Mom hit us with her fist. Hard.
She also hit me over the head
with 1″ thick broom sticks,
I can still feel the dent–
she striped our legs with lathe
or switches, smacking with
either side of her hand,
hitting me with an iron skillet. Cold.
Anything that was handy really—
if she was mad and I was nearby.
Mom slugged me when I was tiny.
I would fly across the room
and land on the furniture,
arms and legs akimbo, stunned.
Or I’d smash into a wall and drop
to the floor in a shriveled pile.
I don’t remember being hugged
or kissed, or having my hand held
gently, kindly, guidingly.
I remember my arm being jerked
one way or another,
lifted off the ground like a rag doll
My shoulder painful, sore.
I don’t remember being loved,
but I remember loving,
I remember loving each of my
two sisters and two brothers,
and even the one who was sent away—
Adopted by strangers,
not spoken of aloud by the adults
in the room, whispered about
with my sister under the woven bedcover
in the chilly darkness at our grandparents,
or in the wagon wheel bunk beds,
When we were lonely and wished for someone
to love us more than a fist.
You are all so very kind. I heard from so many of you that I was surprised. For many years I didn’t say anything specific or of consequences about the way I grew up. There was far more difficulty than just the beatings. There was sexual abuse at the hand of two of my uncles and a babysitter that my mother brought to our house when I was in first grade. I changed schools 27 times before I dropped out of high school. I didn’t have contact with anyone long enough to develop supportive relationships.
But I didn’t want anyone’s pity. I wanted people to see me, and not just the circum-stances of my childhood. That became something of a habit. Children who go through these hellish childhoods are treated with little respect and a lot of assumptions. Charity and pity are funky, awful things that embarrass children and make them different than the other children. If that wasn’t enough, the last thing I needed as a kid was someone trying to sell me on Jesus’ blood and the salvation of my soul. You’d think I had dragged these circumstances in upon myself into the deep hole folks acted like I was in.
I was much the same as I am now as a child, and when I could escape the darkness of the attitudes that people around me had, the labels that they wanted to put on me, I was able to see something more possible for myself. I was tougher than my sister, more self-contained and self-reliant, but I was the oldest and even in the worst circumstances, being the oldest calls a child to take charge for the benefit of the younger children. I learned at a very young age that folks don’t look very far into things, that they are easy to jump to conclusions and don’t see what is right in front of them.
I consider one of the great accomplishments of my life to be that I am profoundly ordinary. I don’t mean to deny my gifts, or accomplishments, but that the kind of being ‘special’ that draws undue attention for things that were not my doing, well I just didn’t want that kind of attention. I didn’t live my life depending upon my appearance either. I like being appreciated for the things I chose to be. In the end, it is our personal choices that matter. No one wants to be a victim. We either let Spirit in, to act as and through us, or we allow the circumstances of our lives to hog the spotlight and bring attention to ourselves for reasons that are neither of our own making or which simply cannot bring us the true Joy of life itself. I am all for Joy. That is how I am made.
COMMENTS FROM OPEN SALON
This is a powerful piece and sends a message of despair that parents can all taken notice of. Thanks for sharing.
Rated for honesty
You have certainly found a way to cope that helps others!
You wroteso clearly of yourexperience and without any trace of self-pity…don’t think I could do it.
My mother spanked us too much I think but much, much less than she had been…I think she was physically abused and I know she was verbally and/or emotionally abused…I am trying to understand her better now that she is gone, since January 12th, and I want to better integrate, in my own mind, all of who she was and WHY she was the way she was to us…
My mother suffered depression all of her life…I am sure early trauma and never knowing if she was going to be hit or hurt some way was the cause.
You are a sweetheart. If your thoughtful mind and disposition blossomed out of hardship, you have lived to best a person without love or empathy in her heart. You have survived!
…have gone to raise respective families of our own. And on our parent’s death anniversaries, all of us gather at the ancestral house and among the stories we tell our children during these reunions are their grandparents’ “wicked” ways. And they ask us: “How come none of you went crazy or rebellious or all screwed up?” And we tell them: “Because we all loved your grandma and grandpa.”
Crazy, isn’t it? And I’m sorry if this doesn’t make sense.
I know some of this though not to this extent. I am with you.
It’s amazing people still grow up and can be happy. Good for you. It looks at though you found that love instead of a fist!
