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I went to a ceremony tonight to release my mother. I didn’t know what to expect, which is best I think, as it always makes me more open and receptive when I’m in the moment.
It was lovely and powerful. Shanti, the facilitator, shared her story, as did the other women in the room, and I shared a part of mine, and felt an immediate connection with them all. Women sitting on yoga mats holding pillows, snuggled in blankets, feeling unlovable because if our own mothers couldn’t love us, who could?
The most powerful part of the evening was the guided journey. We connected to the universe, and I envisioned being connected to the crystal center at the core of Mother Earth, which for me was purple, and that energy rose up and encircled me, a strong impenetrable purple crystal bubble around my entire being. I felt safe and strong as I journeyed, into the center of a tree, down a winding staircase, to open a door to see whoever was waiting behind the door, some version of myself in connection to the wounds from my mother. It was me, as a toddler, a tiny little girl in a white dress, hat was short enough to see the scars on her leg, still red and hurting, so incongruous on those little legs. Long chestnut colored curls flowing down her back and falling around her eyes. barefoot and trembling. I opened the door and was overwhelmed with the sweetness of this scared little girl who looked up at me with inquisitive brown eyes, trying to decide if I was a good person or not. I told her who I was, and asked her what she wanted to do. She wanted me to hold her. I sat down, enfolded her in my arms, and rocked that fragile little creature as she melted into me and wrapped her own tiny arms around my neck, her fingers entwined in my hair as I rocked her and told her everything was okay, that nobody was ever going to hurt her again. Her breathing steadied. She sat up and asked me to play with her. We ran to a swing and I pushed her high, while she smiled at the sun and the wind blew her hair back and forward into her face. Then it was time to go on. She asked me for a doll. I gave her one with chestnut colored curls and brown eyes, and I was told I could take her with me to the next room if she wanted to go. She did, so I carried her down another flight of the winding stairs. It was suggested I call in the help of spirit guides or whatever support I wanted, so I called to my spirit animals, and my faithful Bear, Wolf, and my Eagle appeared at the door I was to open next. Inside was my mother. (My body on the yoga mat immediately turned and curled into a ball.) In the room, I set my little one down and she ran behind me. Wolf stood with her, giving her a nuzzle, but keeping her eyes forward, and I heard a low growl come from her as my mother stepped slightly forward. I looked at my mother, so much younger than I remembered, in this room, and spoke to her strongly as I was advised. My first words were, “How dare you?” I said other things, telling her she had had no right, no right at all, and that what she had done was evil and vile and called her a monster. I shouted “monster” at her several times as she stood there looking at me. “I was good,” was the last thing I said to her. I picked up my little one and gave her permission to say anything she wanted to her mother. “You’re bad,” was all she managed to say, but she said it in a brave, strong voice for such a tiny girl. When it was time to leave, I was advised to seek help from my supporters, and I asked my Eagle to get my mother’s hands off of me. They were grasping me tightly, though I hadn’t realized it, as they have done all these years. I have always been in her clutches. Eagle swooped in beside my mother, hovering at her shoulder and willed her to release me. As her hands released my arms, I stepped back, holding tightly to my little one, and turned to leave. My Bear gently nudged me forward and then stood and guarded the door, with my mother and Eagle inside. Wolf turned and led the way out, up the staircase, back up to the room where my little girl had been. On the way, I was guided to envision a powerful light force that cracked open a layer around me, and did the same for my little girl. We both emerged free from an oppressive overlay of some sort. I was told I could ask her to come with me, or to stay, whatever she wanted. She wanted to stay, for now, not ready to be with me all the time, but she was smiling. I asked my little one what she needed from me. She told me she needed love, and I held her close and ran my fingers through her curls, and told her I loved her very much. Then she told me she was hungry. So hungry. She wanted a sandwich, like great grandma and Aunt Pauline used to make her. I gave her one, and poured her a glass of cold milk. I watched her eat and drink, and realized how hungry she has been for such a long time, and how quickly her little tummy filled up, and I have long forgotten how good it feels to have a tummy comfortably full with just the right amount of food. She held the doll I had given her, gave me one last hug and went to play on her swing. I asked wolf to stay with her a while, so that I could feel better about leaving her, and walked back up the winding staircase, and back into the room where I lay on the yoga mat, my hair wet from tears that had flowed through the journey. I opened my eyes and slowly sat up to see the other women already upright and silently waiting for me.
