Thursday, September 28, 2006

The post I didn't want to write

I don’t know how to begin this. I’ve written about my family many times on the blog, sensing that there was a knot there, constricting me somehow, and I needed to loosen it. They’ve snuck into so many areas, into stories which are not at all biographical, and yet…some unexpressed emotion from my life with them works its way into my fiction. I suppose the same is true, to an extent, for all creators. Everything you are thinking about, or trying very hard NOT to think about, works its way into your work.

Medialess day was curiously noneventful. I was so busy with Madam and the house and the laundry that I never really sat down and meditated, as had been my intent. But throughout the day, I was very conscious of missing something. My books, my blogs, my email. A little sabotaging voice kept telling me dolefully that I couldn’t do it, after it, I would absolutely have to pick up a book, or turn on the television. At times that voice had such authority, it felt almost like an objective fact. Of course I would stop, of course I would let myself down. I always do.

Well, not this time. I think I am most proud that I managed to stick it out, in spite of the voice and the constant temptation. I am proud that I took an ordinary day and gave it meaning, created my own project, and took myself seriously enough to listen to whatever impulse had led me to declare Monday a medialess day in the first place.

But I still wondered where the grand revelation was. You know, the reward for having finished something so difficult. Yes, I am aware that perhaps enlightenment takes slightly longer than one day, and that perhaps a big part of my problem with such matters has always been my impatience.

Tuesday morning found me actually working on my morning pages in the morning, for a change. Usually I wait until Madam is napping in the afternoon before I give myself wholeheartedly to the pages. But she was busy walking around and around the room. (Yes, we have walking, people. Pray for me.)

As I scribbled away, I found myself writing, “Stop hiding. What worked for you as a child doesn’t make sense anymore.” That arrested me. I knew I’ve been hiding; I’ve been talking more and more about how I keep quiet, and then feel like I’ve betrayed myself. But what was interesting to me was the idea that this attitude had worked for me as a child. That seemed to contradict my idea about my childhood.

I pause here for a moment to mention a completely maddening feeling that has lurked around me for a few weeks now, something almost like deju vu—the precise combination of coziness, security, vague melancholy, and straining that categorized the way I used to feel in the fall when I was younger—9, 10, 11, 12 and after. I’ve been poking at the feeling, asking it to explain itself. But it only persisted, and I decided that it must just be my first fall with a toddler, in a new city that feels paradoxically like home.

But it all started to make sense in my morning pages, as I began viewing a different version of the home life I always remember. I remembered other things, too. I’ve written about Punky Middle Sister here before, written about how much of an influence she has been on me and my desires for a certain kind of free spirited, creative, artistic life. I also mentioned how strongly my parents disagreed with her choices.

Well, I started to remember the beatings. They weren’t constant, but they happened often enough. My sister would do or say something, shout in their faces, try to make them SEE something or the other, and my parents, mute in their strangling rage, would lash out in the way they felt made her stop. They hit her. Hard. With a belt, with pots, with fists. I would sit in the next room, sometimes, with my hands over my ears to drown out her screams. It never worked. I would rock back and forth to the rhythm of my question, “Why couldn’t she just BE QUIET? Why did she have to provoke them?” For you see, I blamed her for bringing it on herself. I suppose it was easier to do that than to see how wrong my parents were, because I adored them. How could my father, the man I admired more than any other, the most important person in my life, be the same person who threw things at my sister, who banged her head into the dining room, who flung a knife at her? How could my mother, elegant and funny, be the same one who became a fury at my sister’s disobedience, who took a frying pan and bashed it into my sister’s head with all of her strength?

I would creep over to her when it was done, huddled in a corner, and offer my mute sympathy, trying to wrap her in my small, inadequate arms. She would push me away, angry, hissing that the reason that my parents loved me more was that they didn’t really know me, because I pretended to be a good girl, pretended to agree with them, pretended I wasn’t my sister’s doppelganger.

The thing is, she was right. I was terrified of them when they got like that, and I didn’t want to face my sister’s fate. So I linked it all up in my head—not that my parents were wrong, but that this is what it meant to be an artist, a creative. It meant being literally beaten into submission until you stopped. And the way to prove you were the real deal was to take it—to keep shouting your truth in spite of the fists and the blood.

I couldn’t do that. I was a coward. I couldn’t save my sister (although I tried, but not often enough). I couldn’t measure up the way she did. She was the one who sacrificed everything for her authenticity. I couldn’t do that, therefore it meant I wasn’t the right kind of person. I accepted everything my sister said about me, in hate, as my due. I would never succeed, because I was a weak kneed coward. I would never be good enough. She was being punished because she was strong enough to take it, to be herself.

I was not strong.

So I tried to live the middle life, please everyone. I kept my most essential self in my head and lived out of the placid little place that my parents approved of for me. I just wanted to make them happy, true, but I also wanted to be safe from them.

A rush of compassion surprised me, for my sister, of course, but also for that little girl of 8, 9, 10, 11 and on, who thought that she would keep herself safe by keeping her dreams totally in her head. Who wanted to be just like her big sister, even as her sister pushed her away for not being good enough. And even for my parents, who were only acting out the way they had been raised, and who were startled by my sister’s strangeness, which seemed to encapsulate this country, where they didn’t matter at all. Where they had no control.

So. I see now, so clearly, that my issues with manifesting things, with deserving things (because my sister told me again and again that I did not deserve my parents’ love because I was a fake), with being an artist, come from this stifled period in my life. Because I couldn’t see then that my parents were wrong. By accepting their beatings as a fair response to my sister’s provocations and choices, we both conflated being ourselves with an almost intolerable danger. Physical danger.

