One time I remember my father rototilling the garden and running over a family of rabbits. It was a bloody, awful mess. My job was to take the babies in a bucket, up to the house and fill it up with water and drown them. Drowning baby rabbits at any age is horrific but at 8 or 9 years old, it made me feel as if I would certainly go to hell. I killed them. ME. Many of my pets were killed on the main road in front of my fathers house. The worst of those was my favorite dog, a black lab. She was hit and killed but instead of burying her, as he did the rest, my father left her right in front of the barn so that every day when I rode my bicycle up and down the driveway, I would see and smell her rotting carcass covered with maggots and flies. My sweet dog, who slept with me every night, who went everywhere with me, climbed trees with me, was rotting in front of my young eyes, every day for months, in the summer. 

Was my mother ever treated for her behavior? No. My father ever treated for his behavior? He was once, before my sister was born. He attacked my grandfather and was institutionalized and diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. He never took meds after he was released, so my childhood up until his death a few years ago, was filled with stories of the mob coming to get us all and people constantly following him and the rest of us. Everyone was out to get him and us. I never knew what to believe and I was always looking for some way out, someone to rescue me, although this "tough" kid would never admit she really needed rescuing.