The subject of vulnerability has come up recently amongst my close friends. We talked about what we share with the world and what we don’t. I have been writing things, painful things, and sharing them for about 10 years now.
The following is another of my recollections of an incident from my childhood. This one is key. I am sharing this because maybe it will help me, and someone else. Some would say ‘why bring it up?’ ‘forget about it, it’s in the past’. I would say to you, ‘then please don’t read it’. I also say ‘fuck you!’ You dishonor others suffering because denying the memories isn’t how it goes away. It’s bad advise. It’s not how to heal.
Fifty years later I have an irrational fear for my safety, ringing ears, night terrors, depression, and suicidal thoughts. Plainly PTSD. So here it is;
With Family Like That…
I was seven and my brother Danny was six.We were taken by our mother, along with our two younger siblings, to my aunt’s house to get away from our father. He was a mentally ill alcoholic who became drunk and raged at us and especially at my mother much of the time.
We knew from past experience the violence he was capable of, so when he came pounding at my aunt’s front door with his fists, all four kids headed for the closet. We hid in the closet while he screamed at my mother to open the door because he was going to hurt her as he had said, and we believed him.
The rest of the night was pretty much a blur but I believe the police were called and he was told to go away, or maybe he was taken in on police warrants, but he didn’t come back for the rest of the night.
The next day my mother went to the Legal Aid Society, and the welfare department to get assistance while trying to get away from the abuser. My mother had no money, no resources, and no education. So today she left us in the house with my aunt who also had three kids, but they were at school at this time.
My aunt had, at some other date, been walking down her street and found what is called an m-80 firecracker laying on the sidewalk. An m-80 is a firework that is more like a small bomb. As I remember it’s more than an inch in diameter and an inch long with a wick coming from one end. So I must have seen it but would have had no idea what it was. She didn’t want some child to find it so she put it in her purse and took it home with her where she then put it in the top drawer of her dining room buffet and probably forgot about it.
My aunt was a heavy smoker and you could always find a cigarette burning in her ashtray. My brother Danny who had nothing else to do that day went digging through the buffet drawer and found the M-80. I was standing right behind him when he lit it on my aunt’s cigarette and continued to hold it in his hand.
The explosion was louder than a shotgun and my mother happened to have just pulled into the driveway and was about to carry groceries into the house when she heard the explosion. She came running in which I think was a bit of great timing for my sake because otherwise I would have been left standing there with a child, one year my junior, who was on fire, and had literally blown up his hand.
My mother grabbed him and ran him to the nearby bathroom and turned on the water and ran his hand under it where I could see the bones coming through his flesh.
I could see my mother’s face and knew she was screaming but I couldn’t hear her. The explosion was so loud that I had temporarily lost my hearing and my memory of this incident took on an oddly surreal feeling at this point.
I don’t remember anything after that until they brought Danny back to my aunt’s which must have been hours later. I saw the large white gauze bandage around his whole hand and halfway up his arm and watched him. I was still in shock as he writhed back and forth in pain.
The terror of the last 2 days, had culminated in this bizarre accident. I knew no place was safe. I also knew that some irreversible damage had been done to my brother, and me, and that fingers don’t grow back. I knew that. Our best hope was also lost that day. My mother gave up and gave in at that point too.
Then our father quietly took us all back to our house.
Okay. You probably think, ‘You’re 58 years old. Can’t you just get over it and move on?’ Get over what? How do you get over something you have never really understood? What if it’s impacting how you see yourself every single minute of every day of your life? I thought I understood why I have my set of problems but it turns out it’s really more perverse than I used to think.
I knew my father was mentally ill, an alcoholic, a wife beater, child abuser, pedophile, a felon, and more. Years in therapy taught me that. I knew I resented my mother for not protecting my 4 siblings and I. She and I have had more than our share of arguments and disagreements.
I recall at one holiday gathering where she looked at me with her most disdainful twisted face and growled, “You just have to say it don’t you?” Well yes, I do. We were all supposed to forget in that moment that the bully of a son she idolizes had pushed his first wife down a flight of stairs and she lost a baby because of it.
The truth has always mattered to me. I don’t feel the need to protect anyone else’s version of reality. To this day she maintains a fantasy about herself that I don’t share. It reminds me of the words to an old song, ” You made me this way. You otta be sorry♫” Blunt is something she forced me to be.
In our extremely dysfunctional home I had questions that were answered with words that didn’t match what I saw with my own eyes. One thing is said and another is done. It’s very confusing, especially to the overly bright child that I was. Sometime ago, I decided not to lose touch with reality like the rest of the family did. This totally makes me an outcast. But there is more.