I don’t think that anyone can ‘understand’ this, though there are folks here who have their own parallel experiences, such as junk1, Gayle, and Mitidor. I think our culture was accepting of such behavior when I was young. I have a story about why I know this in me, so I will save it for that.
Matt Brandstein, you most clearly stated the truth: “The prose of brutality serve as the most effective means to stand up to its onward march.” For those who have suffered at the hands or the words of their parents, what we have to say about it is exactly the tool we have that turns the tide in our own lives and for generations to come.
Yes, there was abuse of my mother and her brothers. My uncles told me about it when I was a young woman. My grandmother was orphaned in the flu epidemic of 1918. I believe she had a very hard life.
To have gone through this abomination and emerged with the ability to love and allow yourself to be loved is nothing short of a triumph of will and spirit and determination.
Now I understand a little better why you always seem to understand. I’m so sorry for your pain, but very, very grateful for your courage.
I did not realize you had this kind of history in your family. Thanks for sharing it with us.
I think we have all experienced some kind of abuse in our lives. I was abused as a child, too, although the physical abuse I suffered did not compare to what you have described here. For me, there was some degree of physical abuse, but what really hurt and caused problems for me that reached/reach far beyond the physical, was the mental/emotional abuse; the power of the words that were spoken to me so constantly about my shortcomings, and my apparent innate ability to “embarrass” my mom did far more harm than the physical abuse.
Hit by both parents who were themselves abused. You stopped the
AND NOW YOU ARE LOVED.
I’ve got your back. Rated.
i don’t know what to say susanne, except maybe that you’re an inspiring example of how it’s possible to be so much more than where we came from.
Sending you hugs of love and healing from someone who can relate. Thanks for sharing with us…it’s a very brave thing to do.
You have been very brave to write this.
Thank you for sharing
Thanks for reading and commenting.
or kissed, or having my hand held
gently, kindly, guidingly.”
Oh, sweetheart. There are no words to describe, but you did. You also are taking something so ugly and unimaginable and creating beauty from it.
Thank you for sharing something so deep and painful, yet so tragically common.
Anyone who’s worked with children knows the back stories. I can’t tell you how many times CPS, child protective services, has come to my classroom and all the classrooms I’ve been in thus far to take a child away.
Colleagues and friends have their own stories as well, and we talk about it as a way to get it out of our system.
And I suspect this is a way for you as well.
It horrifies me what children are subjected to. Maybe that’s why I’m always happy and smiling in the classroom.
It’s to make the children feel better and at the same time to mask the sadness of the true reality you’ve written about it.
All the things that you described my mother did to me. My stepdad loved me unconditionally and never touched me; and when he was home she would not touch me. The rest of the time it was totally without any rhyme or reason when or why she would go crazy over some small thing.
The difference was that my mother would then go into periods of remorse that manifested itself in smothering love and affection that created for me what I later learned was a classic love/hate syndrome.
As I grew older I continued to honor the idea that a child was never to lay a hand on a parent and was to take his/her punishment no matter what it was.
It all came to a head when I was a senior in high school getting ready to go to school and she came at me crazy and screaming and seething with rage and struck me with a wooden suit hanger in the side of my face. The hanger cracked and she drew back to hit me again. I reached out and grabbed her wrist and squeezed until she let go and told her that she would never hit me again. Ever.
I got in my car and went to school. When I got back all of my clothes were scattered all over the yard, my stereo and games and anything that had anything to do with me was thrown, mostly broken, into the yard.
I gathered it up and never went back. What a sad mess that was.
Reading about your pain brought all that pouring back out of recesses of my memory I almost never access.
God bless you, Susanne, for growing into the compassionate and strong person you are today.
Well written (though it would be worth writing even if it wasn’t.)
It’s amazing that you grew into the kind person you are today.
I was kept home from school a few times even…
It took me a long time to trust people. I still have flashbacks sometimes.
I wonder if I’ll ever know what it’s like to love someone completely. I have ‘trust issues’ I’ve been told.
It shouldn’t hurt to grow up. In other words, your parents shouldn’t be allowed to wail on you with abandon. My first home visit with my second serious girlfriend was marked by an explosive beating by my mother. I yelled at her to leave me… She didn’t give an inch. Later, she helped me move out after another violent confrontation.
I owe her a lot. As repayment, I married her… She got the short end of the deal by far, but most men marry up… Cheers to the wives! We thank you… 😉
thank you for the poem; feel free to call my attention to your posts anytime.
