She sent me a series of messages. In the first, she asked for an ear and a shoulder, both of which I’d previously offered. “Of course,” I said. “I’m right here.”
I knew the basics before she spelled them out. She’s posted publicly about the neglect and torment that defined her childhood as well as the continuing abuse delivered in bite sized portions since.
Before I go further, let me introduce you. Comfortably into her thirties, she’s a divorced mother of two. Her husband wanted free from the constraints of both marriage and family, so she’s been a solo parent since her youngest was a baby. She works hard and brings home a decent paycheck. Her kids are well-loved, well-tended, and thriving. If you spent the weekend with them, you’d leave with a good feeling.
Unless Grandma and Grandpa stopped by.
Her parents were all but absentee while she and her siblings were growing up. The kids were essentially born and then tossed into the deep end of the pool. Sink or swim, but either way, please do it quietly. Mom has a headache, again. Well, more like still. The twenty-year-long headache. A little bit of alcohol helps a little. More helps more. Dad doesn’t drink, but frequently locks himself away from the family. He sleeps a lot. For days sometimes. Occasionally for a week or more. When he emerges, he’s sullen and shaky. And angry. Both parents are constantly low-level angry and high-level dissatisfied—with each other and with their kids. Especially with their kids. Except in public, where they use their cheerful parent faces and voices. Happy, happy, happy.
Happy ends just inside the front door. The kids are reminded regularly of their stupidity, their lack of respect, their lack of Godliness. Adult responsibilities are left to them since neither Mom nor Dad are up to it. They care for the house and yard as well as kids can, and they care for each other. She’s the oldest of three born in rapid fire succession, and is her parents’ least favorite child. They take every opportunity to let her know this. Dumb, fat, heathen.
Punishments don’t include talking. No need for words when a good hard smack is quicker. Damn dumb kids will never learn.
But she’s not a kid anymore. She’s nearer to forty than thirty and hasn’t lived at her parents’ house since she left for college. Despite knowing she’s a loving parent and a responsible adult who excels at her job, words from her childhood roll in and out of her mind. Not daily, but when she makes a mistake or looks in the mirror, she hears them. Stupid. Fat. Ugly.
Grandma and Grandpa gush over their grandkids, but even then they point out their disappointment in her. Grandma smooths her grandson’s shirt, eyes her daughter, and makes a comment about him always looking rumpled. She compliments her granddaughter’s smile and tells her she gets her good looks from her daddy. The daddy Grandma knows damn well hasn’t seen either child in a solid decade. Grandpa asks if the kids go to church. “I know you don’t care about God, but that doesn’t give you the right to raise Godless children.”
Though she’s never let her children spend time alone with their grandparents, they do get together every month or so. Between visits she hears from her siblings, who experience much the same when Grandma and Grandpa visit them. Occasionally one of them gets a call from an aunt or uncle who expresses concern about their children’s welfare after having spoken to the grandparents. Assurances that everyone is doing well are met with hesitant silence and then “Well, if you need anything, don’t let your pride get in the way of asking.”
After a week’s worth of daily messages, she finally asked what I think she wanted to from the start. “Should I keep them in my life?”
I told her to follow her instincts. To trust them. To listen to and honor the Voice Within. I said the absolute only person who could answer her question was her, and that I believe she knows what’s right for her and her children.
She decided to approach her parents with her concerns. She was gentle, she said, but made it clear she was done being made to feel bad for the mere act of being born. “In my mind,” she said, “I drew a line with a marker. I told myself if they crossed it, I’d walk away.”
Sadly, they trampled right over her line. Both pretended not to understand her discontent and reminded her of all that they’d done for her and her equally ungrateful siblings. They said they point out areas in need of improvement for her own good and for the good of her “poor children.” They expressed their love and in the next sentence said she was still the same as she’d been as a child—so stupid she couldn’t recognize love when she saw it—and told her she’d better not be poisoning their reputation by spreading vicious lies about them.
She told me she’d heard enough. “I washed away the line I’d drawn in sweet Crayola marker and redrew it in permanent marker. I might not be the smartest person in the world, but I’m smart enough to know better than to keep listening to that crap. I took a deep breath, picked up my purse, and left. I cried on the way home, but it was relief more than sadness. I’ll see them again, I’m sure I will, but I’m done sitting in silence while they try to pick me apart. They’ll never love me, but by some miracle, I love myself.”
Note: I’m posting this with the consent of the person not named here. She hopes if you recognize yourself in her story, you’ll get yourself a Sharpie. A big thick red one.
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