The word “House” is impersonal. It is nothing more than wood and stone. A “Home”, on the other hand denotes warmth and love. It is a place where you would feel safe and secure.
I don’t remember having a “Home” growing up. Just a house. It was a place with airspace we inhabited and that was pretty much it. I always wanted a “home”, somewhere safe to go to. A place to hide. A place of fond memories. We had few.
I do have memories, but not of any nuances of the house or perhaps they were and I just don’t have a complete grasp of what a nuance is. I have few memories of the structure but mostly those are of me helping Dad nail shingles on the roof and Mom waxing the vinyl floors and us kids sliding across them to buff them up. So, I guess there are a couple of good memories, but that was much later.
Before all that, I remember the hole where the septic tank was to be and where our little ducklings fell into and we had to rescue them. There was nothing there but a big hole, no tank yet. I also remember us kids on our bellies watching as daddy fished them out. There had been a two by four dipping down into the hole and apparently they (the ducklings) walked down it but couldn’t figure out how to walk back up it.
I remember the outhouse out back that served as our toilet until the house was completed. I only once remember mother cooking on a two burner kerosene stove in our one room shack that had once been a chicken coop. There were possibly only two beds as there wouldn’t have been room for more and we kids often shared one bed, two on each end facing away one from one another. Why not? We were little.
What I remember most of the kerosene stove was the stench of the fumes it gave off when she cooked. The one night I remember her cooking on that stove, it was raining hard outside and at that time we were still in the one room. We kids were laying on one of the two beds in the room, I was about six, which then made my siblings, 5, 3 & 1 or thereabout. There was nothing much to do on a night like this except watch mother cook, so there we were all in a row like the three wise monkeys plus one. I’m sure my job was to keep the smallest out of her way. There wasn’t much wiggle room and cooking can be risky business.
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What reminded me of it, is that it’s been raining outside this morning.
So, on a day like today we were making do when suddenly the stove burst into flames! The flames flew up so high that they touched the ceiling. We all screamed as mother used her dishcloth to try and put the fire out. Bad idea. It was getting away from her, so she yelled at me.
She yelled at me again before I realized that I had to go for help. I may have been frozen or was going around in circles panicking before making it out the door in the DARK, I don’t know, but I made it out. The last I’d seen was mom grabbing the baby. Outside, I struggled with leaving at all. I was so afraid. Afraid of the night, the rain and to leave the others alone but… they needed help. My help. I started running and running, tears fell as fast as the rain. I had to be the hero and in my head, I felt like one. Yet as my little legs carried me further away, the DARK got darker. It hardly ever rains in California, but it was raining now. There was so much rain I could hardly see and my hair was matted down over my eyes as I slipped and trudged through gooey mud. It was cold.
It couldn’t have been more pitch BLACK out there and I couldn’t see a thing. Was I afraid of the dark? Yes, what if something else gets me? This is wrong, what if they die and I’m out here all alone I’m thinking, but I don’t look back. My heart is pounding in my chest like it will pop out at any given moment. I slip again. There had been a tumble down fence between our two homes and most of the time if we went next door, no problem. I was an expert at separating and maneuvering through the wires but tonight I can’t find them and it was so DARK. Suddenly, there I am tangled in a mesh of barbed wire and I can’t get out. No, NO! I gotta get out. I gotta get out, I gotta save them!
barbed wires against blue sky.
Finally, I break free and make it to the house next door and my little fists pound and pound away but it feels like nothing on their door. Can’t they hear me? So, I scream but nothing comes out. There’s no sound or maybe I just can’t hear for the noise of the rain. Weakly, I keep pounding.
Finally a light switches on and the door opens and I fall through. I barely get the words out “a fire!” and Mrs. Lopez’ 20 boys hit the dirt flying out the door. Me? I fall limp and someone carries me to this massive dining table where I’d seen Mrs. Lopez feed her ginormous family and I’m situated in a chair. I sit there as her daughter, Ernestine quickly mixes me a concoction of sugar water to drink. I think someone says she’s a nurse. I don’t understand how it works but she says something about how it would calm me. Perhaps it was an old folklore remedy or just a distraction but it worked as I sat there slumped and worried. I think there are other people around, but I can’t be sure. She, or maybe it was Mrs. Lopez dries me off, then cleans and bandages my wounds.