We shared parts of our journeys with each other and then each chose an angel card that Shanti had placed around the altar. As usual, mine was the Empress Card. I have some written words on a paper that I could burn there if I was ready, or if not quite as ready, tear up and put into water. I will tear mine up and put it in some water tomorrow. I feel at peace for tonight, ready to sleep and dream, and possibly journey more through this. I know I haven’t been able to be completely released from her, but her strong grip has been loosened, and I am ready to do the work to continue breaking her grip completely until she is completely dust in the wind, and I am free.
Looking back at that wild haired, sad little girl, I was, trying so hard, every way she could think of, to make them happy, all I can see is a gentle, tiny, sweet natured little one. Soft brown eyes, never looking directly at them, a little smile on her face for them. She walked very quietly, spoke so softly most people couldn’t hear her well. When I see pictures of her, she looks like she is barely touching the ground, or whatever she is sitting on, like a wind would sweep her away to nothingness. I see a picture of her with her little hand on her mother’s leg, sitting next to her, and I wonder if anyone could even feel her little touch. She is trying so hard to barely exist, that she looks like she could fade away, even in a photograph.
My mother was a Mormon. “Devout,” I suppose was the word for her belief levels. Of course, she drank caffeine and sometimes alcohol and cussed a lot, but she was completely solidly sold on her religion. Her favorite thing to tell me over and over was that in some weird pre-mortal level, I had chosen her to be my mother. I always wondered what options I’d had. One time when I was little, I also had asked for unsweetened baking chocolate, and only when they made me eat it did I realize how terrible it was. That must have been my pre-mortal level of consciousness, I imagined, not knowing what I was getting myself into. She definitely must have looked better on paper. The actual thought I had as a child was that I had chosen her because she was what I deserved. The belief that I deserved everything that happened to me was ingrained as long as I can remember, from the time I was a baby.
Being taught that God is a loving God, at the same time I was taught that my mother was loving, that my stepfather loved me, formed my early belief that if all of them were good and loving, I must have been very bad somewhere deep inside to have caused them to punish me so much, and very selfish to want anything more. As a little girl, all I had to rely on was the word of the most powerful around me, and they all agreed. Loving parents, Loving God, so it must be me. So I did what I could to be better. Every day of my life was spent trying to figure out how to be better.
I prayed, every morning, through the day, every night, to God to please change things about me. Never once did it occur to me to pray that they would stop hurting me. They had done such a good job convincing me that they loved me, and that it was my fault I was being hurt. They hurt me because they loved me. God knew they were hurting me. He was mad at me too. Mad at a little girl.
That little girl, though, she worked so hard to be loved, like she knew she didn’t deserve it, but it never stopped her from trying. She tried to make them smile at her. She picked flowers and brought them to her mother when she got home from work. She always remembered to say please, thank you, yes, ma’am and yes, sir, told her mother that she was beautiful and that she loved her, and that she was the best mama in the world, and said, “I love you, Dad,” every day to her stepfather. She timidly smiled at them and did whatever she was told. Even so, it never occurred to her that the beatings and punishments and all the terrible things they said to her, the way they yelled at her and looked at her with pure hatred sometimes, were not things she deserved. It never occurred to her to be upset with them, or even with God, who was supposed to be in charge of everything. As she grew, she was only upset with herself, and trying so hard to change, and never knowing how, so she just prayed.
“God, please help me to not be hungry so I don’t eat things that Bruce wants. Please help me not want food.” She prayed that one a lot, especially after the night he broke her tailbone and poured every bit of food in the refrigerator over her head because she ate something she wasn’t supposed to. She was on her own all day, to figure out what to eat when she was hungry, and never knew what would be okay to eat some days, so she tried very hard to only nibble on things that maybe nobody would notice she had eaten a little of. Her hunger never went away, though, and she never stopped being in trouble.
