Tales Momma Tells
(Toknoni 05/16/2009)

While my mother and I have a troublesome past (mild understatement), I like hearing her stories of her past. These are stories that are fading with the older generation, and not often written down. In time they will be lost forever. Often they reveal things about my mother’s upbringing which gives me some insight into her and my own upbringing, since one affects the other. (see “The Tools They Were Given”).

Yesterday my mother and I went to a museum, not something we do often. The museum visit – forgettable. The ride there and back – not so much. Especially after my mother revealed an incident involving me and some Vietnamese officers that I am still trying to “get over” or digest. Last night was hard, and I . . . “switched” in my wife’s arms, something I have not done for years, and let her hold that child-thing within me. (Yeah, it was that bad, and I have gone to her several times today, just to be in her arms – though she does not know what I’ve been told, only that it ‘did something’ to me.) But in that thing my mother told me, she revealed either her love for me – just her outrage at those men (because she truly does hate men at heart). More on that later, perhaps today. We’ll see.

In her tales to me, she revealed that she was ordered to take care of her siblings – just babies – at the age of seven – or else! Her new step-father was a PTSD WWII alcoholic vet (a very violent man). I have just begun to realize how very poor they were.

She told about how they would save tinfoil for the war drive – not the tinfoil that you cook with, but even the foil off of cigarette wrappers, gum wrappers (when, she said, they were lucky enough to have gun) – every little scrap. She told how she, when she got older, would babysit for money – but had to turn every cent over to her stepfather, who would contact her employers to make sure he got every penny – and would beat her severely if she held back a single dime.

She talked about how they lived for a while on a tenement farm

She talked about how she never knew how she knew to take care of and handle the old kerosene lamps – the cleaning, trimming of wicks, etc., until HER mother said:

“Don’t you remember, dear? How you would have to carry the lamp upstairs to go to your bedroom? In that old dry house? And I was always afraid you’d fall or drop it – but your (step) father wouldn’t let me do it. But you always made it!”

She talked about how her and her mother, along with the kids, would be dropped off at the “garden” to work all day in the hot sun – her no doubt having to alternate between taking care of the kids and weed and hoe – while her stepfather went to town to start his daily drunk. I know those ‘gardens’ – they weren’t ‘gardens’. They were (and are here in the South) long endless furrows with dust and weeds, not a drop of shade to be found. It’s hot, dry, dusty work that leaves your tongue swollen with thirst, your skin caked with sweat coated mud, and your fingers and back sore from bending. About how, at the end of the day they would sit on a dusty bank waiting for him to come pick them up. And how in the end it all proved an exercise in futility, for their father made them move before the garden ‘came in’ for harvesting. I could hear the tone of finality, the sense of regret and loss in her at that. She has always loved gardening.

She talked about how they grew up poor, so poor that in all their years their greatest treat was the few (I take it two or three) times that her and her brother would be given a Hersey bar to split; how their mother would split the bar, and then they (my mom and her brother) would separate the little squares, dropping them into two separate teacups and sitting on the couch all day, suck on the chocolate squares, making them last as long as possible. “It’s not like the children of today,” she said, indicating with her tone how spoiled they are. “We didn’t gobble them up. We’d let each piece slowly melt in our mouths, savoring the flavor for as long as possible.” The wrappers, of course, went to the foil drive.

She grew up in places where the things we as modern individuals take for granted were just a dream. No electricity, no running water, not even a toilet in the house. They used an outhouse instead – and this was in the early fifties. They would have to heat water on the stove to do dishes – and her a young girl of maybe ten? I can imagine my mom struggling with a big pot of boiling water, making her way ever so carefully from the stove to the sink. What a hard life it must have been (and yet I have lived like that a time or two myself, which is why I have no fear of extreme poverty.)

She also talked about how the kitchen had to be spotlessly clean before everyone went to bed – another one of her chores – and if anything was forgotten, her stepfather would beat her unforgivably. (Having met that cruel man, I can easily believe this – very easily.) This is a habit she carries to this day: everything must be put up and tidy; the cabinets all wiped down, before she retires in the evening – no matter how tired or sore she is from her old age. Me? Not so much. I will leave dishes in the sink until morning, though I am a compulsive countertop wiper.

What reoccurs in all her stories of the past is her abusive – and I take it horribly abusive – stepfather, his rages and tempers, and hard quickness of hand. I imagine that because he was so abusive, she doesn’t see what she did to us kids as abusive, not so much – though I think in her heart of hearts, she knows, and knows very well what she did to us was just as horribly wrong in its own way. The fact that she didn’t abuse us quite as bad as she was abused tells me something about her – but I don’t know what, yet. It’s still something I’m trying to figure out. (See “The Drum Beats Slowly”.)

That’s something that I learned when I inadvertently became an abuse counselor online (while seeking help for me) – it’s not the stories that matter; it’s their effect on a person. It’s not the depth of abuse so much as how the person decides to handle it, change their own behavior, reject their ‘training’, and become a better person not only despite it, but because of it and their recognition of what it did to their lives. It’s one of the reasons I think us survivors are strong, and why we can be more tender and compassionate than those who have never had this sort of thing go on in their life. But only when we heal, or as we heal — for the scars last forever. They really do. And looking at our own scars is what gives us the strength to bear another’s; memories of our own pain is what gives us the empathy to understand the pain of another.

It’s a sad thing to realize you’ve been abused; but I feel it’s up to you (me) to change it, if you’ve discovered in your own self those abusive behaviors – the tendencies to strike out at others (unreasonably sometimes), to push away, sabotage your accomplishments, and engage in self-destruction. Lord knows, I’ve done everyone of those things in the past, and face the temptations to do those types of things on a daily basis. Not a day goes past that I or some part of me doesn’t have the temptation to put my .357 to my temple and pull the trigger**. Sometimes (like last night, after my mom revealed to me something forgotten), the urge to cut and hurt myself strikes. I sometimes find myself looking at the male-seeks-male ads, wanting to satisfy that long denied side of my bisexual nature. But I never answer; never (thus far) give into those impulses, knowing they are not only self-destructive, but would terribly hurt the ones I love so dearly. The ones who can not understand, and my wife who can never trust (she, too has some issues from her past.) But I know she trusts my love, and knowing how untrustworthy I can be, I try my best to be my best for her.

I won’t say I’m perfect. I’m so far from perfect that I can’t stand myself sometimes (hence the behavior patterns of times gone past, and the temptations I face now, and will face in the future.) Despite my name – “Michael” – I know I’m not angel, though he is my guardian at times, and I will fight alongside him should that judgment day come to pass. After all, it’s what I am, and what I’ve become, and what I always hope to be.

More human all the time.

 ** Note this was written in 2009.  Since April 1st of this year (2011) things have gotten MUCH better as we’ve cut through this BS and learned not only to accept ourselves, but BE ourselves – a multiple being living in a single unit, embracing each other and all – inside and out – with love. 

Things are much better now (we are hoping!) – and will continue to be so, though we also know: there’s a long tough row to hoe ahead in our lives – but we will go on living!  (singing our SONG of LIFE inside – forever and always THERE!  (big smiles big big smiles . . . if you only knew …. the beauty that we see.)