Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Forgiving My Mother: The Conclusion, Part 3
My family had frequent gatherings at the farm. They consisted entirely of family, I do not remember a friend ever being in attendance, therefor in my limited knowledge, they were “family” gatherings. I actually looked forward to them, but had I known the true nature of these gatherings; I would have had a vastly different perspective of it. I can’t say if my mother protected us from these gatherings, or if she was simply the “designated driver” so to speak. Someone had to watch the children. I would not have thought another thing about them had I not been cold one night. I was freezing and my mother would not allow me to go into the farm house to get my sweater. She also refused to go into the house to get it for me. I didn’t understand what the big deal was. Everyone in my family was in the farm house watching movies that the children could not see. Did I mention this was a family gathering? I thought so. My mother would not interrupt family movie night to get me a sweater.
The family who attended movie night was not all the same at each showing of movie night, but consisted of my Aunt Eileen and Uncle Bob, which was my dad’s sister and her husband. Uncle Bob was a known pedophile; I barely escaped whatever perversion he had in mind for a little girl when he chose my cousin Debi one night instead. Cousin Debi was a frequent favorite of his. Debi’s mother was my cousin Judy, who was Uncle Bob and Aunt Eileen’s daughter. Cousin Debi was my age, and Uncle Bob’s own granddaughter. One night (of many) Cousin Judy was drunk and crying. She cried “Why? Why would he do that to me?” I knew exactly what she was talking about, though she was never specific. I may have been a stupid little girl, but I could do math. Two plus two always equals four and that kind of pain and Uncle Bob could only be one answer. Aunt Eileen used to be one of the people in my family I liked. I didn’t put together she knew about Uncle Bob until many years later. After I left Ron, I was MIA for three months. I finally called some of my family to let them know I was alive, and Aunt Eileen asked me who I left Ron for. I didn’t leave Ron for anyone; I left Ron because he was abusive. Aunt Eileen didn’t understand why I would have left Ron if that was the only thing wrong with him. She said “Well, you have your beaters, your cheaters, your drunks, there is always something.” You are going to have to find out what you will tolerate and resolve to live with it, because every man is something.” I was floored. Up until that moment, I gave Aunt Eileen the benefit of the doubt that she was unaware of what Uncle Bob was. Turns out she knew exactly what Uncle Bob was. She knew, and like my mother, she protected him at the expense of her own daughter and granddaughter. Judy knew what her father was, and was too broken to protect her own daughter.
Still years later, Aunt Eileen’s son, my cousin Gary, would have a daughter named Kim. Uncle Bob got to Kim, another granddaughter of his, and she told her mother Rosey. Rosey and Gary confronted Uncle Bob and Aunt Eileen, and after that Uncle Bob was not allowed to be around children anymore. He was a very old man with only a few years left to live at that point anyway, but Aunt Eileen remained married to him, and continued the marriage as if they were a happy family. Family gatherings continued as if it was “normal” to have a pedophile in the family. As far as I could tell, no one seemed to treat Uncle Bob any differently after it became “public” knowledge he had sex with many of the little girls in the family. Though Aunt Rosey and Uncle Gary “outed” Uncle Bob, a satisfactory solution was to make sure he was never alone with a child again.
Another one in attendance was my grandfather, my mother’s father. Knowing what I do now, this is a no brainer. My mother never said a word about what horrors my grandfather put her through. My Uncle Danny and Uncle David, her brothers, filled me in on what they knew. They did not have any details, but when a drunken man pulls a little girl out of her bed in the middle of the night, you don’t need to know the rest to know what happened. He attended with his brother, my great Uncle Harry, who was known to “have gotten to all five of his girls” as if this was an accomplishment. There were extended family, some of which I didn’t know well, but I don’t recall my Uncle Pete, my dad’s other brother ever attending, and I don’t know if my father’s parent’s attended. If my grandfather had, I hope that is one memory I never recover. If my grandfather knew of or condoned any of this, I hope I never know, though I don’t know how he could have remained ignorant of it all. I spent a lot of time with my grandfather, and he was one of the few people I counted on. If he hurt me, I hope I never remember. That is one memory I may never recover from, and I don’t know what I would do if one of the people I credit with surviving my childhood contributed to pain I almost died from. As much as I survived, I don’t know if I could survive a betrayal that deep.
So my mother knew about movie night. I wonder now if she was the person designated to watch the children, or if that was one line she wasn’t willing to cross. I guess I will never know.
I didn’t know what movie night was until one year many years later when I attended one of my father’s New Year’s Eve parties. I had just begun to remember a little of what my father had done to me. An announcement was made that movies would be shown upstairs. I went to go up the stairs, thinking they were family movies my father had taken with his 8mm camera. My father said they were porn movies, but since all my family was going up there, I thought my dad had to be kidding. He told me again they were porn, and still I didn’t believe him. He said “OK, if you insist.” He started the movies. I don’t remember the specific image I saw, but it was immediate hard core pornography. I was disgusted. I got up to leave and my dad said “We told you what it was” as if that excused my entire family watching pornography together. That was when I remembered that night at the farm when I was cold during movie night. Even my mother didn’t want to know what happened when a family movie night is watching pornography with each other.