“God, please help me stop touching myself.” She had been touched since she was a toddler, and her body betrayed her, because sometimes when it was a gentle touch in the right place, her body responded, the way bodies do, and there was nobody to explain to her that it was normal. She only knew it was bad. When she was alone, she sometimes touched herself, trying to soothe herself in some way. She used to go into her closet and hide, and from the first time she was caught, because both her mother and Bruce were always walking in to her room suddenly, seemingly looking for something to catch her at, they always assumed, even if she was lying down playing with her dolls, or in bed with her legs a certain way, that she was doing that. Her mother would hit her, and say things to her about how bad that was, and ask her if she was trying to pretend she was married to Bruce. Bruce would tell her that he liked it when she did that. Both of those things made her feel ashamed, so she sat in her closet, and asked God to make her never touch herself again. But God didn’t seem to want to help her, and she knew it was her fault. She knew what a terrible thing it was to want to feel things down there.
“God, please help me hide. And make him forget about me.” Bruce went to work after her mother, at 11 a.m. In the summers, she would try to wake up before him and find a place to hide. Not her room. She tried staying in the basement, reading, for hours, but the washing machine was down there and he sometimes had to get laundry. The garage was where his HAM radio station was, so he would see her there. Behind the big tree in the back yard, nothing every worked. He would see her. And if she was close enough to hear his voice, she had no choice but to go to him when he called. He remembered to look for her most mornings. God only helped her once in a while, when she went out to the side of the house, at 7 a.m. when her mother left, and lay on a lawn chair under a blanket, far enough back so that he wouldn’t see her when he stood on the front porch and forward enough away from the basement window. So, God helped her when she worked very hard to figure it out, and she felt really good when she heard him drive away, 4 hours later, and stretched her cold, aching body out to go inside. But, she got in trouble when they found out she was doing that. God stopped helping her, she imagined because she was bad for fooling Bruce.
“God, please make me good.” That was the only prayer she knew after a while. She knew that they were all mad at her, that He was even mad at her and she never knew how to be better. She felt shame, deep into her very essence, for everything, for the things Bruce did to her, for every time she was hit, for the things her mother said to her, for the way they looked at her. She felt shame because she absorbed all of those things into every cell of her body, as she owned what was surely their shame. She didn’t know none of it was her fault, and that nothing she did or tried to be was going to make it stop, because it was them, all along, not her.
As I was driving to work this morning, searing pain ripped through me, running down both sides of my head, down my neck and into my arms. My arms became so heavy, I had to drop my hands lower on the steering wheel. This is nothing new, a symptom of the trauma my body has been through via car accidents, but this morning it was more painful, or I was more tired, or this retrograde has me in knots. For whatever reason, I couldn’t just roll with it like I usually do. I pulled over to the side of the highway, let my arms droop, stomped my floor board, yelling, “Fuck it!!” I sat there for a few minutes, letting some tears flow, realizing what Fuck it meant. It meant Fuck this body. I don’t want it any more. I envisioned myself unzipping it like a suit, stepping outside and soul kicking it into the abyss. Stepping into another body? Maybe. I didn’t get that far. I had to get to work, so the fantasy was over as I pulled myself together and got back on the highway. This is my life in this body, but I wasn’t the first one to hate it. My mother hated it first.
“I gave you life,” she always said, “Everything you are, you get from me.” Wondering if she’d like this body back, having so thoroughly cursed it.
“I hope you never have a baby,” she used to say to me because I cried when she scrubbed a scraped knee too hard and poured rubbing alcohol on the open wound. “You can’t take pain like this, you shouldn’t have a baby.” “You probably won’t. You’re going to be cursed with female problems your whole life.” I was about 4 years old when I was taught to worry about not being fit to have a baby and a bleak future of having female problems. She never taught me how to write my name or tie my shoes, but she sure prepared me for a life of probable infertility. This is the same woman who used to make fun of mothers who read parenting advice books.
