Of course I'm a fanatic and a milquetoast at the same time - wave/particle, legitimate/bastard, evil-selfish-brat/goody-two-shoes, it's a wonder I even exist--
My brothers were allowed to go on school and scounting trips to Canada, Pennsylvania, out West, to go rock climbing and rafting and have lives as kids because they were males and males needed freedom (and children, or at least male children, shouldn't be coddled, see Good Old Days of unsupervised play) while it wasn't safe for girls to walk down their own suburban block in broad daylight in company let alone go away from paternal protection because Something Bad Might Happen
(even though the Somethings Bad that did happen always happened under our own roofs or those of trusted acquaintances and by friends and relatives, in our extended families); but even my younger sisters were allowed more freedom than I - even when I was in college and they were in high school, and after - I
was the one who got yelled at for being half an hour late from an unannounced curfew that I simply should have known I was bound by, by pure natural reason.
Yet I also got ranted at as an evil destroyer and/or destructive fool for calling to let my father know I might be twenty minutes late because he hadn't thought to fill up the tank when he had the car earlier, too.
Then he'd get mad if I timidly begged, or grovellingly apologized, too, because I was making him out to be some kind of tyrant by being nervous around him of provoking his disapproval, and I should be bold and courageous and just tell him to bugger off if he was out of line.
But even that wasn't as revoltingly manipulative and shameless as the way he would give permission cheerfully in his post-Reformation, and then delay us as we were on our way out the door, making us listen to him reading something out loud or playing some music until we were going to be late for the movie or whatever, and either smirking that we were uncultured and lacking in sublimity because we didn't appreciate Bach or Hawking or whatever, or sighing that we would rather go to a movie than spend time with him - who had given us the cold shoulder earlier when we wanted to talk to him because we were boring and his book was more interesting and you kids don't want to hang around your poor old man, sigh, moan, groan, woe is he...
At that point, with all of that as possible prizes in the slot machine of life, it's just easier not to go anywhere or do anything, even if that
gets you berated for being a friendless, lifeless loser by the man who also
has insisted that none of your friends are any good, or are just pretending to like you and don't really want you around, and anyway it's selfish to want to go out and do things and a good Christian should be able to be happy anywhere and with nothing and blah blah blah...
It wasn't just that we didn't have the money when I was younger, to let me go on school trips and stuff - they couldn't just apologize, they had to make me feel like shit for even wishing I could go, until eventually even the thought of wanting such things would make me nauseous and I didn't
want them. That's how aversive conditioning works.
That it was because they felt guilty for not being able to afford to take care of us and give us nice things and so had to make us feel so guilty for wanting new schoolbags or clothes that would allow us to fit in and not look like freaks or to go to Montreal or DC with the rest of the class that they didn't have to, that apologizing and accepting their incapacity was beyond them - doesn't make them to have been better parents.
"You're the eldest" eventually becomes sort of threadbare as an excuse for why someone always has to get the short end of everything (and like it, dammit!) But it did make me wish I'd never been born, or had died when I was a baby, like in the song my mother used to sing to get at my father. If only I'd been hit by a car when I was nine, I'd still have had a little happiness to take with me into the night, instead of the bitter realization that it had all been founded in the stupid faith that things would get better someday, and the fact that my parents were too preoccupied to actively persecute me at that time.
He forbade me to sing about the house, because it reminded him of her, he sometimes said; other times he said it was because I had a terrible voice and should never sing in public - though her laughing at him for not being able to sing on key had broken his heart and made him miserable as I so often heard. Gotta spread it around, I guess.
In retrospect it still seems stupid to me, to have first boasted that I was a monster who needed spirit-breaking, and then to try to taunt me into snapping after succeeding, and mock me for being docile and unviolent stupidly meek and tame and not nobly
Bad like the men who smashed holes in the walls and smashed coffee cups and went screeching out of the driveway and got drunk and in fights and talked all the time about wanting to kill strangers and destroy the world--
I mean, he didn't actually know
- and didn't even guess, having neither empathy nor imagination to think that a mere girl
might have caught the nihilistic contagion off of him after so many years' proximity - that I was struggling with the temptations to, at various times or sometimes all at once, burn down the schools I was at, burn down the house, blow up the Evildoers, fling the table over as my mother had done, stab myself to death, jump off the Granite Street and Notre Dame Bridges, drive off the Biron Bridge, fill the trunk of my car with everything I treasured that was mine, soak it all and the seats and myself with gasoline, and drive at 100mph into the pylons holding up the overpass over I-93 at 3am (when no one would be around to try to save me at their own risk) and willing the sun to go supernova or a comet to smash into the planet-- that while I was being forced to stand there and be lexicuted
, as my sisters coined it, I was having to stick 4H pencil stubs into my thigh through my pocket to stop myself from screaming and slamming his sneering face into the door jamb or running away into the woods or in front of one of the sand-and-gravel trucks that went past all the time from the nearby quarry, or ripping up my skin with my nails if I happened to be temporarily pencil-less.