The rest about my mother I have told in different entries at different times. I don’t have much else new to add, but I may tell other stories about my mother as other topics emerge. Crossing the country, leaving Ohio I wanted to leave the ghosts of my past in Ohio. My mother is part of the ghosts. If I am to accept I was the adult I was taught to be, and not continue to blame myself for a life I had no control over, then I must also accept my mother was the person she was taught to be. If I accept all the ways my childhood destroyed my ability to function, then I must also accept my mother was unable to function as well. If I accept I yelled in rages at my precious and innocent children because that was all I knew, then I must also accept it was all my mother knew. If I accept I was blunted and unable to identify feelings, and unable to express feelings, then I must accept my mother was also unable to express feelings.
I can’t use this logic to justify every injustice my mother laid upon my tiny feet, but I can understand my mother was every bit as damaged as I was. What I cannot hold my mother accountable for, it was seeking out a better way to raise her children. She simply did not have the options I had. I don’t know why I loved my daughters enough to go to any lengths to protect them, including violating court orders and risking my freedom, and my mother accepted her life the way it was, even if it sacrificed mine. Maybe she thought she survived what her father had done to her, and I would survive what my father was doing to me. But here is how close I came to perpetuating the cycle of sexual abuse, and it is here I kept the ultimate secret of why I could not forgive my mother.
I hated changing my children’s diapers. I cleaned them, but I was not comfortable doing it. I tried not to think about cleaning their private areas, and I cleaned the girls as quickly as I could. During bathing, I started teaching them to wash their private parts as soon as they could hold a wash cloth. I had no memory of anything I had experienced at this point, but I felt this strong, protective urge to protect my children from sexual abuse, even though I didn’t know what I was protecting them from. I didn’t know about sexual abuse at this point. I felt strongly I needed to protect my children from anyone who might cause them harm. In this case, I was protecting my children from myself. For reasons I didn’t know, I felt like I should be fondling my children’s private areas. I didn’t know where this came from, but it sickened me and it was my deepest, darkest secret. I didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with their private areas; I just felt this need to be doing SOMETHING to them. I was so disgusted and sickened with myself; I made sure my children knew no one should be touching them there.
I vaguely remembered what my grandmother had done during bathing, but it was like a fog in my head. I convinced myself it was part of those bad dreams I had, that it was not reality. As the memories began to unfold, and I began to discuss what had really happened to me as a child in counseling; I discussed the number of pedophiles in my family. I decided to tell my counselor the deepest darkest perversion of my own, that I felt the need to touch my little girls, but that the thought had disgusted me so much I went to extremes to teach my girls about cleaning themselves and not to let anyone touch them. I expected her to send me straight to hell. What she said instead, released me from ever feeling that way again.
The only form of love I ever received from any member of my family was in the form of sex. Since my parents were the only model I had of what it was like to be a good parent, then being a good and loving parent meant that I needed to have sex in some form with my children. That was where the urge to do something with my children’s private areas stemmed from. But instead of continuing the cycle, something inside of me knew it was not only wrong, but inherently wrong, so I taught my children to bathe and clean themselves as soon as I could. I was determined to protect my girls, even if I had to protect them from myself.
Ultimately, I forgave my mother because I realized she was not a better mother than I am, but I am also not a better mother than she was. The difference between us was the fact that I had resources and support; I had counseling that helped me understand what had happened to me as a child, and what I needed to do to be a good parent. The difference was that my mother did not survive her life, and it is a miracle I survived mine. I survived in part because I saw what unconditional love, acceptance and peace was when I was just six, and it was that experience which would save my soul. Angels surrounded me throughout my life to ensure I would have choices, and my heart would remain tender. I was blessed in ways my mother never had, and just as I pitied my father, my mother deserves pity as well.
I may not have witnessed my mother’s pain, but I know she suffers. She is one of the most miserable people I know. She has four children and only one of them talk to her at all. It would kill me not to talk to my girls. My mother may not be able to express how her life has hurt her, and my mother is incapable of expressing love, but I cannot fault her for that, knowing the life she had, knowing the childhood she endured. Having my mother in my life is toxic to me, and I am unable to allow her to diminish all I have attained in developing who I am. I love my mother and I miss having her in my life. I could not forgive my mother because I could not forgive myself, but I realized just as the shame of my parent’s belong on their shoulders, the shame I carry must be my own burden. My shame should not stand in the way of forgiving a woman who deserves to be forgiven, and my shame should not stand in the way of my own growth.
One day I will have to forgive myself. Though I know how I developed into the early adult I was, and I also know I was a product of my environment, I am ashamed to say I was that person. One day I may accept the strength it took to become a better person, but in the meantime, it could no longer stand in the way of forgiving my mother. Those are my issues. My mother has enough of her own.