The fire department did come out, someone across Hwy 5 had seen the blaze and called but I think the Lopez boys had pretty much gotten it under control before they arrived. The important thing is the fire was extinguished and my siblings and mom were all safe. Where they went while it was burning, I don’t know. I would later return home to a tarp being put over a gaping hole in the ceiling, which did not prevent periodic drips seeping through and plaguing us the rest of the night. THAT is all I remember. I would like to say I was praised for my heroic flight, but I wasn’t, at least I don’t remember. It was actually quite anticlimactic. I even tried sharing my adventure but no one cared. The only thing anyone was worried about was the house.
The place was a mess, Dad had arrived home and that was it. I don’t remember if we ate or much of anything else after that. There were no McDonald’s in those days, but that wouldn’t have mattered. Dad would never have sprung for anything so extravagant.
The rain subsided and the tarp sufficed until the rest of the house was built. This room would later become mom and dad’s bedroom I think, minus the charred wood. Why it hadn’t burned to the ground, I don’t know. Perhaps it was the rain. I would later recall vaguely remembering being a little sorry I’d missed all the excitement.
The next day, I went out to the yard and noticed where I’d traveled, but what had seemed like a hundred miles the night before was only a a couple hundred feet. Not far. It was no wonder no one cared about my adventure. Some hero.
Dad would later incorporate this as part of our house, a U shape structure with a courtyard in the middle. Mom would put a garden out back and I would wander the hills. I didn’t stay home much, because “home” wasn’t safe, unless I was left alone to read a book.
I still long to be coddled, but that’s just a dream. I am glad for what I do have. My hubby loves me, sticks up for me and keeps me safe. We are not rich, but it’s a coddling of sorts. I wonder though, did I ever give my kids a home? Did they ever feel coddled and nurtured? Or, was that something I didn’t know how to do or do well?
I know they know I love them like life itself. They know I’d give my life for them if need be, so I hope that’s enough. They often tell me I was a good mom, and sometimes it comes with a qualifier… considering where I came from and where I’d been. We laugh about that. They do know.
WARNING! This post is not for the feint of heart. It is disturbing and unpleasant.
As I mentioned early on when I first started posting, there were some things I would eventually include in my posts that were cathartic for me but that I hope might help others as well. This is one of them.
I have heard from the proverbial “they” that you must first love yourself before you can love others. I have also heard that those who stay in an abusive environment are ones in search of love. They equate abuse with love. I disagree and perhaps agree a little with that. In fact, there are countless reasons that come into play. More than you realize. (See footnotes)
My parents were both abusive.
My mother who was later diagnosed schizophrenic was more verbal than physical, although she wasn’t above taking a wooden coat-hanger to us, yanking us by the hair in the middle of the night because we left a spoon in the sink. It didn’t matter who did it, we all got it. It was worse, when she and dad got divorced and she remarried and took on her second husbands children. Those poor babes were taken out of foster homes where they’d been molested to a home where they would get beaten, and they were there because they’d been abandoned as children while my step-father was serving his country. Hard to imagine that kind of stuff exists, but it does.
Oh, did I have my hands full! My sisters and brothers (now six girls and three boys), made a grand total of nine, with me being the oldest. They tell me they pretty much regard me as the momma they look up to. Hard to imagine. I was 16.
Daddy was both physically and sexually abusive. The sexual he reserved for me. It had never occurred to me at the time to ask or wonder why the other girls were never touched. Later, as an adult, I was to learn his why. It was simple really. He told me he really never thought I was his daughter. Apparently early on in their marriage, when mother had escaped from him after one of his beatings she had returned to Mexico. He thought perhaps she’d reunited with an old boyfriend because when she returned, she was pregnant. She was aghast at the idea and told me, yes she left but had gone to her mothers and upon learning she was pregnant, returned to her husband as so it was expected in those days.