By the age of 16, I was having “female problems.” I got my own insurance through my job as a waitress, and started seeing a gynecologist. My body was considered never likely to conceive a child. Scarring from abuse, endometriosis, and a prolactinoma were medical reasons. I never really thought it was a matter of science or medicine. I was certain nothing good could ever come from me. My body had been spoiled, right? I figured that meant my soul had been too. When I did actually get pregnant as an adult, it took 7 home pregnancy tests, a blood test, and finally, an ultrasound revealing that precious little lima bean with the blinking light, to make me truly believe it. “That’s your baby’s heart beat,” the technician said, and she held my hand as I cried. Even as my heart exploded, somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew I was not worthy of carrying a child in this body. Somehow, the miracle happened, though. I was high risk, horribly ill, threw up so much I couldn’t even take prenatal vitamins because they came right back up. But, despite this body, despite her curses, that beautiful little soul was meant to be here. And for whatever divine grace, he was meant to be mine. I always wanted more. I wanted a little girl next. It never happened, and eventually I got really sick, and they took everything, to save my life, to save this body, which is now woefully incomplete.
“You’ll have weight problems your whole life,” she said to me, when I was slight, slender, even frail looking little girl, 6 years old. She never made any bones about the fact that she hated my body. I know why she hated it. When I was 8 years old, I got out of the tub and didn’t remember I’d left my towel in my bedroom, directly across the hall. I ran directly across the hall naked to grab my towel and she stormed into my room and slapped me hard across the face, asking me what I thought I was doing. I told her I forgot my towel and she didn’t believe me. She told me it was my own fault that Bruce couldn’t keep his hands off me. Then she noticed my curtains were open and she asked me if I was trying to get the neighbor boys to look at me too. She picked me up from behind under my arms and held me in front of the window, saying “Is this what you want?” I honestly wondered if she was right, but the truth is that I was already so ashamed of my body I didn’t want anyone to see me naked. From that day, she never missed a chance to accuse me of seducing Bruce. Even something as simple as taking him a glass of Iced Tea when he asked me to as he was working on his car made her grab the glass out of my hand, hissing, “He’s my husband, not yours. I have to live with him the rest of my life. You go flaunt yourself somewhere else.” I was 9 years old, and honestly had no idea what flaunting meant. If I had, the irony wouldn’t have escaped me. I hated my body.
I hated my little girl body that was beaten for eating things that I wasn’t supposed to eat, that got hungry, that somehow lured a grown man to do things to it, even though I tried to hide from him, that was fat, (even though I was probably a little underweight) that hurt all the time from having a broken tail bone, being thrown into walls, from bruises that people had to notice but never cared enough to mention. I hated the little body that my mother hated so much she let her husband use it however he wanted and made me believe it was my fault.
Stepping out of and away from this body has been a dream as long as I can remember. I dreamed it over and over and over, and every time that drunk bastard touched me. I went to my room and imagined stepping out of that body and floating away to nothingness. Every time she hissed at me that I was flaunting my body and trying to steal her husband, I imagined it. Every time I hid in the woods, lay under the moon, when it was time to go back home, I imagined it. Every time I was poked in the stomach at school and called Shelli the belly and smelly Shelli, I imagined it. Every time she told me I looked like her, I imagined it. It is my most frequent fantasy. It is always with me, days that I have more pain, days that I don’t what is next in my life, days that I can’t imagine things getting better, days that I imagine I’m back there still, with them. Days I don’t want this life in this body.
I always thought I knew and remembered everything, with vivid detail, about my childhood. I even remembered things that happened before the age of 2. Repressed memories, I thought, were for other people. I have this ability to see things from the past as they happened, in living color, hearing the exact words spoken, the voices and inflections, taking in the entire scenario, like playing back a video, one that I’m in, and can not only see and hear, but take in the scents and minute details. The only thing missing until recently was integrating the actual feelings, held by my little girls in white. Dissociation, yes, that sensation of floating above as an observer, but while I couldn’t connect emotionally to the traumas, remembering was not a problem, and that was comforting.
