Monday, August 7, 2017

A Responsible Little Girl: Trigger Warning

So. How to continue, and...why?
I think I'd like to talk about how abuse of any kind affects a family, a person.
It is certainly not just those moments of the actual abuse. Those are merely the manifestation of everything else.
I'm not quite sure how to explain.
But. Without certain dynamics already set in place, the abuse would probably not happen and if it did, it would be dealt with and ended. And after it has begun, the effects of it spread out like poisonous tendrils to to infect and affect everything else.

In my case, one of the factors which made me an easy target was the fact that I'd always been a chubby kid. I was bullied, made fun of, laughed at and taunted. I felt, to say the least, ugly and ungainly. Add to that, I was different from all of the other kids at school.
I loved to read.
I lived to read.
And I lived in a community in which poverty and abuse were rampant, I am sure. We were not rich, but my mother had a decent job and she and my grandmother would make me clothes so I didn't have to wear the same dress to school every day which some of the girls I went to school with did. Some kids had rotten black teeth. Some kids came to school with nothing to eat in their lunchboxes but biscuits. Day after day after day. Needless to say, books in the home were not a priority for many of the children I went to school with and even the children whose families could afford to buy books for their kids didn't seem to care about reading the way I did. And I'm sure I came off as a smarty-pants who loved reading circle instead of dreading it. Add to that, my mother was a teacher in the school. It was a small school, grades 1-5 and she taught third grade. She was my teacher in the third grade, in fact, and that was a whole other story of horror.
But. Here I was. A fat, smarty-pants, teacher's pet kid without a father and here came a big ol' handsome man who let me know that he thought I was fine. Like I said, he praised my cooking and baking. Sometimes to the point where it sort of pissed off my mother. My chocolate chip cookies were better than hers, according to him. This sounds innocuous but in some way it set up the beginnings of a disquiet between my mother and me.
Oh god. I could go on for days, talking about the ways in which my home life was dysfunctional, my school days miserable except for the obvious interest one specific teacher took in me. And, strangely, she was one of my mother's best friends and also, the wife of the pastor of our little church. I adored her. There were a few other women who showed me love and affection in those days and I clung to their words and actions like a drowning child.
Which, in a way, I was.
Anyway, because of C's obvious care for me, because he treated me as if I was an adult, in a way, I absolutely fell in love with him. As I have said, he courted not only my mother but me and some of that is natural if a man falls in love with a woman with children.
Where is the line, though? How much is good and healthy and when does that end and it becomes toxic?
You can only imagine how much I struggled with this when I was a young, single mother with children.
I'll probably talk about that more later because it was a huge issue.
Mother had also treated me in a very adult-like fashion. I was her confidant, even at the age of seven or eight. I was a sort of care-taker for her in many ways. I learned early and well that my job was to do as much as possible to make Mother's life easier. This could mean folding the towels on the towel rack or it could mean not going to her with problems of my own. And when C. came along, part of me was jealous, even as I was learning to love him, because my mother no longer leaned on me the way she had during her depressions, her unhappiness. One would have thought it would be a relief for me not to have to fill that role any more but actually, it was not. And as time went on and things in the family got more and more difficult and crazy, she began to rely on me again because honestly, I was saner than her husband was.
That's just the truth.
But briefly, there was a period of time where he made me feel cared for, loved. He made our family feel safe, complete.
The abuse began. Mother was pregnant. She lost the baby. Her depression ramped up once more.
And I had nowhere to go with all of this.
I was in the fifth grade and honestly, my teacher that year was not a good teacher. Somehow though, I had gotten a job in the lunchroom. I have no idea how this happened. I think it was actually some sort of reward for being a good student. And I was a good student. But I hated being in the class room that year and remember looking at the clock, waiting for it to be time to go down to the lunchroom and kitchen to help Aunt Flonnie, our cook and bus driver, with chores there. I also got to sweep the bus.
I suppose it's a bit telling that scraping plates and sweeping a bus and the lunchroom were activities that seemed like a reward and also, far more enjoyable than sitting in that classroom where I was bored and anxious and way too often stuck with my own thoughts which were not good thoughts.
And Aunt Flonnie was a nurturing woman. Not overly so, but I felt as if she noticed and respected my work. She was kind and funny and took her job seriously, with pride.
I have to keep reminding myself that I was only eleven years old then. When I think back to that time I feel as if I was as adult then as I am now. And truthfully, I was bearing things that only an adult should have to take on. Also, the adults around me treated me that way. Our school finally got what we called a library but which was really only a few shelves of books in the auditorium but I was given the task (joy) of checking the books out to other students. I was used by other teachers to run off work sheets and tests with the mimeograph machine. Remember those? I was given completed work sheets to grade.
Boy. Things were different then, weren't they?
And at home I was trying to protect and help my mother in every way and...I was being sexually abused.

Meanwhile, our family looked pretty darn swell from the outside. New daddy/husband, mama a teacher, two kids, two cars, a  boat, a house, plenty to eat, and so forth.
This was to become a theme. We looked so good on paper, while within the walls of our house, after the doors were shut, there was depression, abuse, fear, anger, and vast unhappiness. And I suspect that my mother knew that something was horribly awry with this new husband of hers. But after one "failed" marriage and divorce, there was no way she was going to rock that boat, no matter what she or anyone else was going through.

