Whiskey Fights

Most evenings I would return home from work at 10:30 exhausted by my day.  Juggling school, homework, and a part-time job was taxing, particularly as I worked from six to ten, four evenings a week, as well as eight hours on Saturdays.  Typically, I would stop to visit with my parents before heading off to bed.  It was always at these times that my father would engage me.

It started with an empty drink glass he would balance on his knee. This was to be my cue.  I would ignore him.

“Ahem!”  He would nod at the empty glass.

Continuing to ignore him, I would talk to my mother about the day.

Clink, clink, clink.  My father would tap the glass to get my attention.

“Your legs worked fine the last time I saw them.”

He’d raise his eyebrows in displeasure.  “I worked hard all day.  It’s the least you could do.”

“I worked hard all day, too.”  I’d object. “Get your own drink.”

My mother, the peacemaker, would take a step towards him.

“Don’t you dare, Mom!  You worked equally as hard all day.  He can get his own.”

“Is this the thanks I get?  All I want is a simple drink, and my own daughter won’t even get up and get it for me.”

It was the point of the thing.   My father was the epitome of male chauvinist pig.  It was his home, his castle, and everyone and everything was expected to pander to him.   It made me mad.

My mother stood by, hesitant.

‘It won’t hurt him to serve himself once in awhile.”  Now I was arguing with her.

“Your not going to win,”  she’d sigh.  My father leered with satisfaction.

“Not if you give in.”  It was a hopeless plea.  My mother always gave in.  Didn’t she realize I was on her side?  I was doing this for all of us?

This wasn’t about the drink.  It was about all the times he made her have dinner on the table the moment he walked through the door, then pushed his plate away after two bites, exclaiming disgust at her cooking; humiliating her in front of all of us.  And how he always had to have the first helping of pie, and it had to be flawlessly served; no broken pieces for him.   It was about how he insisted on napping in a chair beside the dinner table, forbidding us to talk even though we were busting to discuss our day.  And how every time we were watching the movie of the week, he would come in just at the climax and insist on changing the channel, even though he had a TV set in his room, which only he was allowed to watch.  He was the King of the Castle, he’d remind us.  As if we needed reminding.

For once, I wanted to win.  To prove him wrong.  To see him back down.  It wasn’t going to happen.

I got up and grabbed the glass.  There was no winning against my father.  He knew it.  She knew it.  I seethed inside.

(Image: www.photigy.com)

Gift of Communication

It was a Friday afternoon and I was picking up my three children from school.  Within five minutes of climbing on board, the oldest had her younger brother in tears.  I felt my ire rising.

By the time we got home, she was lacing into me.  My first instinct was to let her know who was boss, but I was the adult, so I walked out of the room, and took a deep breath, willing myself to gain some perspective.

Calmly, I rejoined my daughter, gently placing my hand on her shoulder.  “What’s wrong?” I asked.  “Your brother and I weren’t around you long enough to get you this upset.  What’s bothering you?”

My eleven year-old daughter’s anger melted into tears.  “The kids at school are pressuring me to smoke,”  she sobbed.  “I told them I don’t want to, but they keep bugging me.”

I sighed with relief.  Thank goodness I had not met her aggression with more aggression, shutting down any communication between us.  This child needed someone to confide in, and I was so grateful I could be there for her.

That was the day my daughter taught me never to take another person’s moods personally, because when you do, you miss the possibility of greater intimacy.

(Image: www.nhs.uk)

Abuse and Money

I arrived home from school one day to find my mother sitting in a corner trembling, her face face blotched red and swollen from crying.  “Mom?”

The eyes that stared back at me were distant.  This was not my mother.  I took stock of the situation.  It was 3:15.  My little sister would be home from school in half an hour.   Dad would be home at 4:30 and expect dinner on the table.  Nothing had been started yet.  I dropped my books and got down to business.

“Mom.  You need to talk to me.  D is going to be home soon, and we have to get dinner on.  What’s going on?”

She nodded slightly.  “I can’t do it anymore.  Your father……..”  Her voice trailed off, but she didn’t need to say anything.  I knew how brutal my father could be.  I heard daily how stupid she was, and how she never cooked anything properly, even though that was her only job.  I wanted her to leave him, too.

“I’ll do whatever I can, Mom.  In two years, I can quit school, and get a job.  I’ll support us.”

Was that a faint smile?

“We’ll make it work, Mom.  We’ve got each other.”

Reaching for the pots and pans, I added, “Now what can we get started for dinner?”  There would be hell to pay if dinner wasn’t on the table the moment my dad walked in.

* * *

At twelve  years of age, I learned that money was what kept my mother in an abusive relationship.  It never occurred to me that she had the option of getting a job; she was a stay at home mom.  Five years later, we would go through a similar scenario, only then I was already living on my own, and had enough sense to get her to a lawyer.  In the end, my father convinced her to stay.