Things left unsaid and worth exploring include who did love you; How did you become the good-you in the now? What ever happened to ol’ violent mom? I’m not saying this should be included in the poem; it is a gem unto itself. Only that there are rich fields for exploration.
I was born in the early 60’s, kid #10 of 11. Catholic. No birth control. The realities of family life as opposed to the idealism preached from the pulpit…well. My rich fields to write about.
I would gladly have consented to be aborted if my absence would have meant any less resentment and pain in Mom’s life. Yet, I don’t think it would have. She would have found another way to manufacture it.
She was a kind of prisoner. Of her biology, of her ideology. A child posing as an adult. And so many of my siblings have carried on the unconscious drama of rage and control, misuse of power over the very people they claim to love most.
I’m in your neighborhood now; if ever you attend Seattle unity church, look for me.
Here’s an excerpt from a recent post of mine, dealing with my mother’s dementia and the sudden death of my father: http://open.salon.com/content.php?cid=62794
“When I was in my early teens, I had one of a series of major arguments with my mother. I recall how she stopped hitting me and reached down to remove her shoe so she could hit me with that– I was getting to be too big for her to effectively use her bare hands. When she reached for her shoe, I grabbed her, dragged her to the ground and told her that the next time she hit me I would hit her back. From then on, whenever we argued she would run to my father and ask (or berate) him to do something about whatever it was I had said or done– she never struck me again.
I mention all this because after several days of dealing with her behavior while all of us were hurting, my mother got angry and slapped me. I didn’t hesitate– I slapped her back. Her dementia, my respect for others, the knowledge that my father lived with her for sixty years without hitting her (that I am aware of), my understanding her pain and feeling my own, none of that mattered to me; all I could think of was that, after more than forty years, I had kept my promise.”
From violent unloving background
A wealth of understanding finally….
And my totally broken heart is mended….
But it took the light of understanding…. shining it’s torch at me and bringing back the hope that underneath the cruelty …..
There was love, masked, but there…
I was, and am sorry for the pain this shadow cast over our existences…
Thanks for coming by.
Remind yourself of your goodness and strengths. You have survived and that is a victory. You are an amazing lady!
This is difficult to read. I wish we could rewind and I could loan you my mother. But perhaps you wouldn’t have turned out the remarkable woman that you are.
I wonder if there are a few advocacy organizations for battered children that you would like to bring to OS readers’ attention. I guess after experiencing something this horrible, I look for a way to do something about it.
I suspect that Dan the Man has had a huge role in your healing. Give him and the cats hugs from me.
Hugs and admiration,
I read your writing and know that you’ve survived it–and more. Gone on to live a good and useful life.
I still occasionally stumble. Last night I was watching a movie and a character looked so much like my 1st stepfather, that for the first time in years I had a flashback. But it was short, and when it was over, it was over, and I remain who I have worked so hard to become.
Good for you! The same thing happens to me from time to time. The mind likes to take what is happening right now, no matter whether it is truth or fiction, and categorize it as if it is the same or equvalent to something that happened earlier in our memories. It’s mechanical and has nothing to do with the hard work it takes to clear up ones life and grapple with a nightmarish history. It’s interesting to me now because I can simply observe it rather than be taken by it to a dark place in my memory. The fact is, most memories are not entirely accurate anyway and some things we think we know are not even completely accurate and true.
I love how you said you are a “happy girl” … how many can say that? even with “good” childhood backgrounds??…happiness seems a frail element in American or the Western World life…yet you have it and I believe you when you tell us that you have it…to overcome the past is a life struggle for many, even for me at times, I am so impressed by you!
You did a BIG thing for many, many people by writing about this subject. BIG.
Riveting piece of writing…..a mature step to bind the assailing hands of the oppressors.
My mother’s fidelity to her marriage bed
Was rooted deeper than any Penelope.
My father’s departure, he no homeward bound Odysseus,
Became the charybdic black hole where anger
Anchored her against the uncertainty of failed expectations.
Thus the bitter bark of abandonment roughed skin once caressed
And spiteful acid pooled where aroused blood flew.
Her graceful limbs turned twisted sneers of gnarled branches.
We, her children, thought or mother beautiful.
She wore every grey venomous leaf left to her
Like a wreath of glorious victory,
Their rattled whispers sighing:
Your father was a good man.
We played out our youth
In the shade of her love
As if nothing was wrong.
It’s funny, but it seems to me almost like these words have been put away and because you read them they are ‘out’ again.