Tracy Porter - The Author
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Prelude to Despair
In 1959 the Bible Belt of America was not a place to be if you just happened to have been a pregnant, unmarried 16 year old. Coming from a dysfunctional family herself, my motherís life must have been pretty close to sheer hell. From what I have been able to piece together, my mother had to buy and wear a wedding ring just to be able to take the pregnancy test. When she found out she was pregnant she had the opportunity to get an abortion, illegal at that time of course, but declined. Not knowing what to do, she confided to her parents that she was pregnant. Being of the hypocritical religious ilk, my grandmother who was herself engaged in an extra-marital affair, began crying and declaring how my mother had brought shame upon the family! To this day I simply cannot understand how my mother was able to bring shame upon the family by being 16 and pregnant when her own mother was engaging in an extra-marital affair and everyone concerned turned a blind eye to this obvious lack of judgement. If the whole situation were not bad enough, when my father came around to visit, my grandfather threatened him with a shotgun and demanded they marry. While this appalling display of melodrama was characteristic of the behaviourisms of my family as a whole, I will say that my grandparents did the decent thing by giving my mother two acres of land and a house to begin what was to become only one of several ill-fated marriages.
It must be pointed out that I come from a deeply religious, albeit a bit hypocritical, family who considers abortion to be tantamount to murder. My mother chose not to terminate her pregnancies because she did not want to commit what her Missionary Baptist religion told her was a mortal sin; not because of any maternal yearnings she may have felt for her offspring, I might add. Unfortunately for my mother, she never questioned her faith and asked why God could be an unforgiving diety as to punish her for such a small transgression. I suppose that because her religion taught her that losing oneís virginity before marriage was also a mortal sin, my mother felt she was in some way deserving of her predicament.
Based upon the circumstances that brought my mother to her pitiful existence in a little pink house without running water and having to take care of three small beings who she never wanted in the first place, it is no small wonder that she was depressed herself. If I had found myself in similar circumstances, I suppose that given the circumstances I would also have been at least a bit melancholy. My paternal grandmother, who never attempted to hide her contempt for my mother, told me that my mother would simply lie on the couch all day long looking at a framed picture of herself. Although I have never spoken to anyone about this, I can only assume that she was suffering with post-natal depression which incapacitated her.
From the events that were to later transpire in my very young life, I believe that my mother had an illness that was far more sever than mere depression. I believe that she was suffering from a form of post-natal psychosis, which had the effect of altering her perception of reality. In this day and age of political correctness, however, all mental illnesses that occur as a result of childbirth are called post-natal illness. I do not know if my mother was always predisposed to psychosis, but she no doubt had to have been very ill to harm her children for no apparent reason.
Little Rock, Arkansas in 1959 was not very understanding of teenage pregnancies so as soon as it became obvious to all that my mother was expecting she deprived of an education by being forced to leave school. Therefore, instead of being given the skills to go out and provide for her child, society attempted to keep her down in the gutter. My mother was being punished by society for being 16, unmarried and pregnant.
Having to endure the humiliation of a shotgun wedding, leaving her home through no choice of her own, and losing any friends acquired through school must have been a traumatic experience for her indeed. Is it any wonder she was depressed.
Needless to say, my father was not thrilled with the prospect of married life. He resented my mother, my brother, and later my sister and I for taking away his God-given rights to eternal bachelordom. He was not prepared to allow a little thing like a family get in the way of his lifestyle. Amazing, my father has never suffered from a momentís remorse for his lack of parental aptitude. Even when he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer, he was not even the slightest bit sorry that he missed out on loving his children and his children missed out on loving him.
My mother goes to great length to detail his mental and physical abuse of her, but since I was so young when they divorced I cannot remember any evidence of such. From my experience of my father, he has a very sharp tongue and I have no doubts that he subjected her to his venomous wit at times. Although I do not recall that my father has never laid a hand on me personally, I do not doubt that he would not strike my mother when angry because he used to spank my sister quite often for even trivial matters. My mother was therefore taught to abuse from a very early age from her parents, and later her own husband reinforced her attitude that inflicting harm on others was a right and proper way to behave.
