I like to come here when I need to figure something profound out. Today was one such day that called for taking a solitary contemplative walk by the lake again. Sometimes I get to shoot photography as I walk and deliberate, but I got there too late today and the sun had already disappeared between a solid layer of clouds. It began to snow softly as I pulled up to the small parking area. A surprisingly strong and chilly wind greeted me as I headed down to the Eastern lake shore. I left the DSLR in the car after quickly assessing the weather situation and deciding that I’d be rather unlikely to see the sun breaking through the thick snow clouds before it would finally set anyway.
We’ve had another two inches of snow again over the past few days and a little bit of sunshine later in the afternoon, so the small trail along the shore had turned into a muddy sogging mess with barely any dry spots to walk on seeing as there is partial flooding from a high water level. For a split-second I was tempted to return to the car and find a different place to walk in, but decided against it knowing that for some reason looking across the water always inspires clearer and better thoughts than anywhere else in my vicinity. Also, given the weather and trail conditions, I was unlikely to run into too many other passers-by or joggers, which meant I’d have the lake and the trail largely to myself. So I headed on to my usual destination some three miles north from where I usually park. And after having mastered the first few hundred yards and having crossed a little stream on dry feet, I had made up my mind to keep walking. Plus – the weather matched my murky mind perfectly. I felt I needed to reach a decision on something that’s been gnawing at me for another while again, if not forever. It’s about what position to take towards bio family. But in order to make some sense, I guess I should create some context first:
I had imposed a no-talking rule on them in early 2009 after finding two things: For one, them and I never spoke the same language and with all the energy I need for simply holding on and keeping myself together, I no longer felt I could afford the luxury of bridging the gap between their – simple – world and my complicated one. And second, I hold them responsible for a part of my condition, possibly the larger part of it and I never got to address it openly or otherwise. And here’s where it gets tricky right away: “Technically” and on the outside, they really did everything for us they were capable of. As both of my parents come from a very modest background themselves, providing in the way they did was an effort – and not a too small one. I get that, I respect that and I’m grateful for a couple of opportunities they gave us. Hadn’t it been for getting to attend Senior High School and partaking in extracurricular music and sports activities, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to reroute my life following a short time of playing music for a living following my military service. I couldn’t have enrolled at a major university or done anything else that went too far beyond offering mere physical labour to make a living. I am most grateful for having had these opportunities. I am even more grateful for having had the chance to study guitar and piano and thus getting to play in a number of bands until I graduated from High School. And speaking of High School: I got to participate in a short-term foreign student program and learned two foreign languages in school. So educationwise, they broke their backs to provide us with opportunities they never had. I can’t let this go uncredited for.
On the other hand… there was a price to pay for these opportunities. One was a fairly rigid routine I was to abide by – but which per se never bothered me much. The other one was… enduring abusive behaviour whenever I so much as let on I wasn’t too up to something. “You will do as I say or else …” – fill in your preferred threats and verbal abuse here, like e.g. “Dad’s going to give you a good spanking when he comes home tonight”, “You’re not going to get to have dinner with us”, “Get outta my face and don’t come back till you know what you’ve done wrong”, “You are never going to go anywhere in life, you’ll end up living in the streets”, “You’re no good for anything”, “Don’t you have anything else in mind but excessively entertaining yourselves?” … the list is almost infinitely long. And usually the verbal abuse was followed by/accompanied by or backed up with emotional and mild physical abuse or neglect, like e.g. days of getting the silent treatment, e.g. Even when I meant to express exuberance, I’d be met with s.th. along the lines of “There you go, being all over the top again!” or similar.
It’s not so much about the particular expression of abuse or the devastating combination of varying forms to drive a brutal message home, but rather the overall emotional “footprint” it left on me, which could be translated into something like “You are no good other than for making me unhappy. I’m having the worst of times and it’s because of you. Since I suffer from you, you shall suffer from me.” Today, I think I am able to understand that this was a major projection on the part of my mother, who must have felt left alone and neglected with staying at home all day and tending to my sister and I and her response to me probably came from a place of being overwhelmed with the chore of rearing and from being frustrated from feeling left alone with it more often than once. The above interpretation was probably meant towards my father, who was at work all day and who’d come home tired from work and in hindsight with not much else in mind than grabbing food and getting to relax – or playing sports on other days. Since I was the only other male available to vent – I got the full blow of that venting most times.
After having read Alice Miller’s book “The Drama of the Gifted Child” some time in 2009 per a friend’s tipp, I was convinced that I had involuntarily become one of those gifted children. I remembered the very strong verbal abuse all over, which was so off-the-hook that my best buddy in elementary school refused to come see me any more from one day to the next. I was in total shock and desperately enquired about the why and how, when the former replied: “I can’t bear your mother talking y’all down in front of me any longer. I won’t come see you anymore.” We both were 11 years of age then… I guess, this incident made me consciously aware for the first time that my home was different from my friends’ homes. There were other parents, whom you might have considered being rigid with their offsprings, strict and firm and with many rules to abide by. But although I could sense some air of tension, I don’t remember offensive bordering on cruel language towards any of them – at least not while I was around to pick them up or stop by. Hence my shock blended with despair over potentially losing my dependable best buddy, whom I’d spend almost every afternoon with while being out and about on our bicycles for hours and not returning until it was time for dinner. There were a few precious hours away from all that tension and pressure and losing those precious hours must have equalled a threat to my life in those days. So I made a huge effort to talk him out of seeing his decision through and offered to meet him downstairs after the first time he’d rung the bell or s.th. like this. And in thinking back, I think I remember him actually doing so for a while until either him or I were confronted by my mother. The actual memory gets a bit blurry and foggy here and I can’t be sure, whether I made an excuse for him or whether he actually confronted them back or whatever happened here. All I remember, though, is that I got to keep seeing him and – yeah, when thinking about it, I’m pretty sure, we’d leave things at the “bell code” situation and I’d meet him downstairs – as long as I got to get out!
