The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the night and the empty skies my love
To the night and the empty skies

Roberta Flack

The pain of my parents’ betrayal lies deep in my Psyche. It’s hard to talk about how deep the wounds my mother and father inflicted go but especially my mother because she was the supposed sane one. My father was certifiable, in and out of psychiatric wards from the age of 17 until his death at age 47.

My Mother didn’t “go crazy” until I started talking to her about how hurt and angry I felt about some o the things she did. Then she had a “nervous break down,” effectively shutting me down and protecting her status as the victim. It’s hard to write about it. It’s hard to think about it because I get so angry at her for manipulating me for so many years and for continuing to try to manipulate me now.

The closest I’ve come to actually talking about the ways my Mother abused and betrayed me is some abstract poetry that really doesn’t tell it all. It just hints at what happened and how I felt at that moment. None of my therapists have really wanted to hear about what my mother was up while Daddy was putting his filthy hands all over me.

That was secondary and she was not at fault. My father was the offending parent. Like Harry they aren’t listening to what the hell happened in that situation. They aren’t hearing what I am saying. This woman told me she wished I had died instead of her first born son. She told me this repeatedly for 17 years.

God damn-it, I’d rather had my father’s beatings and his hands in my panties than that refrain echoing in my head for 55 years. Why can’t these crazy therapists understand that?

Truth be told, I feared my mother more than I feared my father because there was no end to the torture she inflicted upon me and my brothers. Daddy was violent at times and he was crazy heavy-handed. Mother had good reason to say “Stop, you’ll kill her!” He could become that enraged and he drew blood on more occasions than I care to count but once he stopped hitting you he was done.

Mother’s psychological warfare never let up though. The guilt at not having been the child she wanted when I was born still haunts me even though intellectually I know that this was one of the most patently ridiculous guilt trips of all. There was nothing I could have done to alter being who and what I was at birth. Had she said this to me once or twice, I might have remembered it and felt grieved but this was a litany that I heard at least once a month for 17 years.

And then there is the complicity and her actual participation in the sexual abuse. Perhaps this poem expresses it best. I don’t think I can write about it without becoming overly emotional and giving our perverted lurkers too much gratuitous information. This is my first memory of the incest.

Complicit

Three…I am three years old and it is dusk
the last few moments of daylight cast feeble shadows
across the white counterpane of my bed;
the sky is glowing pink fading to gray and
I can smell newly mowed grass and the bitter green
of dandelions gone to seed, the sweet yellow roses
blooming on the porch trellis beneath my window
and the faint whiff of Daddy’s Pall Malls.
And I, fresh from a bath, wearing only cotton panties
smell like ivory soap and baking soda
dabbed on mosquito and chigger bites that still itch.
My hair is damp and your hands are harsh
brushing out the tangles, warning me
“Sit still! Don’t wiggle! Be quiet, you’ll wake up the baby!”

I have this memory now, I’ve brought it up
from the cellar where bad dreams and the sad tears
of little girls are kept when it’s too hard to remember.
I’ve claimed it now even though I’d rather push
it back to that time and place when I was only three
and freeze myself in that chair getting my hair brushed free
of snarls and your hands are impatient and tired.

It came to me in bits and pieces at inconvenient times
in inconvenient places as if it had a life of its own,
refusing to be denied, ignored. It came and insisted
that I recall every single moment, every single
assault on my senses, every single thought and emotion
that ran through my three year old mind that night.
It comes again and again insisting that I recall this information
And when it comes I am, for the duration, three again…

Listening to you walk wearily down the stairs,
the soft murmur of your voice and Daddy’s
deeper and louder, the thump of the screen door
and the heavy tread of his weight on the stairs.
The smell of oil and grease on his blue jeans,
stale cigarette smoke lingering in the fabric of his shirt.
The heat and humidity, sweat on his hands
when he rubs my back and whispers, “Turn over, Baby.
Give your Daddy a kiss goodnight.” The thumping of my heart
as I turn and give myself to his hands and meet
the vacant stare in your eyes as you stand,
watching from the doorway before you turn and walk away

Barbara Gavin-Lewellyn

B

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