Don Banks is quoted as saying, ďThe worst abusers are the abused.Ē
My mother has told me on several occasions that my father was the love of her life, but considering all of the abuse he is said to have afflicted on her, I find such statements to be contradictory. While a reasonable person would wonder why anyone would love someone who hurt them so, such logic does not apply when considering what motivates dysfunctional families.
It is a well known fact that victims of abuse often protect their abusers. This applies primarily to the parent/child bond, where the parent teaches the child to love in a distorted fashion. Most women, however, who are abused by their husbands usually hate them. It does not make sense, however, that my mother could say that my father was the love of her life when she confessed that he treated her so badly in the same breath. The lesson that my mother learned very young in life was that love hurts, so she therefore loved the man who hurt her. She would in turn hurt her children and expect them to hurt her because in her very distorted mindset she equated pain with love. The more pain she inflicted on her children the more she expected them to love her. Sadly, she did not understand that love shouldnít be a painful experience for both the person who gives the love and the person who receives it.
My mother brought with her into her first relationship a lot of emotional baggage acquired in her young life. My mother was born in 1942 in Yell County, Arkansas to a pious family that was active in the church. While my maternal relatives were self-proclaimed Christians, I personally never experienced any Christ-like behaviour from these people who were preachers, deacons, Sunday school teachers and piano players. If anything, they were the last people I would turn to if I had a personal problem because I have always felt so detached from them.
I have a rather peculiar relationship with my mother because I have never particularly liked her as a person and I have certainly never respected her. While I am proud of her for her accomplishments, the way that she treated me when I was growing up will always overshadow any good qualities she may have. While I have enjoyed my motherís company on occasion, I must admit that I have never been able to truly forgive her for the hellish life that I had while I was growing up. It is for that reason that I have stayed away from my family home even during the most distressing of times of my life, times when most people would want their relatives around them. I, on the other hand, have never felt that I could rely on my family. My family in turn has never done a thing to make me feel as if I could trust them or turn to them in a crises.
There is an axiom among counselling professionals that those who have been abused are very likely to become abusers, and this premise has never been so true as when one examines the relationship that my mother had with her mother.
Although it is not a very well published fact, many women are actually jealous of their daughters. So prominent is the phenomenon that mothers actually feed their girl babies less than boy babies. Mothers are also responsible for many eating disorders in their daughters because they criticise them about what and how they eat. With this in mind, my grandmother must have been secretly jealous of her daughter because she apparently was the one who behaved in a most melodramatic fashion when my mother announced she was pregnant. In some warped fashion, my grandmother possibly saw her daughters as competition and treated them accordingly. I honestly feel that it was not necessary for my grandmother to yell, scream and accuse my mother of bringing shame on the family just because she was pregnant. Unfortunately, that type of unreasonable behaviour was a fairly typical reaction of most families residing in the American Bible Belt when confronted with any life issues more emotionally taxing than what to fix for Sunday dinner. While many churches serve as useful as social vehicles, it has been my experience that they do not necessarily equip its members to deal with any serious life issues. If anything, they often cover up very critical problems, such as incest, child abuse and alcoholism.
On one occasion my mother confided to me that she had been abused by two of her male relatives, but would not elaborate any further because Ďshe did not want me to think ill of themí. I donít know how on Earth she could have expected me to have a good opinion of her family after everything else I had been told and experienced at their hands, but I did not want to pry into what was obviously a personal matter because I knew that her telling me what happened was difficult enough. My mother and I have tenacious relationship on the best of days so I decided that since I was not a qualified therapist, it was best not to try to delve into such a sensitive subject. I instead decided to wait until she was ready to speak. I do not doubt was my mother told me was the truth because her childhood and life circumstances were pretty typical of many abused children. I feel that on a subconscious level my grandmother may have been jealous of my mother for the attention that she received from other family members, and this stirred in her a latent hatred that she would never even be able to admit to herself, much less another living soul.