That's enough for today. I've taken a walk and it was a miserable walk, hot and humid and hard. But all is well. It just poured a sudden storm and the temperature has dropped and Miss Trixie is looking spryer and indicated she wanted out of the coop but when I opened the door for her, she changed her mind when she saw all those roosters. Poor old thing. She never sings her little song any more and I don't have any other hens who sing the way she used to. It was so sweet. I still remember the three notes of it. A crooning little song. A sweetness in my day whenever I heard it. 

I'm going to finish Maggie's dress. The Century Link guy is supposed to come (for the second time) to see why our internet is so slow. I may pick some peas and shell them with the ones I picked last week. I may lay on the bed and read although I'd probably fall asleep and I really don't need to do that. 

I am content and I am grateful for all that I have. 
I will add one thing. 
A house we used to live in when the children were young had many windows in the back and if you stood outside, it was almost like looking into a doll house which has only three walls. You could see what was going on in almost every room. 
I loved that. I loved that we had uncurtained windows and I could stand outside and see all of the life going on in that house and it was all good. Homework and dishes being done and TV watching and maybe dancing or projects or whatever. 
Just the every day business of a family's life, some of it hard sometimes, some of it funny, all of it prosaic and normal. 
And there was nothing to hide. 


  1. Thank god for that teacher that took you under her wing, and Aunt Flonnie, and the other adults who gave you the little bit of nurturing and good adult attention that you had as a child. I think about the difference a caring adult can make in the life of a child all the time. It's part of the reason I wanted to become a Guardian for foster kids.

    I was the child of two very dysfunctional and mentally ill alcoholics and there was a lot of emotional abuse in our house when I was growing up. If it had not been for my grandmother, and my love of reading (that part of the story of your childhood really resonates with me) I don't know what might have become of me. So many times in the last few years I wish I could go back in time and hug the sad little girl I used to be....and I wish I could hug little Mary, too, and tell her how good her life was going to turn out.

  2. Lovely writing, Mary, ever know. The luch room sounds wonderful I too would have loved that when I was that age! The classroom sounds familiar, In sixth grade I had a terrible teacher , I excused myself to go to the bathroom so often that she made me bring a doctor's excuse, which I could not produce. I SO want all of your life in one big well written book, Mary. You have the gift of sitting a person right down across from you while shelling peas and chatting so comfortably and lovingly. I can hear the chooks and feel the humidity- LOVE you LOVE your writing, LOVE how you gather in and confide.

  3. I still can not see after the surgery , forgive misspellings....

  4. Anxious day over here, but I'm here, I'm listening and loving you. And I so identified with the chubby kid thing. It did make us vulnerable. For me it was a man down the road, which I think was somewhat less damaging than the predator living inside your own house. Ah, Mary. Love.

  5. It's amazing that you grew up to become a loving, stable woman, wife, mother, and grandmother! I had the pleasure of a loving childhood, and my heart aches for what you endured. This chubby little book lover wasn't bullied, but when I was chosen to tutor a couple fourth graders (I was in fifth), a few kids made fun of me for choosing that instead of kickball at recess. The most amazing woman I ever met, Mrs. Wainwright, who wasn't even my teacher, commended me in front of everyone for putting others first. I'm happy you had Aunt Flonnie!!

  6. It hurts my heart to hear your story. Kids are victims. Without loving adults in their life, it is scary. I had teachers who were my everything. I want to hug your little girl you and tell you how precious you are. Your children are lucky to have your beautiful, deeply hurt soul that knows better and has fixed it for future generations. Thank you for that.

  7. Oh, Mary. This post is so open and honest. This series of posts is bringing up emotions in me that I don't like to look at. I'm crying for the little girl in you that was trying so hard. I'm crying for the little girl in me that went way beyond what any child should have to do to keep peace. Though the abuse we went through was vastly different we seem to have coped in similar ways. Even now. Both of us. Anxious. Depressed. It's the reason I connect with you. You get me.
    I love you, Mary. Thank you for opening up this part of you. I know how hard it is. But I do think "giving it a name" is the path towards healing. We will never be healed but we can get closer to it.

  8. I'm reading. It's hard to comment because of my stupid phone. But I wanted to say I'm following with a mix of awe and intrigue and most definitely with a strong dose of just loving the shit out of you.


  9. I can identify with some of what you've said -- being the "adult" child, the one who comforts the parent. Being the "smart" kid in surroundings where smartness made you a target. Seeing other kids every day who had a heck of a lot less. (I remember one girl who used to ride our school bus and wear virtually the same clothes every day. She smelled terrible and got teased and for all I know she didn't even have running water. Who knows what was going on.)

    Anyway, I admire the honesty with which you've written about this period of your life. As I've said before, it's valuable for you to tell this story. I'm sure it helps others with similar ghosts in their past.


Tell me, sweeties. Tell me what you think.