Then, in a breath work session, I found the little girl under the bed. She held a memory that I had actually forgotten. So, repressed memory is not something I’m above, apparently. Finding that out has me in a state of quiet panic. One thing that has given me comfort and courage in this journey of healing is thinking that at least I knew what I was dealing with. I knew the stories already, and it was only a matter of walking through those and finally connecting to them by being vulnerable enough to embrace the pain that goes with them. Finding out there may be more surprises along the way is scary, and a bit of a game changer for me. I am not entirely sure I’m up for those kinds of surprises. But, I am hoping if I put this memory into words, the invasive flashbacks will ease. I also hope there aren’t many more memories I’ll have to recover. This one has come back as if it never left, and I can now see it all as if it was just yesterday. I can still look at it and not let myself feel it, and for that I am grateful.
When I turned nine, Bruce started to change. He got angry with me more easily, beatings were more frequent, for both my mother and me. He beat her more violently, and I had found new and creative ways to hide from him every morning before he went to work. I even taught my little dog Bitsy how to quiet so he wouldn’t find us. He had always been violent, but It was escalating, and it took less and less to set him off. It was the year he slammed my face into a baking dish of brownies because I’d eaten one before he had gotten one. It broke my front tooth a little, and left me with the a chip that made one tooth grow a little in front of the other, and made so self conscious about my crooked front teeth, that ever single picture taken of me after that until a few years ago was with a closed mouth smile, convinced that I was ugly when I smiled. Those kinds of things were normal in our household, but they were happening more frequently. I guess he was drinking more. He ranted about losing his badge a lot. He missed being a police officer.(apparently my fault, even though I didn’t actually tell the judge anything.)
I was lying in bed, my little Bitsy beside me, the radio I’d gotten for my 9th birthday quietly playing. My eyes were closed and I was drifting off to sleep. I didn’t hear the footsteps, but I smelled his aftershave, my breath caught in my throat, and I lay very still, eyes closed, my heart beating fast, parts of my body involuntarily twitching, like a rabbit sensing a predator. I was sure I was in trouble. My mind was racing, “what did I do…what did I do?”
Then he spoke. “Were you playing with yourself?” I didn’t answer, still trying to pretend I was asleep. He knew better. “I don’t care,” he said, “It’s your mother that gets mad about it.” I opened my eyes because I knew he expected me to. He sat down on the bed and asked me again. I just shook my head no. He lay down next to me and started touching me. I looked around the room to find something to set my eyes on, and fixed them on my bedroom door, left ajar, and the the shadow shapes on the wall of the hallway. He rolled me onto my side and undid the belt on his bathrobe, I don’t remember his taking off my panties, but he must have. He took my hand and moved it up and down his penis. Then he stopped and pushed me on my back and straddled me. He was pushing his penis up against me before, but he had never pushed into me like he was trying to get inside before. I was panicked and tried putting my legs together but he sat up and pushed them apart and started pushing up against me again. I didn’t fight him any more, but my whole body seized up and I was aware of a scream coming from deep within me that never escaped my throat. He kept pushing and pushing and I was aware of that awful thing pushing into me and the pain down there, but it wouldn’t go in. My tiny vagina literally clamped shut. He stopped trying to get it in me but he didn’t stop. He just pushed my legs back together and pushed back and forth between them until he was done, and used the corner of his bathrobe to wipe me off, and left. As I heard his footsteps reach the living room, I rolled over onto my side and curled into a ball.
I lay there on the bed, shivering, but couldn’t seem to reach down and pull my blankets up. Bitsy, who had been there the whole time, started licking my face and I was aware of the tears flowing into my hair, snot running, and my breath coming in silent little gasps. That is all I remember about it. I don’t remember how long it took to fall asleep, or the next morning. I only know a part of me stayed behind, under the bed, waiting for someone to come for her. As for me lying there on the bed, I knew nobody was coming.