If my maternal grandmother had been a more emotionally mature and less inclined to hysteria then she would have stood by my mother in her time of need. My mother was never to learn the full extent of her own motherís surreptitious hatred until the death of her father. While my grandfather was dying an agonising death in a nursing home he began to hallucinate and mentally went back to the time when my mother was young. While my mother sat at his side, he told her he had always wanted to help her during her predicament, but my grandmother told him adamantly that if he helped her that she would leave him. Although my mother has been known to take poetic license when it suited her, I do not disbelieve what she told me because my paternal grandmother told me that my motherís parents had actually moved house and not told her! It never ceases to amaze me that my grandparents saw my mother in such despair yet they did nothing to help her. The state that my mother found herself in, having no one to turn to, not having a friend in the world, must have played terrible tricks on her mind. In a way, she believed that her babies were responsible for her predicament. Therefore, instead of loving her children, she loathed them.
I am quite confident that had my mother been brought up in a more supportive environment that she would not have grown up to be the person she has become. Apparently my grandmother went to work during the day and was engaged in an extramarital affair, which kept her away from home much of the time. Because my grandmother was relatively absent from my motherís life my aunt took a great deal of the burden for caring for mother. My motherís love for her sister was so great that when she married a young man from the local Air Force Base in North Little Rock mother missed her dearly. To my mother, her older sister was the closest thing to a caring mother she would ever have.
My grandparents were great believers in corporal punishment and an element of fear must have invariably been instilled in the minds of their children, who were later to bear children themselves. My mother and her siblings must have been extremely confused while growing up because pain inflicted was mingled with love, and this must have served to warp their perspectives. No doubt, my grandfather would tell his small, quivering child something like, ďthis is going to hurt me more than it is going to hurt you,Ē as he whipped her, slapped her, or hit her. It is important to point out that this Ďspare the rod and spoil the childí mentality was a quite common attitude during my motherís formative years of development, so her upbringing was not unique to say the least. One of the reasons why central and northern Europeans consider themselves to be far more sophisticated than their American cousins is the fact that the more well-bred view any sort of violence with disdain. In fact, Europeans take such a dim view of violence against children that in many European countries, such as Germany, hitting oneís child is illegal.
Because my mother was brought up in an environment where it was perfectly acceptable to use physical violence to get oneís point across, she unfortunately brought this ethos into her parenting style. However, to give credit where credit is due, my mother did try to refrain from hitting my siblings and me, so for the most part the physical abuse was kept to a minimum. She did have spurts of violence, which were quite painful, mentally as well as physically. Although she held back from hitting us much of the time, she never hesitated to call us names or insult us. Sometimes, the emotional abuse was much more painful than the physical abuse. Because my mother had her own neurosis to deal with in addition to holding down a full time job and rearing three children to the best of her abilities, she did resort to a lot of verbal abuse. Even that, I must say, was not that frequent, but since I am of a sensitive disposition her mood swings invariably affected my outlook on life.
If my mother was stressed out or in a bad mood, she would speak sharply to me and it would ruin my whole day. I am sure that on many occasions my mother never intended to direct the frustrations that she had with her own life at me, but her aggressive behaviour hurt me nonetheless. At times I was afraid to go into the house when she was having one of her tantrums, which would last the whole day.
I can recall quite vividly coming home from church on Sunday morning, knowing instinctively from my stepfatherís foul temperament that my mother was having one of her tantrums inside the trailer we lived in. When we reached the trailer, both my sister and I loitered around the front porch because we didnít even want to go in and be accused of some imagined wrongdoing. Because my stepfather resented the fact that his wife had been married twice before and had three children from a previous marriage, we certainly knew that we would never be able to garner any sympathy from him as he asked sarcastically, ĎWhatís the matter? Are you afraid to go into the house?í What type of silly question was that? Of course we were afraid! We didnít like being yelled at, called names, and told that our father did not want us so we had to stay with our mother who really didnít want us either. My sister and I truly went through hell at the hands of our mother, so it should come as no surprise to learn that we both grew up to become very dysfunctional adults.
It was over 20 years later that I learned my mother said that she did want us and only married Bill, my stepfather, so that she could provide a home for us. It was not until after she married Bill that he was to inform her that he did not relish the role of stepfather and did not want her children to reside in their matrimonial home. Today my mother freely admits that one of the main reasons she and Bill have endured such marital discord is because he wanted my mother but he did not want her children I, and treated us with a great deal of detachment. While Bill did not want to be a father, the irony of this situation is that he certainly never minded disciplining us with a wooden paddle that he had written the words ĎBig Redí on, again reaffirming a distorted version of love mingled with pain and humiliation. My sister and I were very rarely shown any love or affection from our mother and step-father, only anger, hostility, and resentment.
