Left: Cousin Linda, Phyllis, Me, Donna"Having Something to Say," Women's Memoirs, airs tomorrow, Thursday, July 21st, and as I wrote that piece earlier, this story came to mind and I wanted to post it first.
Being woke up in middle of the night or already lying awake, pretending to be asleep, and just waiting. Always waiting. Because you knew it was coming.
When we lived in the other house in Corryville, my little sister Phyllis, lying next to me in the roll-away bed in the only bedroom we had, sometimes slept through the nightly episodes. When she was four and I was eight.
Some nights she'd wiggle across the empty space to snuggle, her head bent and nestled low against my right side. As if trying to shut out the raw words, pleading and crying.
That was the period where Phyl did the constant handwashing, scrubbing the dead, peeling skin from her fingers, and other behaviors the doctor declared as extreme nervousness and guilt.
Guilty at four years of age.
Now, ten years later, Phyllis no long slept with me. She had changed. She was unruly and looking to pick fights with anyone who got in her way, including our parents. If aggressiveness didn't work, she play acted one of her heart attacks. She ruled our insane household pretty much.
I was the oldest, and I hated it. My parents' emotional problems fell on me to fix. Mom needed protection from my father's anger when she sinned. Like telling me to lie to him that I was the one who joined the book-of-the-month club and the one responsible for the hefty bill that landed in our mailbox. Or accompany her to the priest's office to beg for my father's job when he got fired for drunk on the job. The same priest whose confessional I visited every week with my class.
Dad needed me to run the house when my mother was in the hospital, to take care of her, emptying the vomit can next to her bed regularly, and control the little kids and whichever was the new baby who made her sick. He needed me to listen to him in middle of the night when he came in from the bar. He needed me to understand why my mother didn't want to have sex with him but other women did.
Mom needed to explain to me, usually the next morning after Dad had gone to work, why men were animals.
I never looked at the clock on the wall when we went downstairs in the dining room that night when I was 14. "You have to stop your father from killing himself," was the need Mom had when she shook me awake that night.
Slumped in the chair at the end of the worn and scratched old walnut table, Dad's head hung almost to his lap. As I walked over to stand in front of him, he looked up from the pills cradled in both his hand. I don't remember a medicine bottle, if there was one. His eyes were glassy, tears stained his cheeks. He said only one sentence. "I'm just no good, Honey."
I held out my right hand, and he emptied the pills there. I walked a few steps to the bathroom behind me and dumped and flushed. Then I announced I had to go to school in the morning and went back to bed and to sleep.
Just another ordinary night in our house. It was never mentioned again. Ever.
I rememer wondering the next day if I was the only kid in school who stopped her father's suicide the night before. Probably so I guessed. But that's just the way life is.
Or is it?
That flashback memory didn't appear untitl 1995, when I was called by my family to come "home" to Cincinnati because there was a crisis. Mom had died prior to that, and the story was that Dad had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's and family matters needed to be discussed and arrangements made.
And, of course, some serious dysfunctional behavior corrected.
I sat with my father at a restaurant in Cincinnati, just he and I alone, trying to solve the crisis he found himself in. And I remembered that night when I was 14.
The traumatic incident that never received closure. Neither of my parents had helped me to understand the situation. No one had ever helped me understand any of the things I lived through.
I never thought of myself as having been "abused." That was only hitting, whipping, or sexual child molestation. I'd had a great uncle on my mother's side who sexually abused me and I was able to recognize that later in life. But that was such a minor event compared to the mental and emotional turmoil locked away in my head all those years.
I was the girl who always bounced back, who always took charge when needed, who could "handle anything," according to one of my sisters. She'd said, "You're the strong one."
That night in the restaurant with Dad, I cried tears for him, not for myself. I looked at the man who'd had an even harder life than I'd had. Here was the man who had to drop out of school in the sixth grade during the depression to support his mother and siblings...after he'd thrown his father out for hitting my grandma.
My father was the man who shined shoes and sold newspapers on the street corners so his sisters and brothers could have milk in the morning and go to school.
This was when I was set free.
People get hurt before we do.
As Bill Cosby says, "Hurt people hurt people."
Oprah says, When you know better you do better."
The Bible says, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." John 8:23
I think "knowing" the truth encompasses more than we think at first. Knowing means actually realizing what precedes your own hurt. Forgiveness is what heals.
Forgiveness means also moving on and embracing the good all around you each and every day.
Forgiveness means owning your own faults and your own mistakes.
And then you try over and over to do better with what you have to work with TODAY.
There is no freedom then. No freedom for you or those you blame or those you are supposed to be helping here and now, your present family who depends on you each and every day.
The strange and mystical way of life orders that the smaller you have, the less you will be given, and to those who have a lot, more will come to them.
Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance.
Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.~Matthew 13:12