Playing outside in the sunshine was what we lived for. We loved the little farm we were living on. We played in the barn swinging from the sweaky, thick rope that hung from the rafters in the barn. The smell of old dirt as it filled our noses and mouths as we squealed with delight as we landed in the hay on the floor in the back of the barn, never bothered us. We welcomed it. Playing hard, for me, meant I held my pee as long as I could not wanting to leave the fun. But the time finally came and I made a dash for the toilet in the house.
As I approached the bathroom, I stopped in the center of the hallway of the floor of my 4 year old life when I was suddenly unable to breathe. I was only a few feet from the bathroom that I was headed toward. I heard a familiar sound and look to my right out of instinct following the sound. I stood there dancing the I gotta pee now dance.
The baby was crying. Mama always said she was such a good and sickly baby. Her ears always hurt her and Mama always took her to the doctor. Every once in a while she cried when her ears hurt and her skin was hot. Crying meant that mama would come and coo and cuddle her and all would be right in the world.
This time was so different that I stood staring, unable to look away. My feeling were locked into a silent scream as I looked on in horror. It was not wholey a new scene, but this felt different. I do not know why I had even paid attention. Suddenly a sensation that I still cannot explain flashed through me and I realized that I was she might see me and ran to the corner where the room she was in was separated from the room where living took place.
I stood in the tiny crack of a space and continued to watch in a horror that still echoes clearly through the halls of my mind. The room that I was peaking into was the room that my baby sister slept in. She was crying. She was so tiny. Many times I stood by that bed sneaking a peak at my beautiful baby sister through the slats of wood that kept everyone away from this tiny treasure. It always made me happy to see her. Even at that young age, I understood the complete innocence that seemed to rise and fall with every sleeping breath she took. Babies were special.
Deep inside, I already felt that special was not for me. I knew without a doubt that I was stupid because my mama and daddy said it to me all the time. But she wasn’t and the tiny little girl inside of me somehow sensed that she was different. I just could not figure out how she was different. Watching and thinking I began to understand that she was different because mama loved her. She held and cuddled and sang to her songs that rested deep in my soul, but echoed in a chamber of silence that had begun to rest deep inside of me. I wished to be a baby. I wanted to feel what she felt. I was always happy to see her. She somehow gave me hope.
I stood there at 4 peaking into the light of that room and felt the trickle of urine that ran down my leg as I watched in horror. I was even more afraid now than I was before. I knew I was in trouble. I was bad because I always peed myself. I stood many hours in the corners of my house with my shiny, white, yellow stained, satin panties stretched over my head with the familiar wet stain right in the middle of my face, breathing in the sour smell. Before my mom would stretch them over my head, she would take me by the hair and smear the pee all over my face screaming at me so loud that I cannot remember the words she said. It always took me by surprise for some reason whenever it happened. The sing songy “Pee pot, pee pot; Abigail is a pee pot!” whispers to me even as I write these words. Mama called me a piss pot. Everyone else said pee pot because piss was a bad word and kids were not allowed to say it. I did not know what to do. I knew I needed to run to the bathroom, but my fear of being seen kept me planted in the shadows.
Mama was angry, she was almost always angry except when she was singing happy songs. When she was singing, she was an angel. When she was not, she was screaming hate-filled words about how God was going to punish me and I would be damned to the fires of Hell. As I stood there watching her hand lifting and falling, I listened to her words; the words that pierced my heart with fear and caused yellow pee to trickle warm down my inner thighs. My feet soggy from the puddle underneath them. My fingers were in my ears, as my mind was crying, “Not those words, no not those words!” I wanted to scream, but I could not. The scream was frozen in the back of the deep cave that was my throat.
Mama was angry and screaming, “Shut Up! Shut Up! I’ll give you something to cry about!”
Again and again the hand raised and fell; I felt every fall landing leaving welted handprints of flaming hot reminders of a bad child. She kept repeating those words. We all knew what it felt like to be bad, all except for her. I was afraid. I was deeply afraid because something must have happened while I was outside playing.