While I certainly feel that because my mother made the greatest impression on me during my childhood and as a consequence played a major role in developing my adult personality, my father, or should I say his absence, had a significant impact on who I am today as well. In a nutshell, my father simply wasnít there for me, ever. I believe that he honestly felt that his responsibility to me ended the day that I was conceived and as a result of that my feelings for him are minimal. I do not consider him to be a friend or an enemy. I do not consider his feelings at all when I plan my life and I know that he never considered my feelings when he planned his. Because he really wasnít there for me during my childhood it is difficult for me to form any intense feelings for him. While I can love and loathe my mother simultaneously for the good and bad things that she did, I cannot muster up any such sentiments for my father. Yes, I know who he is. I know heís my father. I suppose that I would be a bit sad should anything dire happen to him, but I am sad to say that is the extent of any attachments I may have for him. While my mother lavished expensive gifts on me on birthdays and Christmas when I was growing up, mostly in an attempt to get me to keep her many secrets, I cannot recall receiving even a verbal acknowledgement from my father during any birthdays, Christmases or other special occasions.
My father saw me so rarely that his visits will forever be emblazoned in my memory. I must have been about 6 when I came home from school one day. My father had parked his pick-up truck across the road, and when I saw him I ran across the road to see him and ask why he had come to visit us. His reply was that he thought that he would come to visit us and I left it at that. I never once thought his rare appearance was anything out of the ordinary. But of course, my father would not tell me the truth.
The truth of the matter was that Social Services was considering taking us away from our mother, and both of my parents had been called to a meeting to discuss the problem. In the 1960s in the Bible Belt of America. our upbringing must have been pretty bad. If the Social Services was getting involved. In that era in Americaís dark past, mothers could do anything short of murder and get away with it.
Also, in conjunction with that visit, my father was rumoured to have spent the night with my mother. It is odd, really, that she would still love a man who she claimed abused her. If anything, I would have that she would become sick at the sight of him, which is the response that I would have had. There must, undoubtedly, have been something really strange going on in my motherís mind. If she would still love and have good times with a man who hurt her so. But of course, my mother was an abused child who would grow up to abuse her own children.
I stayed with my paternal grandmother, Granny, much of the time when I was growing up because my mother had to work. I suppose her influence is part of what helped to formulate who I am today. I could talk to Granny about all sorts of things, things that I would never dream of speaking to my mother about. I felt that my grandmother was much more approachable than my own mother. While I feel detached from almost all of my biological relatives, I do in some ways feel closer to my fatherís family than my motherís. I suppose that because my father and his relatives were more educated and stable, they tended to look at things more reasonably than my mother and her relatives. While my mother, and her mother for that matter, often acted on their emotions, which were not entirely rational at times, Granny rarely showed any such traits. While Granny could be stern and would not hesitate to spank me if she felt I deserved it, I believe that she was much more rational and better able to cope with the problems that are part of our life on Earth. That is not to say, however, that she did not have problems of her own because I am sure that she did.
Granny was a large woman with many health problems. When she was about 12 years old she came down with pneumonia and almost died from the condition. During her illness she was afflicted with severe nosebleeds, which caused her to lose a great deal of blood. Although she survived the sickness, I suppose that she was never the same after that. The illness weakened her immune system and made her prone to all manner of ailments that a healthy person would have been easily able to overcome. As a consequence of Grannyís early illness she was never able to maintain a normal weight after she recovered, and as a result was plagued with endless weight problems. In this day and age where we prize a svelte figure, she must have felt quite inadequate amongst her slim contemporaries, who did not hesitate to criticise her about her weight, even though she ate less than most people. Granny also must have been mildly diabetic even as a young person because when she was a teenager she fell on a stick, which gouged the calf on her leg. The wound never healed, and eventually when she was already an octogenarian, doctorís had to amputate her leg because it was causing her so much pain.
