By Michelle Palladine
Many women, indeed, many people use the phrase ‘I hate my mother, she makes me crazy’ followed by a ranting of how horrid their mother is for nagging at them to wash the dishes, do their homework, watch their weight, get married, have a baby, or any number of things that might, truly, drive an adult to growling distraction. Very few of these people actually dislike their mothers when it comes down to it, though. I daresay, even fewer of them despise even the very thought of her. But this is what Mother’s Day means to me. It is the day I hate most of any day in the calendar. I have learned to stay home and not even venture to the grocery store just to avoid a stranger’s well wishes of ‘Happy Mother’s Day.’
It’s not happy for all of us. For some of us, it’s a reminder of the horrors we endured as children and somehow survived.
Not long ago, I was having an online discussion with some friends and one of them was having crazy-making issues with her over-critical mother. Many of us, myself included, gave virtual hugs and well meaning advice, followed by thoughts on the type of relationship this woman had with her mother, taking into account all we knew. A few of these women knew some of my childhood history, but not all of them. As many online conversations do, this conversation morphed a bit into how grateful this woman’s mother should be for the fact that her daughter (my friend) is the primary breadwinner in the home. I commented that I thought my friend was a far better person than me, because I would have let the woman that gave birth to me go homeless before living in the same home with her. Indeed, when that opportunity almost presented itself, her homelessness or my own suicide were the only options I saw. So I told them all why.
You see, the woman that gave birth to me truly was a rarity. She was a child molester. My first memories of her are of being sexually poked and prodded, having things inserted into me so that she could gauge a reaction. I have no idea if she took great pleasure from her work or not. I know that at five years old I took a piece of a toy (like a Lincoln Log, but narrow as a pencil) and jammed it repeatedly into my vagina until I passed out. Fortunately for her, the housekeeper found me and she was able to take me to the hospital without my father ever knowing. In my twenties I was told I still had scar tissue from this self-mutilation. I remember thinking that I wanted to destroy it, destroy whatever it was. I wasn’t old enough to understand sexual feelings or any of the like, I just knew that what was happening to me felt wrong and that if I destroyed the part of me that it was happening to, it might not happen anymore.
I was born in the early 1960s in Canada. Anyone who doesn’t understand how different things were back then needs to buckle up. For one thing, it never occurred to me that I could lie to my parents, especially after trying it a few times unsuccessfully at a very young age. I learned early on that my father was much more fond of me if I never made any noise and did exactly as I was told. At around three, I began to give off the earliest signs of child abuse by crying every time I was left alone with the mother. My father was flattered, of course, because he had no idea that when he was home there was some semblance of protection from her.
After we moved to America in the mid-60s, I became the target of a child molester on the way to school. His name was Mr. White. You see, at age six, I walked almost a mile to school each day. The mother was too depressed at leaving Canada to bother driving us and my brother would often leave me behind since I was two years younger and well, as little sisters often are, just a bother. To his credit, he usually only left me when the school was in sight.
There was a house on the corner above the school owned by an older man (he was probably in his late 60s or early 70s at the time). He used to stand out in his yard and offer us candy or change if we would stop and talk with him. Many of the kids told me he was creepy, but he already saw a victim in me, and so I wasn’t terribly hard to catch. Even Thomas, the old crossing guard told me not to talk to him and made me throw out the candy that Mr. White gave me. He would only tell me that he was a bad man, but since he didn’t say why, I just thought Thomas didn’t like him because Mr. White was white and Thomas was black and that sort of thing still went on, even in California.
Mr. White used to slide his hand down the neck of my coat and clothing and I’m sure he masturbated, but I was too young and didn’t know what that was anyway. There came a day when he tried to drag me into his house and, to the best of my memory, I ran away. I have some duplicate memories of that day, so I honestly don’t know what happened. I remember after school I told my brother, who informed me that I had to tell our mother or he would. I told her and I remember she called my father at work, who came home and called the police. In those days, the police didn’t handle things the way they do now. The officer talked to me and asked me what had happened. I was scared because I didn’t want to get in trouble and I didn’t really want Mr. White to get in trouble either, but I told the truth because that’s what I had been asked to do.
The police seemed to know all about him and I remember they told my father they were going to arrest him finally. They left and when they came back it turned out Mr. White had offered my father a thousand dollars if he didn’t prosecute. He would pay the money by the end of the month and move within the week. I remember my father spoke to me about the money, telling me it would be easier for me not to have to face a judge or a courtroom and, ultimately, I asked if I could be allowed to buy a new toy horse with some of it.
At this point, of course, the mother retired to her room in tears and my father helped the police clear off. The money? Who knows. I seem to remember my brother and I both got a new toy over it, but that’s it. Second molester down and now I begin to exhibit more signs of abuse by not cleaning myself completely after going to the bathroom. The mother’s answer to this, rather than trying to reason with me or understand and educate herself, or heaven forbid, help me, was to humiliate me and call me names in front of the entire family, which continued for a few years with growing support from the rest of my family along the way. Some of this isn’t fit to write about, even in light of the things you’ve already read.
