If we know where we came from, we may better know where to go. If we know who we came from, we may better understand who we are.
– Author Unknown
If consciously we cannot talk, unconsciously, we act. That’s the difference. So if we are not allowed to talk about the things that happened, we act. That’s more dangerous. That is the the key that my mother does not understand. I’ve tried talking to her about how I feel and things that happened but it’s always the same response. ‘Why do you always want to talk about the old things? Why do you want to feel bad? You can’t change the things that happened so why bother talking about them, especially if it only makes you feel worse.’ The hunt for answers feels frustratingly intangible. She only wants to use words of survival. Life stripped down to its basic necessity. When I try to explain how the things that happened in my life have affected me, even after all I’ve learned, I feel like a fraud. No wound to point at to say, Look: I am hurt.
I haven’t been able to talk about what I learned a few weeks ago in regards to my mother and her family–on my blog or with T. Some of what has come to light has been hard to accept, but some of it allows me to feel compassion for my mother as well. Don’t get me wrong, the anger towards my mother is huge, but maybe having a bit more insight into her life growing up also softens the feelings somewhat. She still won’t answer me most of the time when I ask her to expand or clarify, but at least it helps somewhat to know what I now know.
My mother is the oldest of three girls. Apparently there were a couple of other babies that died but not much has ever been said about them. There are 6 years between my mother and her middle sister (my Auntie B) and 12 years between her and her youngest sister (my Auntie E). They grew up in a small 2-bedroom house with a big yard. My grandfather was a steelworker and my grandmother cleaned houses. Both of my grandparents were alcoholics and my grandfather was a serious gambler. Apparently they physically fought but neither my mother or my younger aunt remembers either of them physically abusing them.
My grandmother would have severe nightmares where she would scream and walk through the house. I remember them happening a few times when I was younger and I was staying with my grandparents either at their home or when we would go camping. One time, they were so bad she put her fists through a bedroom window. I don’t know what demons she was fighting in her sleep but the next day nothing would be said about any of it. My mother told me that my grandmother used to sleep with knives jammed into the door frame and had a shotgun beside her bed and that a man tried to break down their door and my grandmother almost shot him. Nobody seems to know much about my grandmother’s life growing up other than her parents came from Scotland and all but two of her siblings were alcoholics.
I’ve learned that there were times my grandmother would leave and wouldn’t come back for days and my grandfather would be off somewhere drinking and gambling. That meant my mother, being the oldest, would have to take care of her younger sisters. Other times, my mother would be sent away to stay with her aunt for a couple of months. I’ve also learned that there are serious issues with my mother’s middle sister.
My Auntie B was born early. Nowadays, there is a lot that can be done with a premature baby, but in 1956, the chance of survival was much less. She was only a couple of pounds and almost died a few times. She’s legally blind now and has had issues with her eyes for many years. When she was maybe 7 or 8, she fell out of a tree and seriously injured her back and head. She almost died. My auntie has always been a bit eccentric. She’s extremely smart and has a really hard time focusing on things around her. She believes in telling her children every single detail of what she remembers growing up. My mother is quite the opposite, and my youngest Auntie is somewhere in the middle. My Auntie B does not get along with my youngest Auntie at all.
A few weeks ago, in front of everyone, my Auntie B started talking about things that happened growing up in their house. She was telling stories of running away and my mother having to go get her, of my mother having to take her home from school, of being left in random places by my grandparents, of the partying and the drinking and the fighting. She also told us that she was sexually abused and that she believes it was my grandfather who abused her.
As soon as she said those words my world stopped moving and I barely breathed. The silence was deafening. I wasn’t sure if it was just me who felt the discomfort in the room or if everyone else felt it too. Then, just as quickly as she said it, she moved on to something else. Afterwards, I asked my mother about it and all that she told me was that she doesn’t remember most all of the things happening like my Aunt said. She didn’t say she was lying, just that she didn’t remember and would have to ask my other Auntie (who afterwards said the same as my mother–she didn’t remember any of what happened aside from the drinking and partying).
What does it all mean? If it’s true about my grandfather, the one person who I always felt safe around and who was on my side, he would be nothing like I remember. If it’s true, every single thing will change.
There are still so many unanswered questions but what I do know is that in many ways, my mother has repeated with me, the things she experienced as a child. She drinks too much. She has nightmares. She left me alone and sent me to random people who weren’t safe to be around and I wouldn’t know if, or when, she was coming back for me. She never physically hurt me, but the scars run deep. The questions even deeper.