But, the question remained. Was he punishing her through me? I don’t know.
Once I became an adult, he no longer believed that. In part because after I moved to the small town he’d grown up in, he had taken me to a store to meet a cousin. Later, a woman walks in and says you must be a —–, giving our family name. She hadn’t seen my dad standing nearby but the family resemblance was apparently unmistakable. He laughed proudly.
The sad thing about abuse is, there is often times no rhyme or reason for it. Abuse is not punishment. It wasn’t always discipline for misbehaving. If mother had crossed him, he’d had a bad day at work or was just in a foul mood, he’d take it out on us. His physical abuse against me and my siblings I remember, that against my mother, I don’t, whereas my siblings do. If it wasn’t an outright beating, then he’d hit us on the back of the head with one of his famous backhanded slaps. (I wince every time Gibbs does that to his people on NCIS even though I’ve noticed he does it less now, so someone may have complained) The sexual part was in a cloud-like dream. I couldn’t remember anything beyond a certain point. In some cases I thought the perpetrator had been someone else. Over the years I’ve seen several (three) therapists and through them, learned a lot about myself and my ability to cope. I call it “shelving” the ugly. The therapist said that it is how I survived and remained sane.
I came face to face with “ugly” several years ago when my daughter encouraged me to see her therapist and thought maybe it would help me as well. I was in one state and she in another, “out west”. She was having some things she wanted to work through and some of it was in relation to her feelings for me. Being the eldest, she always felt responsible for me emotionally and didn’t understand why. I too, am the eldest and it was my job to protect my siblings, which I often did, stepping in or deflecting blows, so I understood.
My little sister and I were caring for my father at the time which by comparison was relatively easy to that of caring for mother. I was having a hard time though. I’d been doing it since 2005. She joined me in 2008. I was already drained from the energy it took to care for mother who had Alzheimer’s and who had recently died. (I had all the paperwork to do which was daunting since I had a battle with VA constantly and then shared the physical care with my sister.)
Earlier on, there had been an incident with Dad when I found out he was friends with an old neighbor of ours. I had always believed that this neighbor had been part of a group of boys who had molested me. I told him I remembered the blood on my panties and my little friend running for help and his mom coming. I remembered her cradling me in her arms and I presume taking me home. I remember my little sister coming home from the hospital soon after. I remember little else. I was five. My dad blew me off!
He never once said, “poor baby”. “It’s not true.” Nothing. No comment and that seemed odd. He also continued to be friends with this guy, he just talked less of him. I thought, why no paternal indignation or anger?
So when my daughter, who is not generally the most tactful person on the earth made her request gently, I accepted her offer to come out and give it a try. I had questions. Besides, I thought a vacation sure would be nice. Hah!
My daughter had already learned about a phenomenon called “transference”, where the roles are flipped. It made perfect sense to me. As a child I had been abused in every sense imaginable. I craved love. I was needy. When I was pregnant with her out of wedlock, I recall with definite clarity thinking and saying, “Now I will have someone to love and who’ll love me back and never leave me”. Oh my! It is a known fact that children in the womb absorb so much more information than before realized and here I am loading her up with this stuff. I was so relying on this child to take the place of all the love I’d ever wanted and never got. So, yes, I wanted to be there for her to work this crap out. I didn’t do this to her knowingly, but I still did it.
I gave permission for her to be present. It was there we learned the extent of the damage. I was functioning as an adult and I was a good parent, but certain triggers would cause me to respond as a child. Trauma, it turns out can prevent you from moving beyond a certain point. (* A form of child PTSD.) The therapist we saw, tapped into my inner self and found the details of the rest. So much ugly!
It did turn out there were five teens (as I had remembered) that had raped me, but the man dad was friends with was not one of them. But there was more. Dad was also a perpetrator. Not with the boys, but later. All I knew was by age 6 it had started. The man I was always trying to please was hurting me in ways I didn’t understand and I had blocked it out! The therapist asked me if I wanted the details. I said, “No way! I can’t go there.”