Just a few hours earlier, in the room where hope slept, something had changed. I still do not know what changed but it definitely did. My mama was mad, but not at me this time. She was screaming at the baby. The baby was absolutely screaming at the top of her lungs. Those words kept repeating. I knew in my heart that the baby would not be able to stop crying. The crying screams grew louder and louder and I closed my eyes silently screaming “STOP, STOP so she can stop crying.” I wanted her to stop crying so that the sound from the hand and the words would stop.
Within a flash she looked up and saw me. Fear ripped like lightening through every fiber of my being. Again the pee trickled down my leg. She looked down and saw the growing puddle and dropped the baby back onto the bed. She had been holding her by the arm in the air beating her naked body. I knew I was next. She lunged at me with hate in her eyes. I could not breathe. I could not cry. She snatched me by the arm and threw me into the bathroom. The screaming, her screaming was making me deaf to the sound of my own screams and the screams from the baby in the crib in the room across the hall. Finally the screaming stopped. I was snatched off of the toilet by the hair of my head and my face was smeared into the puddle on the floor. Somehow in all of this, I realized that the baby had stopped crying and so did I. I felt inside of me that it was okay that I was caught because it had stopped. I stood once again ashamed in the corner, gagging and sniffling the snot running down my face from all the crying I was doing that I dared not move to wipe it away because it would all start again. I stood there knowing something had changed but I still did not know what it was that had changed.
How did the baby suddenly go from a sleeping bundle of joy to a stupid, cry baby that would not stop crying on her own so that she had to be taught the hard way that crying would not be tolerated not even in a good baby. Standing in the corner, I was glad it was over and again I was soothed, standing there, by the sweet sound of my mother’s lullaby as she cradled my sweetly sleeping sister in her arms crying and saying over and over that she was sorry, that we had to learn one way or another.
She took me from the corner removed the panties from my head and explained that she loved me with all her heart and soul, but I simply had to learn. God would not be happy that I had peed myself again. She gave me clean panties and handed me a towel to clean up my shame. I watched as she sweetly kissed the baby and placed her lovingly into the crib. She was sleeping the sleep of innocence again, but I knew it was over for her because she too had to learn that God wants us to obey our parents at all costs. There will be no sparing the rod and spoiling the child in that house or any house thereafter until I walked out of the door at 16 and drove away with an almost complete stranger that was about to make me his wife.
He promised to keep me safe for the rest of my life and I breathed a sigh of innocent relief because there was only a few years of peace before realizing that bad little girls only grow up to be bad big girls because the scenery had changed but the expectations had not and I was still so stupid that I would never grow up to be anything but a disappointment.
Many miscarriages and a stillborn baby only reinforced the feeling of the hopelessness that I felt. This time the words were from me. I was prayed over at church after my daughter’s death and told by my preacher that God had killed my baby because I was a sinner. At that point, I knew that every word whispered through the teeth of those that loved me and only wanted the best for me were right. I would never be good enough and my womb was a coffin that stilled my own heart. However there was one thing I knew for sure from that moment forward and that is if God is the type of god that would kill an innocent child that was not even born into sin because she never drew a breath because I was not good enough then fuck him. I would never pray to him again, and I did not for many, many years afterwards.
How do we grow from precious perfection and suddenly within a moment become sin and need to be beaten down because we have not yet figured out that God’s Love has to be beaten into us because the flesh is weak? If this is your God then I am pleased to announce that my God is not your God. My God is unconditional love and knows that we are made imperfect beings that need to make mistakes so we can improve and continue to evolve into the precious bundles of hope that he created us to be and that anything is still possible.
These are the stories that we are taught to bury and pretend that they never happened. We are expected to just pick up and carry on with absolutely no accountability to the people that thought that these sorts of behaviors were what were done in that time. Forgiveness is expected. We are to rise up and take the high road.
Well I thought I did. I went to college and studied human behavior. I picked apart every book and lecture I could find on this subject. I made it my point not to pass on these behaviors to my children. I wanted them to feel loved and valued in the greatest sense of the words meanings.