Aside from keeping me clean and fed… Wait. That’s where it stopped. That is where the mother love ended. In fact, I’m sure I fed myself plenty of times too. I was out of my family home the week before my 16th birthday. Home was not nurturing but a dangerous place to live. I like to say it was safer playing in the middle of Telegraph. Telegraph is an 8 lane highway with a sizable median strip in the middle. Danger on both sides.
Strangely, I think my insane father probably saved me from total devastation up to a point. He was and still is blamed for everything bad in the family. Sure he did some really awful things, but he did pay attention to me. He shared his thoughts with me, he was affectionate, he showed me how to do things, and it never seemed to matter that I was a girl. I could do anything according to him. That was a gift. It was also a survival skill. It made me less dependent than the women of my mothers generation. Less like her. I did not want to be like her.
So in the middle of the chaotic mess called ‘family life’ where Dad was an unpredictable childlike alcoholic, where my severely ADHD brother was constantly adding to the circus atmosphere by being belittled and beaten by my dad, my sister was hiding in a dresser drawer or behind the couch, and my youngest brother at the time was taking bully lessons from Dad. Daddy’s boy. Oh and I was having so much anxiety my stomach hurt and I had nightmares.
Where was Mom in the middle of the chaos? She was no help at all. She did nothing to save us. But let’s get down to the finer points. Hidden behind all of that confusion was a woman who used her husband as an excuse. Then in later years my brother the heroin addict was a good excuse, and now that he’s dead it’s my youngest brother with schizophrenia. An excuse for what? An excuse for her rage. Read on. How sick do you have to be to keep such sick, angry, dangerous men at arms reach? At least as sick as Dad.
In the meantime, I think I just wanted what every kid wants and needs. Love, care, attention. You know, all those things that give you a sense of security and a sense of self. You could blame the chaos we lived in as the reason I didn’t get anything I needed from her but the truth is, she never had it to give. I know this because I have tried countless times throughout my life to engage her and it’s never worked. She does not like me. I have always walked away feeling wounded every time.
As recently as a few weeks ago I went to visit her and she again showed her rage at me. I grabbed my purse and keys and quietly walked out her door. I am done. I won’t be going back. I don’t need her anymore and she certainly never needed me.
Somehow after that day I came across a book by Peg Streep called Mean Mothers. It basically explodes the myth that all mothers are saints. If nothing else it’s given me permission to move toward learning how to like myself. What a relief it is to know I can work on putting aside all that hurt and move forward with my life. I don’t have to see myself through her distorted lens anymore.
I wondered for years what my dad’s mental health diagnosis actually was. He was diagnosed in the Army as a pathological liar and I was told by a professional that was 1950’s speak for sociopath, so that was the bigger answer. He was also an alcoholic/drug abuser which I think was secondary. I also wondered about my mother’s diagnosis because I wondered about myself. I have narcissistic traits. Dad definitely had narcissistic tendencies. He manipulated and used people. I have read extensively about narcissism. I have decided that I have entirely to much empathy to be a narcissist. My therapist agrees. For me it’s some learned survival behavior. I own it.
Narcissists need people to supply their ego to keep their fragile false self-image intact. Sam Vaknin author of Malignant Self Love-Narcissism Revisited wrote about what he called the inverted narcissist. Here is his definition, “Inverted narcissism is a combination of covert narcissism with co-dependence. The inverted narcissist depends exclusively on narcissists (narcissist-co-dependent). The inverted narcissist craves to be in a relationship with a narcissist, regardless of any abuse inflicted on her.”
So to go back to something I said earlier, ‘the truth matters to me’. This fits in snugly with why my mother did not love me. She really had no use for me. I am not a narcissist and don’t comfortably feed into the lies in her sick system. I insist on the truth and the last thing she wants is the truth. She hides behind some really sick men and blames them for her lifelong drama. I never really fit-in there. The stork dropped me at the wrong house.
Now that I have uncovered my mothers modus operandi (method of operation) I can start to move forward, and put aside my self-doubt. On a very personal level it’s a really exciting event and a true cause for celebration. I can be who I am, my better self, and that’s enough. It’s not that I wasn’t lovable. She just couldn’t love. It’s freeing really. I feel lighter already. I can now take care of myself because I am deserving of care and self-love. It’s like learning to walk again. Baby steps. I know it isn’t going to be that simple or easy.
Can you truly get your mothers voice out of your head? My biggest issue has been self-care. The way to self-acceptance is not to focus on my mother, but instead on myself. It’s not about her anymore, it’s about me. That’s why I have not written here today describing all of the countless situations in which she has hurt me. That would fill an entire book. In as much as it’s possible, I will be working on myself, not her. I will heal myself with the help of the people in my life that really love me. That is the truth.