Because Granny had so many health problems she led a somewhat sedentary lifestyle which further contributed to her weight problems. Granny would get up at 4:00am every morning and fix a huge breakfast of bacon and eggs for my grandfather who worked at a local lumber mill, go back to bed and not get up until at least 10:00am. When Granny did get up, she took residence in her personal reclining chair where she watched TV, knitted and read books most of the day. Although I never thought much of her activities as a child and young adult, as I have matured and have become educated to mental illnesses, I feel that she must suffered from some form of depression to live an existence with virtually no physical activity and often quite reclusive.
I absolutely adored my paternal grandfather, who I called Grandpa. My grandmother tells me that due to the neglect that my sister and I suffered as infants, we barely said two words although there was nothing physically wrong with us and there we no reason for us not to speak. Evidently, everyday when my grandfather came home from work, he would spend a great deal of time playing with my twin sister and I. This contact must have helped us out of our shells. When we went to live with our grandparents, we were in such a terrible emotional condition that all we would do all day long was to lay in our cribs or playpens and rock ourselves to sleep day and night. This behaviour must have been perplexing at best to my grandmother who had raised quite a few children and grandchildren. She had never come across such behaviour in children, but knew instinctively that it was down to neglect. The fact that we rocked each other to sleep is a clear indicator that we did not get enough human contact, and I dare not guess what would we would have been like if we did not have each other for comfort during the most formative time in our life.
When aide workers have gone to orphanages in Romania, they noticed that the children exhibited the well known rocking behaviour that is an indicator of neglect. Even apes, when subjected to abuse and neglect by humans, will rock. It is sad, isnít it, that my mother had two healthy, beautiful girls that she did not want, and she treated us so badly that we had to rock. It is absolutely astonishing that that sort of behaviour is allowed to go on in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
Unfortunately, the love affair with my grandfather ended one morning when I was about 7 years old. Because I was gaining confidence and was becoming an individual in my own right, I back-talked him over some incident that I donít even remember now. During this disagreement I could see that he was angry with me so I got out of my chair and ran into my bedroom, hiding in the closet, where he promptly found me and gave me a spanking, which was my punishment for misbehaving,. Because he only spanked my lightly my pride was hurt more than anything else, but it did not help the hurt feelings that I harboured. The fact that my grandfather would and could use force to bend my will to his wishes enabled me to see him in a completely different light. I donít think our relationship was ever the same after that incident, as I no longer saw him as my soulmate, but an authority figure who would not hesitate to harm me if I did not do what he wanted.
Most battered children learn that the love they receive will often be mingled with pain. Somewhere along the way, I never quite got the message that I was supposed to love those who hurt me. The only message I was able to understand when I was being hit or called names was that individuals who perpetrated those acts were not very nice people.
I always viewed my grandmother as an authority figure because she was the one who took care of me most of the time. Although I loved her, I also resented the fact that she gave me instructions about what I was to do and how I was to live my life. While Granny was a large lady, she never allowed me to indulge my sweet-tooth with cakes and candies, probably because she did not want me to suffer from a weight problem similar to the one that she had battled with almost all of her life. Many times Granny would have candy bars in the refrigerator and I would beg her to let me have them. Granny would not budge in her resolution not to allow me candy when it was inappropriate, and would only relent on the rarest of occasions.
In addition to the fact that Granny kept an eye on what I put in my mouth she was not averse to giving me a spanking when she felt that I needed it. On one occasion when we all piled into the Rambler to go grocery shopping, the highlight of our week, I told my sister that she could sit by Granny because I did not like her. When Granny overheard my comment, I am sure that she was incredibly hurt by such a callus, insensitive reMarc that came from someone who she loved and looked after. In anger, Granny retorted that as soon as we got home I was going to get a spanking. My attitude instantly changed when I realised that what I had said had landed me in trouble, and I sat in silence for the duration of the trip. When we arrived home I must have been a sombre picture to look upon because Granny told me that she had changed her mind. She informed me that she was going to Ďpostponeí my spanking. What relief. I was not going to be hit after all. I considered being hit such a humiliating thing to have to endure. I have no doubt that my grandmotherís feelings were hurt when she overhead me tell my twin that I didnít like her, but I did not see my grandmother as a loving person who cared for me. I saw her as someone who always told me what to do and spanked me when I didnít do it.