There were many times in which I felt that I was too broken to parent. I wanted to run and to die. I sought help from psychologist and psychiatrist. They would in the same visit tell me I was incredibly intelligent and had a solid deeper intuition that was powerful and that I needed to trust and before the visit was over they would over and over shatter that illusion by telling me what I was doing wrong and that I needed to try harder and be more organized and learn to write better and speak better. I would leave so confused which was I? I would go home and cry and hate myself for still not being good enough no matter how hard I tried.
I grew bitter and angry as people always seemed to think it was there place to tell me what was fucking wrong with me. Why do people do this? Yes, it is good to know what is wrong, so it can be worked on as self improvement is important, but damn what was right? I never clearly could find anything right.
At some point, my children grew up and became teenagers and young adults. They then learned about human behavior and they too felt a need to return and put me in my place and tell me what I could have done better and different. I remember being a child and knowing that I wanted children with all of my being, but also knowing that I was too broken to be a good parent.
I really, really tried to do things different and better. But, in the end, I began to realize that my children saw me as the same monster I thought my parents were. I did none of the horrible things to them that was done to me, yet I still failed them. Now they are mostly all parents. They have similar struggles that all parents have at each stage of their growth. I have however noticed that one thing is different. There are no beatings. There is a clear understanding that punishments are often necessary, but the children are not being beaten. This gives me great pride. I did manage to change one thing for future generations.
Yes I’m aware that in future generations and depending on the culture this could return, but for now, it is not happening. Yes my grandchildren are getting to be teenagers with spit and vinegar in their veins, they too think their parents are horrible because there are rules and limitations. These are still necessary in my honest opinion. But the beatings have stopped. There is still hope.
Unfortunately I now know that the hardest lesson of all for me was to see that a child that never receives a beating that scars their soul and their body does not have a memory of that happening. They did not have a clear understanding of the reason I fought this war with myself that they so clearly witnessed and did not have a means of understanding what I was doing. Humans simply will somehow find a fault in what was done to them one way or another.
Some cycles can be broken, but they simply get replaced with something else. And that maybe my children saw that I felt that I was never good enough and believed me when I said it. And this, in the end, somehow made me a super controlling and harsh person. I see it now that they are grown. I look back and see how hard I fought. I never in a million years dreamed that my fight to do better would somehow make me appear to be the monster that I spent my whole life running from. And that maybe, maybe the brutality of the beatings were just my parents way of fighting really hard to do better and to make sure that they did not make the same mistakes their parents did. Christianity was their source of strength and no one was ever willing to tell them that there is a difference between discipline and brutally beating a child. But, there is a difference and in the end, patterns can be broken.
My Great Aunt recently chuckled and said that my parents literally raised us by the hair on our head. I was not impressed by her humor because the older I get and the more I talk about the harshness of my childhood, the more I see that people actually stood back and watched it happen never considering us worth saving. This is a harsh reality. I am repeatedly told to just get over it. Maybe in this lifetime I am meant to find a way to just get over it all, but late at night, when the world is quiet and my mind is busy, I see flashbacks and hear the screams of my siblings and myself. I remember the feeling of the pee running down my legs when I stood in line with all my siblings waiting for my turn at learning to bend before God and respect our parents one way or another.
To this day, I know that I will never be good enough for my parents. To them they fully believe in the concept of a vengeful God and that failure is punishable by whatever means they have. And, I realize now that my nonconformity makes them think that I think I am better than them. And that it was their job to make us see that they had to punish us to save us from the wrath of God. They still do not see that God knows he created a reality in which humans are flawed and need room for error. To them I’m bound for Hell, but to me it is simple evolution. Life has taught me that the rules are just so different from culture to culture. In the end, no one is really wholey right or wholey wrong because we all do the best that we can with what we have.
Yes I feel that I am a victim of this circumstance and I am highly aware that I still repeated patterns that I could have changed thus victimizing others even if it was unintentional. It’s also just sad that many accept things the way they are and see no need for change and that questioning the system makes the one that questions the problem, making real change hard to see. At 53, I say that the old adage live and learn still very much applies.