Ordinary Evil: Memoir of a Buried Life
Interrupting the Silence
by Alethea Marina Nova (all rights reserved)
“I think the silence was worse than the rapes.”
~From the film, The Prince of Tides
It had been four months since Kylie and Abigail learned the truth, so surely it was time to inform my mother. Yet most days I didn’t have the strength to undergo such a turbulent task. But on the days when I decided that I must tell her, the feelings were undeniable. So I decided that the coming family reunion at my mother’s home would be the perfect place to allow my inner child to speak.
Almost a year had passed since first unlocking the door to my childhood, yet I continually fought the voice in my head that begged me to block the memories again.
In my old life my family accepted me. When the memories were locked away I didn’t have to think about the agonizing moment when I would finally say, “Mom, I’ve remembered that dad sexually abused me.”
The constant hum of the airplane engine could not distract me from the hounding fear of telling my mother what I remembered.
I looked out the window of the airplane so the other passengers couldn’t see me cry about being forced to carry the burden of the secret.
The dilemma of whether or not to tell my mother was creating profound guilt –guilt for daring to talk about crimes committed against me.
I kept reminding myself that if I told my mother about my memories, she wouldn’t drop dead right there on her kitchen floor. Yet the real fear was that if I spoke about the past at the upcoming family reunion, somehow my father would return from the grave, take his knife, and kill me.
As the plane descended, I closed my eyes and fantasized. I pictured what it would be like to see my mother’s eyes flood with tears, a confession pouring out of her mouth, and then to experience a long overdue embrace. I envisioned her crying to me that she was glad the secret was finally out in the open. I visualized heartfelt talks and joyous laughter as decades-old tension evaporated.
When the captain’s voice came over the loud speaker, I quickly snapped back into reality. There was no way in hell that my mother would express an ounce of regret for not protecting me, much less that she would admit to the abuse.
An apology wasn’t even what I wanted the most. “I’m sorry” is meaningless without true remorse and those two words cannot repair a lifetime of misery. I needed to hear her say that she had thought about nothing else through the years, and that she wished she had made a different choice. It would be comforting and healing to know that she prayed daily for forgiveness and felt some kind of pain for choosing her husband over her daughter. It would have been influential to hear that she deeply regretted her weakness.
I reached into my backpack and pulled out the poem I had composed just before the trip. I allowed the words to envelop me.
She is in control, No, I am.
Will she lie? It does not matter. It will be out, I will be free.
Everyone will know, but I am strong.
Don’t see her face -you know, the one when you were three.
Love her, embrace her. Now I really am free.
There was a torn and crumpled list stapled to the poem. Each item on the list was a positive motivation to disclose the secret. Truth for mother and daughter was the number one reason. I found myself clutching the paper as tightly as I clung to the hope that after three decades, she was as tormented as me about keeping secrets. No matter what I decided, the superficial and decaying relationship I had with my mother would be dramatically affected, but it could not go on as it had been —cold, distant, pure pretense. Each conversation with my mother ended in my hanging up the phone disturbed, angry, and sick inside.
It pained me to picture what bringing up the incest could do to her. I imagined my mother pacing the hallway of her home thinking about my father fondling me, with his penis in my mouth, or dry-humping me in my bed. Even though I knew she deliberately didn’t protect me, I still did not want to impose these images on her. This, in and of itself, had great potential to stop me from coming out with the truth.
The horizon revealed the airplane being close to the ground and the flight attendants were scurrying around collecting trash. My thoughts drifted to a time when I was about five years-old. I was standing in the bathroom of my childhood home. I was confused and frightened. I knew I had been doing something wrong because my mother had a funny look on her face; anger mixed with resentment. My small hand was in hers, and she had just smelled my fingers. My mother roughly shook my hand. “Don’t you touch down there! Keep your hand away from that place!” she said.
The memory of being scolded for masturbating was one of the few memories I had retained long before therapy. After recalling the incest, I read that children who are being molested, frequently masturbate.
Time passed through my thoughts, and brought me to age fifteen. As a teenager, I knew something was not right with me mentally or emotionally, I just didn’t know what it was. I had asked my mother for help and she reluctantly signed me up for group therapy at the community hosptal. Her displeasure was made known by her piercing silence while driving me to each therapy session. At the time I thought it was the fifteen dollars and the fifteen minute drive to the clinic that bothered her. She always seemed so resentful when she dropped me off.
For the first time, I realized she probably feared I would remember the abuse and talk about it to the therapist.