I’ve written about my little girls in white, all safe in their white rooms along the corridor who stay insulated and warm inside those rooms,that are a sanctuary for them. I imagine I see them in white dresses because they represent the purity and innocence of the souls they are trying to protect by breaking away. Their white dresses don’t make them completely pure. That was taken from them. I think they also represent the need to cover what had already been done to them and shield them from any deeper damage. They dress up all in white, enter a white room and close the door. When I have an EMDR session, I am able to access them, hold their hands and walk through the trauma memories with them. Those sessions can be incredibly intense. Each time I connect a little more with one of them, and I had begun to see some of the doors opening, and windows in some of the rooms to let in sunlight.
Tonight, I went to a Breathwork Sound Healing session. I didn’t know how breathing in a certain pattern was going to work on my conscious mind, but actually it was a bit like an EMDR experience. During those sessions, my therapist is there, tapping or moving her finger as I track it, and she is my guide of sorts.
As it turned out, in the Breathwork session, another guide showed up for me. As I did the breathing exercise, I became slowly aware of drifting, and saw the image of an animal, at first I thought a lion, then a very large dog, and a wolf, as it morphed a bit, strong and silent, beside me, just lying there, watchful, still, waiting. I didn’t know what to do but focus on the eyes, which bore into mine with a silent message that I would be watched over. That made me feel safe, and I drifted more and then I found myself in the bedroom of the house I’d lived in ages 8-11. I saw shadows around the room, my closet door, the bottom of my dresser.
Suddenly I felt I was sucked into a vortex as the room spun and I saw dark shapes and the light that comes in from the moon and stars into a room at night and saw a little girl, under the bed. Her hair was in her face, wet from tears, and tangled and she was in a nightgown that hung in strips on her as if it had been ripped to shreds by something. She was shaking, cold, and sobbing like something wild. Her words came out in gasps between the sobs, “You left me here… you left me here… you left me here, ” over and over, to nobody, really. I don’t think she knows who left her there.
I realize that there was a night when something happened, and she hid under that bed, and never left. This wild, crazy-scared little girl didn’t find a room in white for some reason, and she is not safe. She is alone, under the bed, and I want to reach my arms to her to pull her out, and let her see that she is safe, and not alone any more, but then I am sucked in and under the bed, and it is just me there, and I am hiding and alone and feel the full impact of being in that dark room, under the bed. Somehow I can’t crawl out, because it isn’t safe, and I don’t see a light anywhere, and I start to panic.
As I’m gasping the same mantra, “you left me here…you left me here…you left me here,” with the sure knowledge that nobody will ever find me, I become vaguely aware that a woman in the room where the session is taking place kneels beside me and strokes my forehead for a moment. As she does that, I envision a person, strong, gentle, loving, kneeling down, reaching under the bed and slowly pulling me out from under it, and I collapse into those arms and cry, not terrified, but sad because I understand why this little girl was under that bed, the thing that happened so suddenly, violently waking her from a sound sleep, that she didn’t have time to float away into a white room. She dove under the bed and curled into a ball, fists tightly clenched. And that is where she stayed. In the dark, afraid to come out, knowing nobody would come for her.
I hear the leader of the session call out that there are just a couple more songs, and I start to become more aware of my surroundings. I also become aware of exactly when this little girl went under the bed, and what was happening at the time. That is not a story I could start to process there, but when we reached the time in the session where we were encourage to shout and scream, I got glimpses of it, and screamed out, with both the voice of the little girl from under the bed, and mine, words I would never have been aloud to say back then, and we became one full voice.
After a while, I turned over on my side, curled up, pulled my pillow under my head, and cried quietly for what seemed like a long time, for what happened in that bedroom, and for the little girl who never left it.
“I love you,” she would say, my mother. She said that all the time. But what did that mean? To a battered, lonely little girl it meant the world, really. To try to believe that she was loved. I wasn’t very old, no more than two, when I understood that love was different with her. Thanks to my gentle, sweet great grandma, I had a measure for what love was. Thanks to my dad, whose love I remember in the shadows of memories of being held tenderly and of blue eyes gazing into mine as he cooed and talked to me. I remember reaching my arms out to my dad, and to my great grandma, and being gently lifted, warmly held. I never had enough of that. She made sure of it, my mother. She took me far away from my dad, maybe to punish him, but, mostly, I truly believe, to hurt me. She took me away from my great grandma, too. I know it broke Grandma’s heart not to get to be with me. She told me later how much she missed me, when I couldn’t be with her any more.