Oh, I didn’t disbelieve the doctor, because the cloudy dream like memories I had lived with were now coming back to life. Memories of Daddy coming to me in the night, lowering my panties, staring at me and stroking me. I remember him coming to their friends house where I was staying in LA. They had been in entrusted with taking me to auditions and make Hollywood connections for me to get in show biz, because I could sing and dance “a little”. I would hear him tell them he’d beaten mom to a pulp because of another man she’d fallen in love with, and how later that night, he came to me and held me in his arms and tells me how he wishes I was mother and then kisses me passionately. I recall wiping away the nasty kiss and not falling asleep, afraid he might do more. A more I thought I was unfamiliar with. While at the same time he was telling me my Hollywood dream was over, I had to go back home and protect my siblings from my mom?
No, I didn’t want to know details. I already had more than my fill of memories that suddenly took on a life of their own. What I had begun to think were the musings of an over active imagination were solidified.
A flashback of me confronting him as an adult and him not denying it but making the excuse that he’d grown up with all boys and never had a little sister so was only “fascinated and marveling” at my changing body. (My earliest memory of him was when I was 10 years old so it made sense) He apologized and cried and said he never meant to hurt or confuse me. I forgave him then. Was that all bullshit, or was he just relieved that that was all I remembered? Now the therapist is telling me there was way more than that? My mind was in a whirl. It was too much and I knew I could never handle more. As it was, I was gasping for air and my daughter for one last time, took her mommy role and held me in her arms as if I were her child.
For hours I sobbed uncontrollably. I would see her little girl sitting on the couch, confused and probably wondering why her grandma couldn’t stop crying and me thinking I was no bigger than her. Why? How could anyone do that to a child? Mother and daughter cried together.
Dear God, how was I going to go back home and continue caring for him?
I couldn’t. More than anything I wanted to run far, far away, but I didn’t. Did it cross my mind to exact vengeance? You bet. I didn’t know what or how, but I thought it.
Instead, because I am who I am I didn’t. I talked to my sisters and we agreed on specifics on how to handle his care, especially when he became totally bedridden. Up until then, it was just me and my baby sister. The other sis had never stepped up to the plate, but now I was forced to engage her help. She was out of work and her forte’ was senior care-giving. I would not wash or take care of any of that. I hated to do that to her but she said she was fine. To her, he was just another patient and she needed the money. I strictly handled his financial business, his medical and hospital transport and later hospice care. He had made me legal guardian years ago so that’s what I did. I took extra care to never overstep my bounds of guardianship and I refused to physically touch him.
I had accepted the beatings as how things were in those days and that they (my parents) didn’t know any better and had forgiven them both for that. Mom because of her mental incapacity and dad for his upbringing. His dad beat him and his dad beat him and so on, but this?
When I began caring for my parents, my baby sister had moved from Florida to help me care for mother since my caregiver sister would not. My parents had been especially cruel to my caregiver sister because they thought she was retarded. Daddy and her locked horns regularly and at the time, he was still very coherent and although he fluctuated between giving her the “farm” and nothing, he could still hurt her by his words. And, she came through in the end. So, in comes baby sister.
I had to find a way to protect us all and still do our jobs. Mom had passed away the year before and we would now be alone with him.
My dad was very well liked in our little southern town. He was highly regarded for his intellect. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t do. If you’ve read my other blogs, you will also know there were many admirable qualities about him as well. He was charming and smart. So, it’s no wonder I was conflicted. There was also this need to hide what had happened. We were related to so many people here, so there was also this sense of embarrassment and shame for the family. My revealing this old stuff or explaining why we would no longer care for him would bring all this out if we just walked out. Maybe we wouldn’t have to explain, but I liked my other family members and being God fearing Christians that they are, I just couldn’t do that to them. They would be so disappointed and maybe even angry. Most of them are elderly. No, I couldn’t tell. Walking away would not be that easy.
