“I’m here for a couple of days. Mom doesn’t know.” I tell my uncle, an indirect hint not to say a word. My mother still thinks I’m in the city. He abruptly stops walking and turns to face me.
“Let me tell ya somethin BDL.” I stop and look him directly in the eye.
“Your mother is your mother. She loves ya.” He continues. I cross my arms tighter across my sweatshirt. It is a cool fall morning. I’m wearing a pair of crocks over my running socks. My toes are damp with dew. The fields behind him are filled with yellow crispy corn stalks. Just beyond that is a cluster of trees. The green is interrupted with bursts of bright red, deep yellow. Even though I hear him a good part of me tunes his message out. I hear my therapist admonishing me to stay away, protect myself.
“Now I come up here. Both of em chew my butt. Next day. Come back. Like nuthin happened.” As he talks he waves his arms in the air. He is telling me to put up with it because he did. Our family is aging. The farm is in its last generation. My brother is in Kuwait with the military. I have my life in the city. My uncle continues to put in long hours working the land, trying to maintain his house and the farmhouse. Even though he doesn’t say it I know that he clings to the idea of a happy family.
“I know, but I can only take so much,” I reply. I don’t want to argue because at my root I’m a peaceful person.
“I know. She’s your mother and she loves ya.” He reiterates.
“Yeah,” I say, pushing a piece of gravel around with the edge of my sandals. Then like every other deep family matter we push it aside and he continues walking through the wet grass toward the back door.
I use my humor to distance myself from the brief conversation, but he doesn’t seem to get my humor. He is not sure what to think of the adult BDL. I switch the subject.
“Margaret. She’s always afraid that she’ll lock herself out.” “ Easy to do,” he mutters looking across the road. He tells me that he will have a key made for me today. We continue with chit-chat. He gets in his small blue truck and begins driving down the gravel road. My little Yorkie circles his truck trying to hitch a ride. She loves to ride. We laugh at the bravery of the little dog. The crunch of gravel beneath his wheels and then he vanishes down the road.
I’m excited to have some quiet time to write, but as I sit down in the kitchen all I can think about is this conversation. Abuse is generational. I have no children so it has stopped with me. My uncle has stepchildren, but it has stopped with him. Yet, there is this underlying message in our family- “honor thy mother and father.” It isn’t that I don’t think my mother loves me. She does in her way. It is not a healthy kind of love. It is a consuming, controlling, enmeshed kind of love. The kind of love that makes me sick, leaves me in the hospital imaging someone or something out there is going to get me. Mostly when I’m near her I have to worry about having a PTSD episode. I have not had an episode in a long time. I’ve also kept my distance for a long time.
I love this farm even though to some it seems a boring, depressing place. It is quiet now, but if I close my eyes and listen, I can hear and see myself as a child exploring every inch of this land. I see grandpa at the back of the lane. I see myself riding down the lane on a four-wheeler. Grandma is riding on the back. We are laughing.
As the wind chimes sound just outside, I come back to the present. I come back to the family message. I’m sure forgiveness is part of the healing process, but much of the violence between my mother and I took place behind closed doors. I am not willing to forgive yet I am willing to try to understand. To the outside world, including my uncle and aunt, I may have appeared as a spoiled, misbehaving child. My grandmother did spoil me, but my mother beat me and emotionally abused me. I know my memories are true. I will write and share my memories. The more I read about memoir writing, the clearer it becomes that everyone’s version of the same story is completely different. This doesn’t necessarily mean anyone is wrong. We all had different experiences.
I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor, a thriver. Yet, the damage of the past has clearly created destruction throughout my adulthood. I take several pills a day to cope with the PTSD, the overwhelming depression, and the sometimes intense paranoia. To the outside world, I appear normal even. On a good day-put together, professional.
The family message is not unique to my family. It is a message many survivors are confronted with. No one wants to see the truth. The old school view is that because our mothers gave birth to us we are to love them without question. No one takes into consideration how we were treated by our mothers in our formative years and beyond. My aunt and uncle witnessed my last episode. Out of all my episodes it is the only one I ever allowed my family to witness. Still, they don’t get or perhaps don’t want to get how much damage has been done. I left the nest many years ago. After therapy, educationing myself, and functioning in the world, I realize that I do not have to simply accept things.