For me, it was like a light burnt out in my soul. Life is pretty bleak for an unloved child, abuse notwithstanding. I think all the beatings and bites and slaps across the face, a broken tailbone, scars, and harsh words and even the sexual abuse could have been withstood with less damage if there had been one person in my life who truly loved me. The tender arms of my great grandma after a slap across my face from my mother were so soothing and sweet, a true haven of love that calmed my breathing and slowed my frantic heartbeat and made my tense, fraught little body melt into a peaceful release. My dad’s strong, loving arms and my head on his chest as a toddler, listening to his heartbeat made me feel steady and secure and safe. So, if I had to be brutalized as a child, the least she could have done was let me have the one thing I needed more than anything, to really be loved. She couldn’t let me have that. She took away the only real hope I had of it, leaving me to feel so empty from before the age of 2, I began curling into a ball in my closet or on my bed, pretending next to me was a warm, loving body of someone holding me when I cried, helping me to fall asleep when I was afraid, stroking my hair and humming to me when I was sad.
“I love you,” she said, my mother, but not the morning she picked up a plate of toast and smashed it into my face when I was six. My tummy was in knots and I couldn’t eat, and it made her mad, so she smashed it in my little face and turned the plate over and over while she held the back of my head. I had scratches all over my face from that, stinging and shiny with butter. When my teacher asked me what happened, I told her my cat had scratched me. We didn’t have a cat, but I knew how to lie about my bruises and cuts, maybe not even for my mother’s sake, but for mine. I was ashamed of whatever I was, for my mother to have to smash toast in my face. I was ashamed, of myself for having those scratches.
“I love you, my little curly headed girl,” she said, my great grandma, on the mornings she got up before I did, when I slept over in her bed, getting to be cuddled in her soft arms, and crept into the bedroom to run her fingers through my curls, cooing, “come get your goosey ganders!” Goosey Ganders were the odd shapes left over after she made biscuits, and used a glass to cut them out. The shapes around the glass she saved and baked on a separate baking sheet, just for me. They were my goosey ganders, and my tummy was never too in knots to eat them. I was never ashamed there, because love is stronger than shame… real love, that is.
“I love you, dear,” he said, my dad, every time I saw him or talked to him after I finally got him back in my life. And he did. I heard it in his gentle tone, saw it in his blue eyes that lit up for me, in the tears he cried when I sang, the smile he had just for me. And when I sat next to him, holding his hand as he gripped mine so tightly those days he was dying, his eyes bore into mine, groans he couldn’t form into words as he tried desperately to tell me something. I told him, “I know you love me, dad, and I am so thankful that I got to have you in my life,” and I sang to him, and tears formed in his eyes, because he loved me. And when I lost him, that familiar emptiness filled my soul again. I lost him, again, and it hurts as much as it did not to have him as a little girl.
“I love you,” she said, my mother, the day she thought she was dying. I wanted her to have peace, so I told her I forgave her, and that I thought she did her best. It wasn’t true. I didn’t forgive her, and I wanted…I needed… so badly for her to say, “I’m sorry; it was wrong; you didn’t deserve any of it.” That was all I wanted, to be loved enough, to be important enough, for her to say any of that, to even admit it, to admit it mattered, that I mattered, and that might even mean I could believe that she loved me. It might even have taken away some of my shame. But she didn’t say any of that. She said, “you always had the brownest eyes.”
I don’t even know what the fuck that means. Does it mean that you saw those brown eyes wide in terror, brimming with tears, lonely, searching everywhere for kindness, when I was a little girl? Or was it just something to say, to pretend that none of it happened? No, you couldn’t do it. You couldn’t give me that one thing that I needed. So, in the end, no, you didn’t love me, Mom. But guess what? I loved you.