However, I never accomplished anything in the group, and my mother was pleased when I eventually abandoned the therapy. Her secret had been safe…at least for the time being.
My mind raced forward again, to my first memory of incest when my mother was headed off to the restrooms at the campground. In my memory, she looked so tired and defeated. She appeared to be ‘doing her duty’ by leaving me alone in the tent with my abuser. Surely my father would have known the risk of forcing oral sex on me when my mother had only left a moment before. She could easily have forgotten her soap or perhaps her toothbrush.
The emotionally debilitating epiphany struck me over the head upon the intuition that my father didn’t have to worry about being caught because my mother already knew, and he had her silent approval.
No sick verbal agreement between the two of them was even necessary; just a glance from my father may have been the signal for my mother to leave my father and I alone. These truths needed to be faced.
The flight attendant announced the passenger safety instructions, and as the plane began to land, my heart twisted into a knot inside my throat. This was the first time that I would be in the same room with my mother since remembering the truth. Soon I would see the face of the woman who stared at me with no feelings as my father pushed his huge body on my chest while holding a knife to my throat.
Due to my mother’s incredible ability to deny and repress what she had done to harm others, there was every possibility that I was about to drop a bomb on her. I feared the shock would kill her, but due to her old age, I also feared she would pass away before I had a chance to confront her about the trauma and pain she helped my father inflict.
When the airplane was on the ground I felt so isolated. I was completely alone in a strange city with my vile secrets. At that moment I had a mother, but within days she could no longer be any part of my life. I wondered if that was really so terrible. Our relationship had been so superficial anyway, kind of like apple pie on top of dog poop.
While disembarking the airplane, I carried the heavy baggage of constantly having to pretend. I was mentally prepared to speak the deadly secret but stopped silently in my path. I could not breathe. I saw my mother waiting for me at the terminal and it was the mother that I had always wanted and created in my mind as a small child. I watched her search the crowd for me. She looked so frail with her white hair and thin bones. I could feel my strength slipping away into the airport floor.
I was three years old again.
My mother spotted me as I made my way through the swarm of travelers. Punkin was tugging at my insides, trying to get me to turn away, go back home. The child inside desperately needed reassurance. I could even feel both of her tiny arms wrapped around my legs. She pleaded with me, please don’t tell!
As I wrapped my adult arms around my mother, I ached inside because I felt the arms of Punkin clinging to me. My mother’s presence created a terrible conflict. The part of me who found strength, power, and fearlessness over the past few months was overpowered by the child in me who still longed for my mother’s approval.
I had been working hard to find the balance between Punkin and Athena. This would be an emotionally centered place, where I could speak the truth, but with love and compassion. This meant the secret could be released without anger, and if I was not accepted by my family, then I could walk away instead of lashing out at them. Yet, it was now Punkin hugging my mother. Punkin was overwhelmed in my mother’s presence and Athena could do nothing but guard Punkin and patiently wait for her to find her voice.
The day after my mother picked me up from the airport, Abigail, Kylie, and I took a long walk in the woods. Months earlier, when I first told Abigail and Kylie about the incest, they had been supportive, and said things like, “now so many things about our childhood fall into place.” But over the past few months, the incest had once again become the unspoken subject between us, and reluctantly, I had along with the silence by pretending that my memories did not exist.
At first, the conversation on our hike remained fairly superficial until suddenly, out of nowhere, my two sisters decided it was okay to talk about the incest again. I don’t recall who brought it up, but before I was even aware of my own voice, I began expressing how difficult it had been to pretend that nothing had happened to me as a child. How invalidated I felt, and how alone. Speaking the words triggered a surge of emotions. I sat down under a tree and began sobbing on a beautiful fall morning, and the only thing I could hear besides the sound of my pain, was the wind whispering in the trees.
As I cried, I kept hoping for a comforting voice of validation or outstretched hand to ease my pain, but my sisters could not provide the support I ached for. After what seemed like a life-time, Kylie eventually hugged me, but the affection came too late and the arms that embraced me gave little comfort.
Even though my sisters knew we had a dysfunctional family, neither of them were able to connect with me on an emotional level. They even suggested that I go to group therapy.
At the time I allowed myself to be hurt by that recommendation. I wanted my sisters, not a bunch of strangers. Little did I know that I would soon need the support of other survivors more than my own blood relatives, and would learn the hard way, that strangers would have more compassion for me than my own family.
The discomfort I created for Abigail and Kylie was not something they could overcome. I made them uneasy with my talk of incest; I made them wish I would just shut up. I would soon learn that the only people I could turn to were those who were also trying to heal from child sexual abuse.