By the time I was eleven, I only showered when instructed, I rarely washed my hair, and I was definitely the odd child. I had two or three close friends, but that was it. No surprise that one day a counselor at school asked me if things were alright at home. I was silent a long time. I just sat there, trying to formulate my answer, weighing all my options. The weirdness of having a mother who took naked pictures of me for art projects that never happened. Knowing that I might go to a foster home just for telling. Just as I was starting to answer her, she asked me if things were alright between me and my father. Had she waited, my life might have been very different, it could have even been horribly worse. But she didn’t wait and I answered her honestly. Things were fine between my father and I. Sometimes he was mean, but he worked a lot of hours. So yes, things were alright between us.
Between twelve and fourteen, I changed symptoms of abuse and began to masturbate excessively. I dressed as seductively as I could get away with, with little or no restrictions from either parent.
At about age fourteen, I was regularly menstruating and wanted to use tampons rather than pads. The mother bought them and gave me a short verbal instruction on how to insert them and sent me off with the package and the written instructions. You’re wondering how this could possibly go wrong and be the moment that I finally stood up for myself? Here it comes. Being a virgin, the tampon got trapped by my hymen, only I had no idea what a hymen was. I was terrified. I thought it was some part of my intestines. You see, I was one of those dreadfully lucky girls who had an incredibly thick hymen (about a quarter inch). I was also flexible enough to be able to see that the tampon was caught on something. I didn’t know what to do and after probably an hour and a half of trying to get the thing out, I had to go and get the mother. I will probably never forget that feeling of aloneness. My father was asleep in his lounge chair and my brother was out with friends.
I remember she came into the bathroom and had me lie back in the bathtub. I’d had the sense to try to take a bath and move the thing around, but had had no luck. She looked and informed me that it was stuck and how. I told her to get it out of me. She began to try to sexually stimulate me with her hands. The moment I realized what was happening, I kicked her away and screamed at her to get the hell away from me. She, of course, started to cry. She didn’t know what to do. She was only trying to help. She wanted me to relax. She was scared. She. She. She. I yelled until she left the bathroom and I locked the door.
About a half hour or so later, she came back to the bathroom door and knocked. I told her I wanted to go to the hospital. She told me that she would take me, but I would have to tell my father why. I should mention that at this stage in my life, my father and I rarely spoke. Right around this same time, he beat the crap out of me by picking me up and throwing me on a tile floor after trying to choke me. For good measure, he kicked me a couple times too. Since she knew I wasn’t about to share this kind of thing with my father, she had the upper hand. She would come back in, she said. She knew what to do. She wouldn’t try anything, she promised. I had to forgive her, I had to trust her. I was fucking fourteen and I had no choice. So I let the woman that had molested me and controlled me my entire life back into the bathroom to see me naked, yet again, to pull a tampon out of the place I’d tried to destroy years before.
A few years later, I would again be at her mercy when I had to fight my brother off. Again, I couldn’t tell our father; there was only her. I remember thinking back then that I must not love my brother or my father, because I didn’t want to have sex with them.
She never tried to molest me again. Instead she settled for trying to sleep with my boyfriends, or trying to get me to talk about my sex life, attempting to seduce my brother when he was nineteen (I walked in on them), and telling me daily how she was going to kill herself and I’d come home to find her dead. She spent two years alternately kicking me out of the house and begging me to come home a week later until I just left for good. I was not the daughter she wanted. I was ungrateful. I was all of these horrible things that made her sick, gave her a heart condition, caused her heart attack. That’s who I was. When my first husband raped me, she told her bridge club because it was so horrible for her. It took me years to be able to have sex with a man without feeling that she was there in the room, watching. Even to this day, I have dreams I have to force myself to wake from because they are of the twisted farce that was ‘family.’
There is so very, very much more that could be told here, how when I first told my father about her abuse, he was incredibly supportive. Then years later, he denied it had ever happened and insisted that I admit I’d made it all up. How eighteen years went by without my speaking to him because he was more comfortable with a lie than the truth. But I’m exhausted. I don’t owe this woman love or gratitude or forgiveness. Truth be told, I’m glad she’s dead. And while I don’t believe in hell, I wouldn’t be terribly bothered if she were there.
Someone said to me once that we have to love our mothers because they fed us from their bodies. I cry bullshit. I am here to speak up for the thousands of us, perhaps the tens of thousands of us who had nightmares for mothers and absentee fathers and who are still strong and good and kind in spite of everything they put us through.
Michelle Palladine is a paralegal, living and working in Palm Springs, California. She is also a professional belly dancer and an international costume designer.
This blog post is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.