The only time I feel Granny had gone too far in her disciplining of me was one morning when I was quite young. My cousins from Dallas were staying for the summer and it was such a fun time for me as I had people my age to play with in the warm summer months. One summer morning I overheard my cousin Greg repeating over and over a word that I did not understand. As he repeatedly said Ďfuckerí, I innocently overheard and started saying the new word as well. When I went into the bedroom where Granny was sleeping I playfully said the word within her hearing.
Granny asked me, ĎWhat did you say?í
I must not have sensed the consternation in her tone because I repeated the new word that I had learned for her. Granny became very irate and told my cousins to go out and get some switches from the foliage, which cascaded the countryside where we lived. I was absolutely terror stricken at the prospect of being hit with limbs from a tree, and when my cousin dutifully brought the switches to her, Granny beat me with them relentlessly until my back was covered with welts.
When Granny had finished the task at hand, she called all of my cousins into the room to watch me sobbing in a corner of the bedroom I shared with my sister. Granny informed my cousins and siblings that they would get exactly the same treatment if she were to hear such a word come out of their mouths ever again. Grannyís tactic worked because we did not use any more profane language around her again, but I do feel however that her actions were somewhat extreme because we did not even know the meanings of the words, and my cousin must have obviously overheard it from an older child or adult somewhere. What she considered to be discipline others would see as child abuse.
I have no idea why my grandmother decided to beat me with such voracity, using a switch from a tree, reducing me into a sobbing wretch, and then called in the other children to look at my red, welted back. While my grandmother considered her actions to be a disciplinary measure, there are many people, including myself, who consider it child abuse. My grandmother beat me because it was something she could easily do and get away with. She would never have dreamed to have behaved in such a way with an adult.
In the era that I was brought up in child abuse was very common, if not condoned, and not called what it was, which was abuse, but was termed ďdisciplineĒ. My grandmother may therefore have been able to justify her actions by saying that she was disciplining me when she beat me with that switch until my back was welted and bleeding, but she should never, ever under any circumstances have committed such a violent, aggressive act in front of my siblings and cousins, and she certainly should not have showed off her handiwork to them in an attempt to frighten them. What my grandmother did to me was definitely very wicked, and she should not have been allowed to get away with it, but she did. What is even more amazing is the fact that she was in fact lauded as a good parent. What is even more astonishing is that this person who had hurt me so was one of the nicer people in my family. Is it any wonder that, as an adult, I donít have much contact with my family.
The fact is that when people are allowed to unleash their anger, they only became more angry. Their rage does not abate, but in fact becomes worse. Therefore, it is never wise to vent oneís rage on another person, especially on a child, because rather than the angry person calming down, he will become more enraged.
I have never had any kind of a stable home life, which has served to reinforce my deep feelings of insecurity. Before I had even started my first year of school at age 6 I had already lived in:-
My mother was always much closer to my brother than my sister and me. She seemed to have bonded much better with her son than she had with her daughters, which pretty much reaffirms that she later became secretly jealous of her daughters. My mother did not see her daughters as young people who needed nurturing and protection, but as competition. My motherís own rather traumatic life experiences had the effect of warping her mind and giving her some really strange ideas about child rearing.
Because I moved around so much during my early years, much of my recollections are a bit foggy and it is a bit difficult for me to place the exact time and place for many of the incidents. In addition, because I feel I have endured more than my fair share of troublesome incidents in my life, in an attempt to for my mind to stay intact I feel that my psyche has filtered out a great deal of the actual abuse that took place in order to help soften the blow of a difficult childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
It was not until I was almost 40 years old that I realised that I had in fact been abused. I grew up in an environment where the adult was always right and children were to be seen and not heard. An adult could hit a child, ground him, call him names, criticise him, and do just about anything else he wanted to do. As a result of all of the abuse and neglect that I endured as a child, I grew up to become an adult full of self loathing and insecurities. I honestly believe that I was deserving of all that I was subjected to. I believed that I was a bad little girl because my mother told me that I was. I constantly played the role of victim, and that is a role that I am trying very hard to break out of.