Monday, March 21, 2005

Sinners we are

“Mom, do you remember the time you broke my ribs?” Katie asked in a hard, steely voice… Her mother whirled around to her face. “What are you talking about?” she demanded.

“When I was six… I was learning to do a jump – it was a toe loop – and I fell and I didn’t want to get up, and you said I had to. And then when I said my ankle hurt, you got so mad you pulled me up off the ice and you threw me against the barricade of the rink. And you broke my ribs.”

… “It wasn’t that way!” Her mother’s voice was getting louder now and shrill. “I had to be strict with you. You were so lazy.”

Originally from: Steven Levenkron “The Luckiest Girl in the World

The above vignette really touched a chord in me. It reminded me of the kind of relationship I had with my own. (I can’t even say the M word these days without feeling guilty and ashamed)

The familiar element that I recognised instantly was the viciousness of Katie’s mother. “got so mad you pulled me off the ice and you threw me against the barricade…”

She was like that when I disappointed her. Or failed her somehow. I could sense her rage, her hatred emanating from her. Literally. Sometimes words were merely words (you’re not worth loving), but there are some things, some emotions that a person cannot hide.

Even as an adult, I still wonder – did she have that right to react as she did?

I don’t deny that there were occasions when I did wrong, when I “inconvenienced” her unwittingly. Like the one time I was on the phone with a friend. I was probably 11 or 12. She was out running errands. I was still on the phone when she returned. She came barging into the house and started screaming at me. I hung up the phone and found out that she was at the post office trying to send a parcel to my brother (who lived away from home) and had forgotten to bring his address with her, so she had called home, hoping I could give it to her. And of course, we didn’t have any fancy call waiting and she kept getting engaged. She was so mad at me at having to drive all the way home. She said I could pack my bags and go live with my friend if I had so much to talk about even after school. Her screaming words may have washed over me. But the intensity of her emotion (hate) crushed me.

Since that incident, for the rest of the years I spent at home, I was afraid to call any of my friends.

There were so many other incidents. But I won’t rehash them. There isn’t any point in doing that. All I know is that back then all I felt was pain and shame and anger. I had this unchangeable notion that I was bad, that I was always wrong no matter what I did. I played the scapegoat, maybe I was even good at it. So who was in the wrong? Was I as much a sinner as she was? I don’t doubt it.

I wonder what she would remember of that incident today.


Anonymous said...

My father told me I was worthless so I became a recluse.He said I had no personality so I stopped speaking.He said I was fat,then I became anorexic.He said I wouldnt amount to anything and I never did.

The Mass Defective said...

~Her screaming words may have washed over me. But the intensity of her emotion (hate) crushed me.~

You phrased that so well. Those words instantly brought me back to my own abusive childhood. I can hear my mother screaming at me and feel her hatred smothering me.

I don't believe you were the sinner. As children in abusive environments we developed survival techniques which may not be the most ideal, but being kids, we did the best we could with the knowledge we had at the time.

I'm sure most abusers would say "it wasn't that way". Deny things ever happened or claim they were just using discipline. But even if they aren't willing to accept responsibility for their actions, we have to learn not to take that blame upon ourselves.

Franikins said...

"Sinners we are...bee-fore-ore You." Lyrics from a song we sing during Lent come to mind with the title of your post.

Young children do not know from sin and that would include you in your unfortunate situation.

As adults beyond the age of reason, we are ALL sinners having been born with original sin...if you are of the Christian persuasion.

I see you as the innocent in the equation and not at fault. I am sorry that your childhood was filled with such abuse. My heart goes out to you.

Oh yes, and thanks for sharing about yourself in a fellow blogger's comments. I just assumed you were a native New Zealander. I know what happens when I assume...

EJ said...

My mother has what I call an alternate reality. While we have a relationship now things were very different when I was child. I was a useless as a $3 bill, I should have used my head for something more then a hat rack, I was too emotional, I was to be ignored and beaten.

She remembers things VERY differently. For me, in my case I know that she loves me, that she is as damaged as I am and that in order for her to live with herself she has to remember it differently. I don't excuse her, though I forgive her as much as I can. I'd like to forget, everyday I want to forget but it won't go away.

We were innocent then, all of us, its too bad we had to grow up. I'm damaged goods and my only goal is to raise my daughter with love and patience so she won't be.

Anonymous said...

Two things strike me while reading this. One is how closely I can identify with your story of the feelings of guilt or worthlessness or ... imposition, as in people would be better off or less inconvenienced if I wasn't there. I was told this many times, verbally or otherwise. Reading this, something inside me hurts, the same feeling you get when you see a little kid get hit with a ball, and a cold sadness spreads inside you.

The second thing is the quote from the story, the mother using anger and intimidation and physical violence to break the girl's independent will. This hurts me even worse because I am guilty of using some of the same weapons on my own kids. It is almost impossible to forgive myself sometimes.

In the darkest, most uncontrolled days of depression, as recently as 6 or 7 months ago, and in the 5 or 6 years previous, there would be times when I was trying to scare one of the kids into behaving. A few times I caught myself, as if I was observing and condemning my actions from outside my body. I never physically hurt the kids, but I am sure I hurt them emotionally in some way.

Since that time, I have started to get better, and I am learning how to better manage my behavior instead of being controlled by anger and fear. I am also learning how I was punishing my kids in the same way I felt I was punished, and learned that it doesn't work. I hope every day that my effort will help them get past any harm I caused.

A third thing – thank you for being brave enough to share this with everyone. I understand, and I think others here understand the hurt that is dredged up by writing about things in the past. I suppose I try to punish myself by writing the most painful things I can in excruciating detail, but I feel like I need to get the dark scary things out of the mental attic.

Polar Bear said...

anonymous - You summed it all up perfectly. Thank you.

Sid - Yes, I think abusers somehow think of it differently when they look back on these things. Like Katie's mom herself said "It wasn't like that. You were so lazy".

Franikins - thanks for your support and vote of confidence.

EJ - I wish you all the best. Breaking the cycle of abuse can't be easy. I would never trust myself with a child. But I believe people like us can grow past all the abuse and become so much better people and parents. I just lack the confidence in myself.

Fern canyon man - You have a tough job too. Raising kids with the kind of background we have is very tricky. I'm glad you are learning to better manage your anger.

I take my hats off to all you parents who have never had a chance at having a decent childhood and are now obligated to raise your own kids.

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