Years later, I would find myself a stay at home mom, with a husband who controlled the purse strings.  Like my mother, I felt powerless, and inferior.  Unlike my mother, I left anyway.  I braved poverty in order to find my worth.  Nevertheless,  I struggled, seldom able to give my children the material things they craved.  I felt guilty, worthless, inadequate.  After six years, I had a serious talk with God.

“God,” I said, “I want to make a difference in the world, but I can’t do it if I don’t even know where the next meal is coming from.”

I tried affirmations:  All my needs are always met; there is enough for everyone.

Eventually, things turned around. Yet, my relationship with money has not yet healed.  I want to be able to say the money’s the money, the way my new husband does.  I want to be able to see money as a means to an end, and not the end of my means.

My attitude towards money still needs work, but I am ready for change.

(Image:  empoweringparents.com)

 

What Is Right If Everything Is Wrong?

My father ‘borrowed’ his brother’s identification and enlisted in the war effort at the age of fifteen.  He told me once that it was an opportunity to escape home.  He trained as a commando.  His mission was to go into enemy territory, scout out where they kept their ammunition, and get out without being caught.  His instructions were to swallow a black pill (cyanide) if captured,  and kill any soldier he should encounter, in order to keep his unit’s operation covert.  He did not carry a gun; gun’s were too noisy.  He was trained to kill with either a knife, that he kept strapped to his leg, or his bare hands.

He knew exactly how to render an enemy immobile, and apply pressure to end their life.  I know, because he practiced on me.

He never let me forget that he was boss, and he could snuff me out in a moment.

He would do it in a state of drunkenness, in front of his male friends.  He’d twist my body in such a way that if I moved, I would surely break an arm, or a leg.  He’d hold me there, humiliated, angry, and make me tell him I loved him.

“Yes, Dad.”  I would say, teeth clenched, breathing like a trapped animal.

“What?”  He’d pull tighter.  “I don’t think that was very convincing.”

“I love you.”  I don’t know who I hated more, him or me.  I felt so cowardly.  Inwardly, I plotted revenge.  He might conquer me in the moment, but not the long term.

How long he held me there, depended on how much pleasure he was deriving from the moment.  He said he did it because he loved me.

“Your father loves you,”  my mother would echo.  “He’d never really hurt you.”  I was not reassured.  She said the same thing when he attacked her verbally, and psychologically.

She said the same thing when her brother tried to slip me his tongue.  “Your uncle fancy’s himself a ladies’ man.  He’s harmless.”  Even when his own daughters accused him of sexual abuse and refuse to see him, she defended him.   “Boys will be boys,”  she’d say.  “The woman has to control the situation.”

I was twenty-eight before I told her the reason that I disappeared when I was fourteen was because I had been abducted and raped.  It took me fourteen years to build up the courage to tell my mother that when men behave inappropriately it is wrong.  That they alone are responsible for their crimes, and that women are not to blame.

“I’m sixty years old,” my mother told.  “And I’ve never told anyone.”

“What, Mom?”

“I always thought it was the girl’s fault.  I don’t why I thought that, but I just did.  I knew my mother would say so, so I never told.”  She was only six, and riding in the backseat of her family’s new car, when her uncle took her little hand and made her fondle his penis.  Her parents were in the front, but she didn’t say a word.  She thought she did something wrong.

The abuse did not stop there.  “My mother would make me visit my grandparents, even though I hated it.  Grandma would be working in the kitchen, and she’d tell me to go and keep Grandpa company.”  ‘Keeping Grandpa company’ meant climbing into bed with the old man.  Mom didn’t explain any further.

The same brother that tried to french kiss me, was also a problem growing up, she confessed.  She’d just shoo him away.

Her younger sister wasn’t so lucky.  Their grandfather dragged her out behind the barn one day and raped her, while the rest of the children stood by helpless.  Only the youngest son grabbed the shotgun and threatened to kill the old man.  It was an empty effort.  Years later, the family would shun that aunt for her inappropriate sexual behaviors.

A child may be born with an innate sense of right and wrong, but it is not long before she learns to question her own instincts.  How do you unravel the corruptly tangled web of abuse and denial?  How does a child who has not been protected from wrong, learn to trust in right?

For me, it has been a slow dawning realization that words have no meaning.  A man can say and promise whatever he wants, but it is action that speaks the truth.  Holding your child in a death grip to prove your prowess, is not an act of love.