I also remember that as I grew up, my wish and longing for being somewhere else deepened. Again, memory becomes blurry here, but I’m fairly certain, I even went as far as suggesting I live with my maternal grandparents – our paternal grandparents lived under the same roof. As a matter of fact, we lived in the house they’d built after their expulsion from their native land during World War II. Since I was also often threatened with being sent to boarding school, should I continue with my sassiness – and I never knew, exactly where and how I was being sassy seeing as I abode by their rules and orders anyway -, I even began to dream of that “outlook”. I was sure that being almost anywhere else must be better than here. But – I never tried to run away, fully realizing even then that I’d make my life a whole lot worse should I do so and get caught or rejected by whomever I’d have chosen to run to. It seemed an incalculable risk to take. In High School, I was happy about classes running longer than in elementary school and right till noon. Most times, I dreaded going home after school. I have very clear memories of this onset of growing despair towards the last class in school when realizing that I’d have to go back to all this rigor and pressure. I very clearly remember going “Just why can’t they get off my back?” inside and how other kids would sympathize with me when hearing of the treatment I was exposed to. But since they never went overboard with it, like e.g. beatings that would leave visible marks on my body, since most of the abuse happened behind closed doors and was fairly invisible and inaudible to neighbours – minus an occasional yelling that will have likely passed for regular reprimand -, noone ever saw any need to intervene or question anything. Plus, my grandfather was a short-tempered man as it is, and him and my paternal grandmother would have noisy fights on a regular basis. So I guess, those could sound fairly intimidating – they were to me! – and noone felt exactly encouraged to get in his face about it. In retrospect, I think not minding other people’s business was the generally accepted social code of the day, something that “hear no evil, speak no evil” might refer to as well. Maybe it had to do with our family’s different background as refugees of war that created a social divide between them and citizens native to the area. All I know is that neighbour’s where generally friendly with them and us, and I didn’t have the understanding yet, whether this behaviour came from a genuine friendly place or a superficial one that was meant to keep the distance. I do remember one or two neighbours’ kids being over for birthday parties and vice versa. I don’t remember the adults partying together – ever.
Before I end up recounting all of my growing up, let’s just say that feeling largely uncomfortable and with some sort of threat hanging over my head more or less constantly was the norm for me. I thought I’d get to address certain things as I grew older, most noteably through my teen years. But as my sister told me later, these were merely pointless and endless debates over differing positions that remained separate – talking or not. In looking back, I am aware now and was then that I meant to get them to see my point of view once or feel me or see me at all – not just my talents and accomplishments, like e.g. mostly very good grades until age 14. But – not to any avail, even until today. Sure, there were some slightly more pronounced talks and even family therapy sessions following my breakdown in 2009, when a giant panic attack had me pass out and almost break my jaw, gave me a laceration and a concussion along with a short term hospitalization to treat the latter two. But none of it ever led to me feeling validated for the pain I had endured during my childhood and adolescent years. To this day, their truth and mine were different and according to them, most, if not all of it, is “only in my head”.
So… this is what I deliberated when taking my walk today: Should I cut all ties with them again, burn all bridges and impose a unilateral “no talking” code like I did for some time in 2009 and 2010, when I really had zero energy left to play the role they’d expect me to play? I mean, 48 years of trying should be enough, shouldn’t they? Or – should I stay on “courteous” terms with them, thus keeping a “lender of last resort” option with my dire financial situation in case of emergency, but in this way “selling” my truth for little or nothing? Stand up for myself and have them back off for good? Or stay down and further betray and belittle the unnourished child in me?
In writing this, these aren’t even real alternatives. I can’t expect to get any better if even I, myself won’t recognize the abused and beaten boy. Whatever their truth might be – it is none of my business for as long as mine isn’t acknowledged as well. To quote one of Kimberly’s most insightful comments again:
As for the parents. The point of growth — in a psuedo-Eriksonian sense — is to grow beyond the external parents to become your own internal guardian.
In doing so, I don’t seem to have any other option left but to put some solid distance between them and me again. For
Sociopaths are completely devoid of feelings for others and incapable of developing them. They are never healed, ever. (…) One must think of them other-wise. They are different from those of us who feel for others. We can never be like them. They can never be like us.(KC Callis).
Some of the parental behaviours that I recall as clear as daylight were nothing short of sociopathological. The mere fact that I should remember the exact wording of some of the verbal abuse – the most frequent one, I guess – speaks volumes in and of itsself. So – if they can never be like me or at the very least get to a place of understanding me and if there aren’t any other significant ties left – why bother? Isn’t it funny that I don’t have a single sentimental feeling about any single moment during my childhood? Doesn’t it speak for itsself that all I wished for was to get away – and did so at the first real opportunity that presented itsself?
Possibly having to make this decision and seeing it through is by far the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my entire life. And I’m scared. Because I still feel very alone very often with all this. I guess, my rescue will be in opening up to let new and better people in and in realizing that I’m in fact not alone at all in having to come to terms with a destiny I didn’t consciously choose and which has been overwhelming me for the most part. On the other hand: I’m still here. And the worst is over – at least I hope so.