I rescued this writing/review from my FaceBook Memories from an October 2015 post
We got to Ann Arbor at 7:30, the parking was easy, made it into The Michigan Theater in about 2 minutes. A hunky security guard in the middle of the foyer looked me straight in the face and said, “Thank you for coming out tonight, enjoy your evening.” We smiled at each other. Wow. We were escorted through the door to our main floor aisle 2 seats 103 & 104. The room smelled like burnt popcorn.
The seats were about 4 steps into the huge room under a low overhang, 3 rows from the back wall and I’m thinking “but your so far away from me”. How is it going to sound under here? The stage was the length of a football field away. Tom bought these $94 seats back in February 2 minutes after they went on sale.
Two men stood up to let us in and the two of us sat down squeezed into our seats like sardines. The woman next to me was having a menopausal crises and no wonder, it was damn hot in there. She was furiously flapping her program. She took turns with her husband the whole night fanning herself. I was wearing 2 shirts and had a light jacket that had to sit in my lap and added to the discomfort. It was cozy to say the least. I felt like a baby swaddled and ready for a nap. The arm rests were virtually non existent. You know how you spend the evening trying not to be a space invader?
At 7:40 the lights dimmed, 8 guys walked out on stage. A guy in a rebel flag suit jacket briefly announced Mark Knopfler and they started to play. Are all bass players tall? Why is that? Mark stood in front of a huge set of drums. I was thinking ‘Great, eight boring bald guys’. I was never so wrong.
It was mesmerizing. I don’t know the names of all the songs but they did these haunting Celtic Gaelic tunes with what sounded a bit like bagpipes but weren’t. Throughout the night these men played more different instruments than a symphony orchestra. I have never seen such a variety of instruments played so well. It resonated with my 88% Irish English DNA. My favorite of the popular tunes was ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Beautiful. The Mark Knopfler guitar licks he is famous for, and his voice, were taking me back.Tom and I both were surprised when they did ‘Sultans of Swing’. He has so much great new music.
There was a piano on one side and a keyboard on the other. They brought out this guy who played the saxophone like I’ve never heard it and occasionally a clarinet. He was brilliant. Two other guys played flutes and mandolins and the bass player went from an electric bass guitar to a bass fiddle that was almost as tall as he was.
There was some levity through the night with a woman down about 10 rows on my right who kept standing up getting her groove on very loudly and waving her arms. There were security guards on both sides of the room and roaming about. A very big lunk went up to her and sat her down. I would have done anything he said. A few minutes later she was back up in the aisle. Now, when I was younger that’s what everyone did at concerts. Now the band members have pace makers and the sea of white heads makes for a wholly different concert experience. We behave now.
The stage was simple, the lights were too, and the 8 wore jeans and T-shirts, but the music was mesmerizing. To be truthful, if I had to stand in the rain or in a tent in the cold, I would go back to see these aging musical geniuses.
7/24/14: Yesterday I was at Woodmere Cemetery near Fort St & Springwells. Two cemetery workers with shovels were trying to help me find the grave markers of my gr great grandparents. The markers are flat and if you don’t dig them up every summer they sink and disappear.
The workers were about 30ft way poking at the ground with the shovels. I was standing there trying to look too when I heard one of the strangest sounds I’ve ever heard while being jolted at the same time.
It was a very dry sound like rubbing two rocks together as hard as you can and then amplify it by 50. It had a bit of a stutter to it. A bang, A big vibration.
I looked up at the nice grave finder/grounds guys and said ‘What in the heck (I don’t like to say hell while standing on a grave) was that?’ ‘It’s the salt mines one guy said, ‘They are blowing things up’. Oh! That’s all? I thought. Humm. It scared the crap outta me. They pointed toward the fence line and said the entrance to the mine was just over there, meaning closer to the Rouge River.
They were referring to the famous salt mines under the city of Detroit. Huge cavernous tunnels that run for miles filled with nothing but salt. I believe it’s one of the biggest salt mines in the world. I knew about it but I had no idea my relatives were buried on top of them.
The Hispanic worker said, in a voice a bit like Cheech Marin, “Man, they wanted me to work down there. I told them no way I’m going down there man”. The other guy nodded in agreement.
I stood there and looked around. There are 190,000 graves in this cemetery. I wondered how many coffins had sunk so far they had made it into the salt mines. Isn’t salt a preservative?
I pictured my dead relatives walking the salt mines and the noise I heard was really a cry from Hell !!! Alcohol is also a preservative, and most of my relatives imbibed heavily, so throw in some salt and wha-la!!! Pickled ancestors! They are all doing Tequila shots, you know, with lemon and salt.