Creativity and Self Definition

I dream that I am walking across an open field.  The landscape is barren, and dry, and a wind storm is whipping up, with low menacing clouds.  I am headed to the farm, where I raised my children, and where my ex-husband still lives.  I am living in the city, in the basement of  a raised ranch with hand-me-down furniture.  While the apartment is bright, because of the high windows, it is still a basement.  I am walking against the weather, despite the weather, because I want to finally settle something with my ex; call a truce.  He is processing wood – putting it through a machine and creating little piles of wood chips and lots of sawdust in his large open shop.  He keeps working and ignores my presence.  My mother arrives in a car and has a present for him.  My older sisters show up also.  They are in the main house primping, and trying to show me how to make myself more attractive.  I just want to clear the air, but there are too many distractions.

I always say that creativity is the process by which we define and then express ourself.   In the dream, I am influenced by the women in my family, the inclement weather, and an ex-spouse who is preoccupied.  I chuckle at the dream’s image of my older sisters preening, as growing up it was impossible to find a mirror that was not taken over by one of my sisters.  It was part of the reason I chose to be a tomboy; it was easier than trying to get bathroom time for grooming.

In my family, women were expected to be pretty, under educated, and submissive to men.  My older sisters were both beautiful, and took secretarial skills at school, leaving after grade 11, so they could get a job and find a man.  I did not fit this mold.  Taking after my father in looks,  I had a receding chin, and wore glasses.  I was also ‘gifted’ and aspired towards a university degree.  I was outspoken and pro women’s lib.  My mother told me daily that no one would ever love me; she worried about my future.  I felt my mother’s legacy fulfilling itself, when my second, and former husband told me he had never loved me after seventeen years together.  I left that marriage believing that I was unlovable.

I thought I had worked through all that.  I am in a relationship now with a husband who constantly demonstrates his love for me.  So why, in my dreams am I going over old territory?  And what does this have to do with creativity?

Maybe the dream is reminding me that if we define ourselves within the context of our environment, then we are limited.  If we are to expand our sense of self, we must be able to see beyond the landscape of our past.  In terms of health, my mother has had numerous issues, including three rounds of cancer; my oldest sister suffered illness all her life; and my next older sister is debilitated by schizophrenia.  None of them escaped the limitations of victimhood to experience either successful careers or relationships.

I believe that the purpose of dreams is always to bring positive movement in our lives.  This one left me feeling hopeless, unwanted, unseen or heard – much like my childhood.  I need to envision a new reality for myself.  I need to create new possibilities instead of searching and re-searching the experiences that will never serve to define me as anything less than inadequate.

(Image:  wallpapers-kid.com)

An Unexpected Lesson

On April 15, 1978, I married for the first time.  It was also the day my eldest sister was diagnosed with leukemia and given one month to live – a year, if she had any fight in her.  I was nineteen.

As a young woman, I viewed life’s issues as black and white, and was often intolerant and impatient of others.  Now, thrown into a world of uncertainty, I was ill-equipped to cope.  Jo was a single mother of one, and asked for my help and support.  I vowed to be there for her, but had no idea what that would entail.

Even though we were siblings, my sister and I could not be further apart.  Eleven years my senior, Jo was born with a hole in her heart, a condition that saw her constantly in and out of hospital as a child.  At thirteen, on the brink of death, a new procedure, open-heart surgery, saved her life.  Much of our family’s energy and attention centered around Jo’s well-being, which was always a difficult task.  Coddled as a child, and setback by illness, Jo was temperamental, self-centered, and high-spirited.  If there was a fight to be had, she would instigate it.  She was reckless, impulsive, and emotionally immature.  At nineteen, she was unwed and pregnant.  She insisted on marrying the child’s father, but it didn’t last.  A string of bad relationships followed, along with several moves, in and out of our family home.  It seemed, Jo had a knack for creating chaos.

In contrast, although fifth born, I played the role of the responsible, sensible child, often trying to mediate calm in our tumultuous lives.   It was the natural order of things for Jo to turn to me for help.   I signed on as legal guardian of my niece, and accompanied my sister to medical appointments.  She underwent intense chemotherapy, and many times we thought we were losing her, but Jo would rally round again.

I learned from my sister, that life is often grey –  that uncertainty, and change are givens – and this rattled my sense of self-righteousness.  I felt inadequate and overwhelmed.  Pursuing education in the medical field was never an option for me, as a I was a fainter.  Instead, I sought understanding of the psychological and spiritual aspects of illness.  It would lead me to years of study and a career.

I don’t know how much I actually ever helped my sister.  She was never open to any of the ideas or approaches that I studied, and she never became any easier to get along with.  Her survival, fourteen years beyond the initial diagnosis, can only be attributed to an incredible fighting spirit and will to live.  She never changed.  I, however, was forever altered because of her.

I was with my sister the night she died, holding her hand as promised.   She was one of my greatest teachers.

(Image from Pinterest)