(It's better to suffer wrongs than commit them
, I'd chant to myself over and over inside my head, and he'd get mad and taunt me for thinking myself ill-used and "playing the martyr" by not fighting back and looking sad, and I'd start thinking my kingdom for a Death Star
I mean, even a small person in a blind rage can do a great deal of expensive damage in a short time, if all the brakes are off. You wouldn't like me, if I wasn't always hammering on the brake pedal of my anger
, I'd think, but say nothing because interrupting his tirades was never a good idea. "Oh, but you have no idea how hard it is for me to be good," he'd sneer at me, and never dreamed how the reverse was true.
But I never went out and persecuted those weaker than me, to vent my
spleen. I just wanted to be left alone, and that
was monstrous selfishness in me. Or to find equals
, or better yet giants
, to tilt against--
Over and over again, he'd be surprised that I knew something, or was interested in something, even after I'd been talking about it for years. That was the first clue I had that I don't actually exist to him, that I'm just a sort of dressmaker's dummy onto which he has placed various masks and costumes
The rule is, he can attack in any way he sees fit, and it's always justified: but even the mildest taste of gandersauce is unwarranted and evil aggression. You're not allowed to defend yourself against him, because he's the Eternal Poor Wounded Child whose injuries always trump those he's dealt.
The man who couldn't stop himself from calling me up late at night after I'd moved out to tell me that I'd deserved being beaten and locked up and told I was a fiend as a preschooler, or that I should never ever have children because I'd make a terrible mother (this after he'd praised me for being a wonderful surrogate parent and given me legal co-parent status before I was 21) when he was in a dark mood, has gone on to accuse me of persecuting him by avoiding him, of trying to make him miserable by not
calling him up and calling him a monster and a destroyer for hours on end and leaving him in tears and nauseous and barely functioning for the next two days.
I guess in some alternate universe that makes sense... Probably in the same one where it makes sense to boast of having broken (having had to break) a child's will, to crush her defiant nature, and then turn around and complain that it's broken and she won't resist you any more. The same one where making fun of someone for stammering makes them stop
stammering and making fun of people for being clumsy makes them graceful instead of self-conscious...
(Why didn't I hang up? Why didn't I just hang up on him when he did that? Why did I just get caller ID and make him leave messages instead? Messages in which he'd accuse me of being Avoidant and hurting his feelings by dodging him and say that he just wanted to tell me how much he loved
me - yeah, right Because I, because I, - because I'm an Avoidant weakling, because I didn't want to hurt his fucking feelings, because I thought it was part of God's filial piety requirements, because I was afraid if I didn't let him gun for me until he ran out of steam then he'd take it out on the kids still at home--)
I'm "avoidant" of him the way I'm "avoidant" of sticking my fingers in sockets or fan blades, just like most of us.
I had to deal with him putting all that on me, for so long that I
believed it: how fiercely
I resisted the thought of child-rearing without beatings, because if it were wrong then the way I was treated was wrong and - what then? I couldn't get my life back, couldn't get back the me I might have been if I hadn't been punished and terrorized into becoming a frightened, angry, self-loathing little ghost as a child, and it was just easier
to keep on accepting Authority. Except it wasn't; except that I had chosen to, and so had to deal with large inarticulate animals and dangerous ones, and with a minimum of force - and learn how to do it not in anger no matter how often fear led to anger, and humiliation to worse angerand that forced my eye to look inward; if it was wrong for me to do it, then it was wrong for it to be done to me - inexorable logic, I couldn't exempt myself from the rules of ethics because I thought I was unworthy, Reason would not permit it--
But I had lived with being told I was a monster of depravity and a fool for so long that I had internalized it - and in a strange way, become immune to it. So I am, well, so what? I can't kill myself, I can't kill other people, I can't run amok or away, I have duties and it would be wrong
to do/not do any of that. So my job is to keep on punching the clock, doing the best I can/am allowed to do, keep paying, or trying to pay, my bills, and to do all the kindnesses and good deeds I can manage, and not put all my internal nightmares and burdens on anyone else. Ever. (Because nobody wants to hear them. --At least, not anyone who can be trusted.)