It was easier to tie all of that together, then to think of my parents as abusers. And they were. And yet I still love them, we all do. Even my sister, although she still struggles so much with it, with wanting their approval and with wanting herself as well.

I didn’t want to write this. I didn’t want to know this. I’ve never suppressed that period in my life, but I suppose I took on the official family version of it—that my sister somehow deserved it for being so difficult. This is the first time I’ve really thought, there is no justification for it. She is talented, and smart, and when she needed their support and their applause, they not only failed her, they tried to beat those traits out of her. Yes, she was rebellious, a smart mouth, disobedient. But there is no excuse.

I guess I’ve always focused on the effect on her, because she is my sister and because I love her so much and felt so sorry for her when it was happening. Sorry, so damned sorry I couldn’t stop it. It feels selfish to admit that it had an effect on me as well, to see that, to hear it, to have my sister turn against me because of it.

But it is also honest. God, I have so much trouble writing that—that when my sister was beaten, somehow, it hurt me, scarred me too. It seems like claiming something I have no right to have, something I don’t even want. I am cringing as I write this, but it’s true.

An important knot has unraveled. I don’t know what to do with the pieces of it left in my hands, though. So I put them out here, outside of me, until I can have them make sense.



Blogger Catherine said...

It was so brave of you to write this. Abuse always affects others close to it, even if you are not directly the one abused. It's not selfish of you to feel just as scarred by it as your sister.

4:09 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger Ally Bean said...

I'm happy for you that you figured out this piece of the puzzle. What a difficult revelation it must of been for you. You'll do better with things now that you have a clearer idea of why you are as you are.

5:26 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger M said...

Wow, thank you for writing this, for the honesty. It must have been so hard for you. But it must feel good to put it out there and to voice it.
big hugs!

7:20 PM, September 28, 2006  
Anonymous fern said...

Whoa. I could feel your heart spill out as I was reading that.
Thank you so much for sharing such a personal part of yourself...opening up, bringing it to the light is the first step toward healing.
Thank you for your profound honesty. I hope it gave you some touching...*Sniff*

9:59 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger sophie said...

that was a pure "gust" from
deep inside you...and the
knot unravels....
hugs - warm and sincere.

11:18 PM, September 28, 2006  
Blogger Laini said...

This is so powerful. I can't really imagine how it feels from the inside to claim your part in those beatings, and how it affected you -- I can see how it would be hard to claim the pain for yourself when it was your sister who was suffering in a more obvious way. But from the outside looking in and reading this objectively, it's so clear you were and are a victim of that same violence, if not in the same way. I'm glad you're claiming it and vocalizing it, and finding the voice that was terrified out of you when you were so young.

1:58 AM, September 29, 2006  
Blogger la vie en rose said... weren't a were a child...there's a huge difference...

family systems theory views families as individuals but also as one functioning unit. that means in a sense that when something effects one piece of the whole it can't help but also have some effect on the other pieces. our individuality often determines what form that effect will take. for you it sounds like it was hiding, shutting down, trying your hardest to be exactly what was expected

your honesy and your courage in this piece is, well, breathtaking. not only were you brave enough to write this but you were brave enough to go many people never have that kind of fierce courage. maybe everything is so tangled that it's not just one knot but a lifetime of knots...and here you dared to start untangling it all. i have a nasty habit of throwing all my necklaces into a drawer and forgetting about them. well, you can imagine what they look like when i actually want to wear one. all the chains are tangled and intwined to the point that i can't tell one from the other. but little by litte, as i undo the clasps and start sorting through them i eventually get may take days but i get there...and to this day some of my chains have permenant knots that are so tight i'll never be able to get them out. i just have to wear the necklace with the knot...

5:06 PM, September 29, 2006  
Anonymous Shannon (Sentimental) said...

Wow, what a moving and sad time for you. Having come from a torrid past as well I understand. I am glad you faced this and are beginning to free yourself from it. Allowing those words to permiate beyond yourself it allows the world to take responsibility because it is just too much for one person to bear alone. Hugs. Beautiful writing.

8:02 AM, October 01, 2006  
Anonymous Marilyn said...

Your feelings are YOUR feelings and you're entitled to them, so it's not 'selfish' to think you're somehow claiming her pain as your own. It's YOUR pain that's coming up. I can powerfully relate to being those ages and hiding in one's room to escape the fear and physical danger. In my case, it wasn't because they were beating my was my mother throwing things at my father or hitting him with them. This is so brave of you to share this. I can't imagine that the loosening of this inside of you won't FREE you in countless ways. Because, sweetie, you addressed one of the prime inhibitors in life without naming it: shame. Often we carry such deep shame with us for decades OVER THINGS THAT WEREN'T OUR FAULT. It's not your fault that she was beaten...not your fault that you couldn't stop the beatings...and not your fault that you weren't her. You did the best you could in the moment, and that's good enough. You're already such a remarkable and creative talent...I can't wait to see how this epiphany will free you even more.

8:50 AM, October 02, 2006  
Anonymous Emmie (Better Make It A Double) said...

I think you're very strong,and very brave. if you weren't, you would be revisiting what you "learned" upon the next genereation instead of using that horrible experience to figure outhow it affects you today. But I'm so sorry you have to!
(P.S. Could you pass me your phone number? I'd love to set up a play date, but I hate figuring out all the details by e-mail. Go bipedal Madam!)

8:54 PM, October 02, 2006  
Blogger liz elayne said...

thank you for sharing this you amazing brave girl. thank you.
i just want to say that over and over again. thank you.

by writing this you release some of this out into the world. to heal yourself. to heal others.

i just want to envelop you in my arms.

11:59 PM, October 02, 2006  

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