On his deathbed, I would tell him what had been revealed and why I had distanced myself. I told him too that I forgave him. He had never been a God fearing person but had explored all faiths, but he had accepted Christ and I trusted God would take care of the rest. By then, he had had a stroke and could only listen and not offer up any excuses like he always did before. I went on to thank him, because it was my history with him that made me a stronger person and a better parent. (the girls still tell me I did a good job and we are closer because of it). Early on, I always knew what kind of parent I would be and nurtured my children the best I knew how. And, I also thanked him for having been able to care for him.
I had to tell him this way, because before his stroke he had inadvertently slipped up and told me about a time he and his pals had violated their little sister, so his excuse about never seeing a little girl’s genitalia was hogwash – he also didn’t see it as violating her. He had said, it was just a child’s natural curiosity. I get that, but it wasn’t right. What amazed me further is they surprisingly remained fast friends until they died – had she blocked it from her memory as well?
My siblings all say they couldn’t have done it. For either parent.
The younger sister I refer to is the one that was born after the first incident and because of our age difference I never really knew her well. She was also ten when our parents divorced, so our memories are not the same, neither our experiences.
Through it all, I don’t regret it because the bond between my sister and I could never have developed and grown like it did had we not shared those trials the last days of their lives. In so having this experience, I got resolution. The two of us got resolution. We shared our perceptions, our feelings and we are now closer than I can imagine we would have been had we not shared that time together.
We noticed too that my brother who didn’t share this experience with us still has that baggage to unload. I hope he can.
My caregiver sister was my Irish twin and although we wished we could have a relationship with her, it didn’t happen. She escaped back into her own little world again when it was over. Her son would later get arrested for supposedly molesting their sons. I had shared my experience with him and his wife and a year later in the middle of a nasty divorce she accused him. I don’t think he did it. But how does anyone know for sure? The last I heard he was acquitted. Psychiatrists examined the children and there was no evidence to support her claim, but the damage was done.
What’s interesting is, during a bitter period, when a dear friend of mine who also knew dad and liked him, was singing his praise, I retorted “he wasn’t all that he seemed.” Her response was, “we know”. I didn’t ask what she knew, it didn’t matter.
The family and friends I made during that time are irreplaceable and had it not been my decision to go there and explore my roots and meet family I would never otherwise have met them nor had the experience that was so worthwhile.
And even though they are several time zones away now, I love all my friends there and think of them often.
As painful as it was, it explained a great deal. My daughter now gets to have her mommy back and the “ugly” no longer haunts me. When it comes out it is when I feel it safe to share and perhaps help someone.
I have come to the conclusion that I have great survival instincts. When my first husband threatened to strike me, I stood up like a cobra and got in his face and snarled, “Don’t you dare! Don’t even think about it!” He stood over 6 feet to my five foot 2″ little self (and I was little then) and he quickly backed off and apologized. I know I frequently irritated the hell out of him in those days because if he raised his voice or was angry I would duck. I was still young and the wounds fresh back then.
Once when my dad hit his wife while I was visiting, she ran and hid behind me and I immediately got in his face then too and told him, “NEVER, never do that again! You don’t hit women or kids!” He backed off instantly. (I had already heard from the neighbors that she would sometimes run to their house to get away.) This woman who didn’t like me for most of the years they were married couldn’t do enough for me from then on out.
Why did these men back down when I stood up to them?
What was different now than from me as a child? Size? Not likely. I’m not much bigger now than I was then. Then I remember I did stand up to dad, when I stuck up for my siblings and/or myself and only got more beatings because of it.
The same for my brother. I think he and I got the most beatings. So what was different? Did it come from the fact that I had nothing to lose or to gain? I don’t know.
No matter. Tenaciously hold onto life and choose joy and happiness. I do.
The following links shed some light and understanding of the psyche of an abused child and adult. I hope my blog wasn’t totally depressing.
NOTE: When I added the above picture of me when I was little, I didn’t realize how tying it to this blog would affect me. I suddenly became overwhelmed with the urge to hold that little girl in my arms and comfort her and tell her, “it’ll be all right”.