So I am a loser, and a waste of talent and training, and not ambitious enough, a failure who has chosen to be a failure by lack of sufficient willpower - so what? I still can't kill myself - or I could, and risk damnation by a deity decreasingly convincing, but how would that help anybody else, starting with the EMTs who would have to deal with the mess? I couldn't convincingly argue that I was doing more harm than good by working shit jobs and paying (or trying to pay) my bills and giving away what I could to people less fortunate than I; I might not be doing much good, but I couldn't see that my existence alone was doing more harm than good, it wasn't as though I were harassing people and seeking them out to make them miserable, after all--
So perhaps the world is as horrible as he claims it is, and all my mother's former talk of Beauty and the joys of God's Creation just the piffle he claimed it was to me, and Darkness and Decay and Death and Destruction and Despair the only true
realities, as I came to believe between him and the hard place of the world as I encountered it in newspapers and newscasts and books and in the flesh; perhaps there is nothing but misery and a God as merciless and small-minded and nasty as my father; perhaps he was right all along -- So what?
I choose not to dump this fear, this increasing conviction of the bleakness of existence, on the younger children. I choose to continue, and to try to be fair, and if I cannot do much good then to at least do as little harm as I can--
Bang on metal enough, and it becomes very, very sharp, and hard, and also very brittle.
Subject it to intense enough heat and long enough, and it becomes fluid again, if invisibly, and can be banged on some more to make it even harder and sharper without breaking from its brittleness, says she who learned to begin to control her fear of fire and her own incompence by wielding an oxyacetalene torch unsupervised over a pot of pitch and a scrap of copper--
Plunge it into cold water, and it sets--
Don't call attention to yourself, keep your head down and get your ticket punched (but be brave, be strong, be courageous and stand up for yourself! only not to me, except when yes to me) don't be arrogant and think you have any answers, you girl
, you young person
, nobody wants to hear anything you have to say and why would you think you had anything to contribute to the discussion (only you're smart, how come you have no self-confidence?) and what are you still doing here? Except there's no place for me to go, and no way for me to go, but I try to stay out of the way--
Only people were asking questions, and talking about things that had happened/were happening to them, and nobody was answering them--
When I drink, I don't pick fights with people. I do - sometimes, if I feel like it - stand up for myself and others being picked on instead of meekly slipping away. (But I do that cold sober, too.) Or, alternately, I don't
talk, I don't
frantically try to "make conversation" and save people from their own stupidity any more, or play the fool to distract them from their fights. They're grownups, they can do whatever the fuck they want if they don't mess with me, because I'm selfish and mind my own business. I can do that
without the aid of a potion, too.
I know who I am, when my bridle's off. I don't scare me any more.
I understand why, after insisting for so many years that the idea of a mental health problem being a real obstacle to good mothering was laughable as well as evil, she couldn't admit that she had one and it was, it had to all be Demons and the Occult singling her out for special persecution - it takes a powerful humility to be able to admit you were wrong, and then alter your behavior accordingly, which neither of them ever possessed; I understand why they both would have enjoyed using me for target practice, as one of their rare bonding activities during the bad times; I understand why she'd try to use hand-sewn dolls and fancy cakes and reading stories to make up for letting him abuse us, and not understand why even homemade material objects can't fill up a gap of lovelessness and pain; I understand why he secretly dumped all that unprocessed crap of his hatred for her to [try to] score some posthumous victory over her by [trying to] make me hate her and reject her; I understand
, because I have
empathy, but I don't approve, and I still want justice for it all. The fact that this is a hunger and thirst that cannot be satisfied does not make it go away; but to deny
is not to deal.
I wasn't strong or brave or smart enough to stop him from turning my brothers into carbon copies of himself in all his original inherited anti-environment, gun-praising, "Real Man" agonizing, war-valorizing, jingoistic, woman-using-and-resenting male chauvinist piggery, nor turning my sisters into self-loathing, self-harming, self-Othering, miserably-unwilling dutiful doormats - and their escape from it so far, all their own doing and none of mine; I can't fix
him or my family - I least
of all, invalidated by him and to him before I ever said a word, he who has created a simulacrum of me to the world as well as himself that is more real than me even to
me, unless I fight it constantly - but if I have helped untangle the same sort of coils for others in our plights, then there's a silver lining, or at least a bit of tinfoil in the albatross' craw.
Here be monsters: but I don't scare myself any more.
(When life gives you lemons, cut them in half, fold them hard and squirt lemon juice in your attackers' eyes
--There's an aphorism for you, if you will--)
Tags: autobiographical, grrr argh, intersectionality, personal, religion, rl, sexism