All of that was going on underground as I stood there and I looked up at the bluest of skies on a beautiful warm summer day. Ah reality!
I then had a discussion with the guys about being cremated and having my ashes flung into Lake Superior. They left me to pay my respects to the ancestors and I took pictures of the markers and the surroundings so I could find this spot again when I come back. Then I got into my Jeep and went home.
I think just writing about this dog is strange. To try to understand the emotional life of a poodle may be just plain weird to some. I write this from a place of hurt. Indulge me here.
Dogs have evolved in lockstep with humans. We have molded them to our liking and usefulness. We use them for many things. They serve us. They depend on us. They charm us, fool us, make us laugh, and cry. They have become in many ways like us. They all have their own personalities, likes and dislikes. Certain breeds behave in particular ways of behaving but each is their own person. Did I say that? Personhood. Yes, I believe whatever it is that gives something a will, and drive, and longing can be wrapped in a hairy skin and given a name. It can be a dog. It has a soul. So what does a soul need?
I write this because if I hadn’t seen and felt what I’m about to explain, I couldn’t have understood it. It’s about Beau, my miniature French Poodle. Bare with me.
I found him online on the Michigan Standard Poodle Rescue site based in Bay City Michigan. Although he isn’t a standard poodle, which is a much bigger dog, this rescue group took him on. I contacted the rescue, and somehow as with many things people can’t come right out and tell you, the details rolled out rather slowly.
The first time I met Beau was in Milford’s Central Park where he barked viciously at me. He stood there in the grass with his owner, a woman, and the woman’s teenage daughter. He was on a leash in attack mode, all 15 pounds of him. He was very disconcerted with the whole situation but in the 15 minutes we spent together, and after being picked up and held by the teen I was finally able to pet him. He was adorable, fluffy and curly, and as white as snow, with tiny dark brown eyes and a black nose. Please note that in 15 minutes he went from trying to attack me to licking me profusely.
The idea was that I would at least foster him for a time with the possibility of adopting him if we felt it would work out in my home. We were willing to try. Swiffer, my other dog, needed a playmate.
His details began to roll out. He was purchased for $1800 from a puppy mill in Midland Michigan with the intention of breeding him with Golden Retrievers to make a mixed breed they are calling a Golden Doodle or something as ridiculous. In other words, he was valued for his size and curly coat. He was kept in a crate in the basement of a ranch style home wearing what is called a pee band and a litter box in the crate for going #2. In other words, they didn’t have to let him outside. This may explain why the park was so upsetting to him. By 2 years of age, he had spent a huge majority of his little life in a pet cage in a basement. When you correlate a dogs age in human years it must have seemed like 14 years to Beau.
I will note here that Beau’s owner seemed overly concerned with his looks. By the time her and the daughter brought him to my house with a large bag of grooming items, that was clear. He had various brushes and combs. Several jars of little pre-moistened pads to clean his eyes. Silvadine spray for his eyes and some kind of chews for his coat, and on and on. Poodles tend to overproduce tears which causes staining under the eyes. The woman was obsessed with this. She sure didn’t spare any cash for this bag of stuff but it was about looks for this so-called breeder. Can’t get top dollar without the look.
Apparently, Beau had been let out of the crate in the home and was sitting on a bed with the woman’s daughters when someone entered the room. He did the viscous barking and tried to attack the person. By their nature, poodles are not the soft fluffy white stuffed animals people tend to think they are. They are as much a guard dog as a German Shepard Hound and Beau was protecting those girls. The supposed breeder did not understand the true nature of the dogs she was trying to get rich off of. Instead, she determined that Beau was going to hurt her children. It was the woman’s sister who contacted the rescue and had determined that the woman was just in over her head with this breeding program and a basement full of dogs.
So upon the second meeting in my home Beau met my dog Swiffer, a 15lb Poma-poo and they ran around my yard and seemed to get along very well. We all went into the house for a few minutes and the teen said her good-byes to Beau. I distracted the dog and they went out the front door.
All was well until Beau realized that he had been left behind. He went to the picture window and looked out whimpering. He paced between the front door and the window a few times and I called him to join us in the family room. He stayed upstairs in the living room, jumped up on the sofa and sadly rested his chin between his front paws and just ignored me. He was obviously devastated. It was a surprise to me that his feelings were so intense.
Years earlier I had been a foster parent to two developmentally challenged, and at the same time, abused children. They had been in many foster homes and showed immediate signs of something called an ‘attachment disorder’. In order to adapt they could put aside their true feelings of loss and abandonment and call the next caretaker person ‘Mom’ as soon as they met them. Mom is a term reserved for someone special, not someone you just met. I mention this because as the days went by it became apparent that I was Beau’s new Mom.
