Thursday, August 03, 2006

Defining Moments Ages 1-5

I have already written about most of these things on this blog, and some of it is word for word. I rewrote some of it, so now I feel drained. It is hard to relive these things enough to write about them. I don't imagine this process is going to get any easier, but I do think that two of these experiences were absolutely two of the most traumatic experiences of my life. Here it is.
Someone was up. I can still see the shaft of amber light that radiated beneath the door. I was small, still just a baby, alone in my crib, and surrounded by an infinite darkness that was pierced only by that shaft of amber. I was ready to get up and go. I decided I could just climb right out of the crib, which is exactly what I tried to do. I had practiced this climb and was sure I could make it. I held on with everything I had and pulled myself up. Over the rim I flung my foot, and secured it on the other side. Ok, now what?I was farther than I had ever been, and now, I was stuck! I had gone too far to get back into the crib, yet, if I let go now, I would fall into that abysmal darkness, to be lost forever. I was trying so hard to be quiet, it was not good to disturb mommy. I must have been crying because the door opened and there she was.Her form silhouetted against the glow of the light behind her. Suddenly the abyss wasn’t so frightening, not compared to the wrath I knew she would bring against me. But something unexpected happened. Instead of yelling, she said “are you ready to get out of bed? Did you get stuck? Here, let me help you.”The incident shouldn’t have mattered. The trauma of being swallowed into the nothingness surely wasn’t so traumatic. Getting yelled at was not unusual. People aren’t supposed to have memories that date back before age three, and I couldn’t have been three yet. I have a distinct knowledge in that memory of being in a room at the top of the stairs. The only house I lived in like that was one I lived in before three years of age. Unless my mom lied about the age at which I was potty trained.I also remember my mom telling me about my sister crying a lot, and thinking it was so cute that I stood at the bottom of the stairs yelling “Ki!, oh chi!” every time she started to cry. I am 16 months older than my sister, so I must have been close to that age.I know I was being potty trained when we lived at the house on Highland. I remember it because my grandma Irene had come to visit and was leaving. We were walking her out to her car. Something caught my eye.There was this most beautiful woman riding her bike with such grace and elegance down the street. I watched her bare feet as they somersaulted, heal over toe over heal. I was completely mesmerized. Her long brown hair was twisted into elegant braids. She passed me without even a glance. It was magic. Of course, my adult memory recognizes that she was probably all of nine or ten, and that she was just a little girl riding her bike up and down the street on a hot summer evening. That would have put me at about 20 months!As I was watching her ride away down the street, I was suddenly shocked back into “reality” with a swift swat on the butt, and an angry mother yelling that she had told me not to go into the street! I remember my grandmothers face. She was shocked, surely more by my mothers violence than by my act, but I saw it as concurrence at that time. I was sent into the house, crying.My step dad met me in the kitchen. “Why are you crying?” he asked. I tried to tell him about the beautiful woman on the bike, failing miserably to be understood. “Are you saying you have to go ‘try’?” Try was the word for having a bm in the potty chair. The next thing I knew, that was where I was, in the bathroom, on the potty chair, step dad saying “Try, Cheri, Try!”So according to these memories, I had to have been living on Highland just before I turned two. I remember that before we moved, my aunt Mila was visiting, trying to shame me into not wetting the bed. My sister was already successfully potty trained then. So that memory had to be closer to four.I know we moved out of that house when I was four. That was when my great-grandpa Al sold my mom and step dad a house for a more than reasonable price.Why is any of that important? Why would my mind hold onto such memories? The one thing they both have in common was the intense fear I felt for my mother. I think that is sad. I wish I didn’t have to be afraid of my mother. I wish that I had a mother that I could love and confide in. Someone who would tell me I’m loved and valued. No matter what, no matter. I can’t make this feeling disappear. A large part of me really doesn’t want to. How can I miss so much a thing I’ve never had?In the first memory, I remember feeling a great relief wash over me when my mother chose to help me. I suppose that she had already taught me that my needs never had nor would they ever be as important as hers, and that I would never really know what her needs would be from one minute to the next. It was a lesson