the dead tell few tales
One of the harder things about losing someone is that your lose a lot of things you don’t know you’ll need later. Like, I’ll be going through photos–and someone will ask me who someone is–and I won’t know. And the photo isn’t labeled. And I remember Mama told me once, but I can’t call her to ask. Or you’ll try to remember something–and you’ve lost it–and no one is there to verify.
Today, I ran into a another roadblock. I’ve ran into this roadblock a couple of times, actually. What happens when someone has kept something secret–that directly affects you and your life and has a big part to play in your future? What happens when there’s no way to really ever know the truth because their secrets died with them?
Today, at therapy, we were going through my homework assignment. My therapist was so complimentary–saying how she could tell I really was vulnerable and had really committed to the work. How she knew from the moment she met me that I was ready to do this and how excited she was to finally help me get to the bottom of things. We did an extended body session because I had mentioned in my homework that it’s hard for me to feel feelings and unplug my brain–how it takes me a bit of time to identify what my body is telling me and that I often intellectualize it rather than feel it. How I think and feel in metaphor, and it can leave me grappling to be clear. It was tough. Like meditating–only with feelings. Like pulling things out of solution. Precipitating emotion. My body was telling me a lot. Like I need to move and be outside. Like I need to go off and be by myself. That I need space to breathe. That I need people to leave me alone and stop asking me to do things. That I need a break to process my grief and accept my new realities. Yep. All of that. I’m feeling that. Big time. And suddenly, the asthma symptoms that medicine wasn’t fixing–that had plagued me all week–finally went away. The aches and pains and anxiety attack feelings went away.
I mentally added some to-do items at the end of that session: 1) go outside; 2) get on that meditation nook; 3) make the most of this weekend alone.
We started with my homework. She made me read my words aloud–a trick I used to use when I was a writing consultant. It’s a way to hear yourself with clarity. It helps reduce judgment. I told her that question had been the hardest one for me–had been the one that sent me to procrastinate my homework till last night. How do I feel about my body? I wrote the absolute truth–truth I hadn’t really connected yet, but fully knew–but hadn’t really spoken.
My body, for all of my life, has been my enemy. Whether I was trying to disappear or trying to fit in or feeling different or being tortured by it. I have never ever loved my body–no matter what size I was or what I looked like or how I felt. I’ve always managed, manipulated, and used it to reinforce dysfunction or cope. I’ve never just been in it. I feel like, right now, I’m about as healthy as I have ever been with it. But I still struggle with my body. So, so much.
I had written about how much I used to hate being a girl. And so, we unpacked that. How my body annoyed me by being so extreme in all its crappiness. How clumsy I was. How my boobs got me inappropriate attention. How being a girl in my old neighborhood meant getting old before your time. How all the women wore tough exteriors–armor–to keep people from victimizing them. How women were used and abused and stuck. How dependent they all were. How they had all these kids and these shitty men. How they took care of everyone else and never them.
How I never wanted to be any of those things.
We talked about my mother and how she was all of these things. And my father–and how he tried so hard to keep me from those things…how he taught me to be scrappy…to fight back and to speak up. To never settle. To know my worth–that I was just as worthy as my elders. How he did that for her, too.
We talked at length about them. And I realized that my father did a lot to protect me and empower me. I just never saw it or realized it. It made me admire him a bit more. We got to a point where we talked about my mother and how childlike she could be. My therapist said it seemed like my mother’s development arrested at age 5. That a lot of her behavior was behavior a child would exhibit. And then she asked me a loaded question. Had my mother been abused? Because that kind of arrested development usually comes from severe abuse at a young age. Sometimes, other trauma will cause it–but usually violent.
The question made me think. I knew about the emotional abuse she suffered that we never labeled abuse–but, now, I see it absolutely was. I thought of my Papa…he was alcoholic when she was little, but I don’t think he ever would have done anything to her. He was never a party to the emotional abuse. He more or less just allowed it to go on out of guilt for what he’d done. As we talked, I realized something.
When my mother was younger, she had a sister a year older. They had a love-hate relationship, spurred by my grandmother’s favoritism. But my auntie was very much like me and protected my Mama a lot. Then, as soon as she could, she married a man and moved to Arizona. It was not expected or approved. She left Mama there with my grandparents and my uncles. And the same year, my mother married a man who abused her–that she never loved. I always wondered why because her explanation seemed flimsy. Part of me thinks, without my aunt in the house, something drove my mother to leave.
It seemed like my mother was always looking for someone to protect her. Even with me. I assumed the role of guardian. Because she just wasn’t able to deal with certain things.
As I left therapy, I talked to my roommate about it. My mother had always been such an open book–telling me everything (or so I thought). She was so open about the abuse she’d suffered and, well, everything. But she behaved oddly in certain settings. And there were rumors–that I never really thought about until now. Mostly because I assumed she would have told me these things if they were true.
I remember rumors about my uncle. About affairs–which were really molestation situations. With my aunt. Supposedly something happened when she was 9 and went on for years. He was 19. I remember my mother would shut down all conversation when these things were talked about. There was also the uncle who raped a 2 year old and was institutionalized his whole life. Surely, if he could do that to a baby, he was capable of doing that to a sister. There was her fierce protection of me and little things that make me think she knew what molesters looked like and how to keep me safe.
I just wonder what she didn’t tell me. Because even though I always protected her, she protected me a lot too.
The hard part is that all of the people who could tell me aren’t here anymore. There are just the rumors and the suspicions and the doubts. And the legacy of dysfunction.
Part of me wants to deny it–to pretend my family wasn’t as effed up as it was–but I know better. Even open books have secrets. I guess that’s the lesson. And maybe I should have paid more attention and asked more questions.
The fact that she may have died with this secret hurts my heart. But it’s time to change that legacy and break the cycle of unhealthy. Secrets only last so long. I just wish I knew for sure.