He recognized me as the main caretaker 5 minutes after he quit moping on my couch. He got down and began to play with Swiffer. Sounds normal? No it was not. I thought ‘okay time to go out and do the potty thing’. Nope. He stood at the patio door where Swiffer had already headed out and poked his nose past the threshold and backed into the room. He was NOT going out. At this point I had no idea he had not really been let outside by himself ever, at all. I picked him up and put him outside and he never moved a foot away from the patio door. He paced and walked a few feet in either direction and whined to come back in.
I knew this was an energetic, rambunctious 2 year old dog, but I was not prepared to be pounced upon without a seconds warning continually. I was constantly fending him off. He would suddenly leap from the floor to my face and begin licking me with his whole body wriggling and his front paws digging at my neck. It was crazy. He never stopped or slowed. When I told him no and pushed him down or put him on the floor he would run right over to Swiffer and get domineering with him. He didn’t hurt Swiffer, he was just obviously taking his feelings of rejection from me and transferring it to the other dog. Tom and I would just look at each other in disbelief. Swiffer doesn’t much care and goes along with it. Good ol’boy Swiffer.
I am no expert at dog training. Heck, I may not be good at it at all, but eventually you would think the dog would catch on and approach a person he wants attention from a bit more gently or slowly. Eight months later he has not. I think if he could crawl up under my skin and live there it would not be enough. All of this is so overwhelming to me as I want to play and show affection to him. I would love it if he could just sit in my lap and let me pet him. He cannot be still for 2 seconds. He is impossible to hold onto. He still refuses to go outside and we generally have to trick him into it. He sleeps in his crate all night and will not go out in the morning to pee. Tom carries him out across the grass he refuses to step on. Oh yah, that’s the other thing, grass. He will stand with one paw in the air if the grass is wet at all. He does not like grass or wet feet. He sometimes pees on the wood deck. He likes the deck.
He trails me from room to room and will lay in the various dog beds in each room. He is a poodle. Poodles are in the top 3 breeds for intelligence. Beau understands English and all I have to do is point to the dog bed and he goes right to it. I say one word ‘crate’ and he goes into it. I have taught him to sit for a treat and he has learned not to bite my hand while being given it. He is trainable and is very smart, but why is it that he wants to repel the very thing he seems to need so badly? Me.
The most interesting thing I find about him is that he has a very different relationship with Tom. He plays with Tom. He gets all excited when Tom comes in from work. Normal stuff. Every night Tom picks him up and Beau gently licks the side of Toms face as he is taken upstairs to be put in his crate for the night. If I pick him up he gets so excited he pees on me. LOL Funny, but not. Then there is the self stimulation which is annoying which he also does after he feels I’ve rejected him. It’s a vicious cycle that I fear he may not be able to get out of.
He stares at me from across the room with his sad eyes. I wonder what has made him so screwed up in the head. Here is my best guess; He was taken from his mother before he was able to bond with her. He was too young to be weaned. I’m sure they don’t care about developmental stages in puppy mills but I have heard that between 8-10 weeks is a very important stage for a puppy and they learn some important things from the mother about being a dog. Then he was isolated for a good two years. Like being jailed in a whore house if you’ll pardon the expression. Might be why he licks his junk all day or when he feels bad. He was purchased to be bred and that was all.
I sense a general immaturity about him like he is 2 months old instead of almost 3 years. He is so cute and surprising at times. I love him and am sickened at what this poor soul has been through. It isn’t like I can take him to counseling to get his head examined. He is like a POW with PTSD. He cries.
Does a being with a soul have to be self-aware? I don’t think so. He seems to be in a self-perpetuated emotional mess. He acts badly to get something he desperately needs and goes away hurt and rejected when his own behavior defeats his purpose. It’s nuts.
As humans we have brought dogs into our world and made them adapt to us. I think at a lower mentality they have taken on all of our emotional problems. Dogs were meant to function in the hierarchy of the pack, not in the emotional states of humans. So many of Beau’s behaviors are about the same as those foster children I once cared for. As I write this Beau is never more than 5 feet from me. I try to teach him, be happy with him. I am pretty sure his problems are so primal he may never be any different.
So. Lets think about Beau before we support amateur breeders and puppy mills. Physically there is nothing wrong with Beau. Mentally he is damaged goods. The whole pet industry is just a bit of the worlds insanity. People are greedy. Dogs (and cats) are living beings with a heart that longs for love and acceptance just like us. Please remember that.
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.”