I would learn well in my life.In the second memory, I was not understood. It was only the behavior they saw, not me. I wonder if this is where my feeling that no one in the whole world really cares WHO I am. The only things that matter to others is how well I fit into their expectations of who I should be and how I should act. Work hard, Cheri, to hide that beach ball below the water’s surface, for no one wants to see it. It is not important in this world, and the world should not be subjected to it.I think it was also the first lesson in knowing that no one would ever step in on my part.The next memories I have are in the house my Grandpa Al built for us.The grown-ups were painting the living room orange. There were other kids there about my age, and we were all running in and out of the house, laughing and having fun. We were told not to touch the wet paint, but we were little kids having fun, and I probably was the first one to get orange paint on my hands. I knew immediately to wipe it off, I knew I would be spanked with the dowel of the toy broom if my mom saw it. The other kids saw me wiping it off, they knew I had touched the paint. So when my mom came out and started screaming at us, they expected me to confess to my crime. I would not. Letting them take the blame was far preferable to facing my mothers wrath. I remember being so surprised and relieved that she didn’t know I had touched the paint.I look back at that experience and realize that I participated in my isolation. Even at age four I knew that in order to have any peace in my life, I would have to play by my mother’s rules. My life was to be about not setting my mother off. It was to be about being invisible. The less my existence impacted my mother, the more peace there would be in the house.When I was five, my mother stepped up the abuse.It was April of 1969 and my long hair was the only thing that was special about me. I had developed a rather nasty bladder control problem by then - not just wetting the bed, but having big accidents - even in public. My mother was sitting on the toilet and I stood in front of her while she combed it. She pulled a tangle, and it hurt, so I cringed and said ow, which made her angry. She told me if it hurt so bad she would just cut it all off. She then proceeded to get the scissors and start cutting. I was sure I that without my hair, my one and only object of value, I would be swallowed up into worthlessness, just like Kim (yes, Kim‘s life was worse than mine).I was just five, and that nasty wetting problem kicked in. I peed my pants right there in front of the toilet. That was absolutely unacceptable behavior on my part. She immediately went into a full rage. She grabbed the hair at the back of my head, threw me to the ground and rubbed my nose in my urine. My urine hadn’t even become cold yet. I tried to push away from it, but I was no match for her. I watched the pink and white fibers of the rug go up and down, my nose aching with every stroke. Suddenly they weren’t pink and white anymore. My nose was bleeding into the bathroom rug. When she saw the blood and calmed down, she was very sorry and showed me how she had only trimmed my hair and put the clippings in an envelope to put in my baby book, where they remain today.I thought that I had dealt with this. But when I allowed myself to actually “be there” again so I could write it, I broke down again. How could anyone do something like that to an innocent five year old little girl. I learned right at that moment that there was nothing she would not do to me. Even things I couldn’t control about me were subject to her wrath. I still had my hair, but I was fading fast.I was sitting at the little kids table in the middle of the kitchen eating my cheerios. I had eaten most of the bowl, but really wasn’t hungry, so I dumped them into the garbage. As I was dumping them out my mother came into the kitchen. When she saw that I was dumping out my cereal, she few into a rage. How could I waste food like that? She grabbed the bowl out of my hands and instructed me to eat the cereal out of the garbage.We had little dogs at that time, who were trained to pee and poop on newspapers. She had picked up those newspapers that morning just before breakfast, and that was what my cereal was sitting on. I knew I had no choice. I took one spoonful to my mouth. The odor was revolting. The cereal was mushy an unrecognizable in my mouth. I tried to swallow it, but began to throw up instead. She decided at that point that I must not feel good, so she didn’t make me continue. I didn’t go to kindergarten that day, I stayed in bed.What does a little girl learn from being treated like that? Not even the dogs were forced to eat off of their potty newspapers. I was terrified of her. She was the mother of two young children who treated them the way a horrible, spoiled rotten brat treats her dolls. I had no value as a human that morning. It was gone. I was living a nightmare with no hope of ever waking.


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