Strangers would become the only people who could help me bear my pain.
I was shaking uncontrollably in the hours leading up to having dinner with my mother that night.
There was a very real possibility that I might be strong enough, or desperate enough, to reveal my memories to my mother. But this would mean Punkin would be called a liar, and immediately cut out of the family, so I did not express my potential intentions to Abigail or Kylie. Maybe because I really didn’t think I could go through with it… or possibly, because I feared my sisters would try to stop me.
That night, after dinner in my mother’s new home, the tension was noticeable.
I don’t think any of us were ever completely comfortable in my mother’s presence. She was a cold, judgemental woman who frequently tried to impose her opinions and beliefs on others. She was a non-affectionate woman who did not know how to love.
My sister Madison was more quiet than usual. She had grown very distant from me lately and exuded discomfort since my arrival for the reunion, but this was not unusual for her. Madison never cared for me. Even as a child I felt her hatred.
Everyone sat around the kitchen nook and I took a seat on a barstool. This being the first time in my mother’s new home, I glanced towards an entryway that led out to the main hall. My heart sank into the pit of my stomach and a rush of fear took my breath away. I had unknowingly positioned myself directly in front of a doorway which exposed a picture hanging on the wall.
It was a large framed photo of my father in his police uniform.
As I gazed into the past, my father stared right back at me. He had been dead for two decades and I still could not escape. I was trapped, just like I had been as a child. There was no way of asking to switch chairs with someone without explaining why. So there I sat, ready to tell my mother about my memories of incest, and my perpetrator was glaring right at me, in his police uniform.
Although the photograph captured a small smile, my father still seemed to have that familiar look which said, “Keep quiet if you know what’s good for you.”
Tension permeated the room and my mother sensed something was going on. I watched her look for ways to mentally escape. She fidgeted around the kitchen with mindless tasks. Any kind of serious conversation was foreign to us, and it was forbidden by her.
Anything real was not to be discussed; this was an unwritten family rule.
I could feel the clammy sweat under my arms. I had no idea where the conversation would go. I kept an eye on my father’s photo while telling Punkin that he was dead and gone.
Earlier that day, it was the warrior part of me who decided that I needed to speak up to my mother. Athena had prepared for battle and gave me the strength to consider speaking about the incest. It was Athena who held my sword and shield when I walked into my mother’s home, but with my father staring at me from across the hall, it was now Punkin sitting on the barstool.
As the evening lingered, the superficial kitchen conversation was not pleasant, or even productive.
At some point I could see that my mother wanted to retreat from our presence, but to my surprise, a voice that was my own told her I needed to express some feelings. Athena had suddenly grabbed her sword and shield. Punkin stood behind Athena, knowing she would be protected.
I began by saying, “Mom, do you know how much it hurt for me to find out that you didn’t really care about the terrible physical problems I have been suffering from?”
My mother didn’t flinch; she just stood there with a blank expression. Her cold stare disclosed her total lack of compassion. Amazingly, my mother could drain me of all strength without even saying a word.
With every second of my mother’s callous gaze, Athena diminished. Punkin had emerged, and she was aching for maternal love. Punkin wanted my mother to wrap her arms around me. She longed for my mother’s embrace and to hear her bewail, “I’m sorry sweetheart, I am so very sorry,” but those words would never come. Instead, my mother flippantly said, “I just couldn’t understand your physical problems because, after-all, I bore the pain of having four children.”
What? Sorry? Do I need to clean my ears out? You are comparing the choice of giving birth, which is a miracle to some women –comparing it to a terrible disease that inflicts pain and suffering on a person so unbearable that they want to die, and some people do die. They die from taking their own life because of the pain and suffering the disease causes.
Oh how I wish I had the nerve to have actually said those things to her.
Instead, weeping and clutching my stomach, I could barely believe what I just heard. The emotional pain seemed to embed itself in my abdomen. I was no longer suffering from invalidation about the debilitating cfids/ME symptoms. The profound torment was coming from a child who, for the first time, truly understood that her mother did not love her.
The agony magnified, but I somehow drew out a small ounce of courage.
“Mom, your lack of ability to love me has affected my entire life.”
Her cold dead stare pierced Punkin’s heart. I waited for an expression of concern, but it never came. My mother could only muster a half-hearted, and amazingly, almost resentful, “I’m sorry.” When she said those two dead words, my heart crumpled up and rolled under a chair.
Even seeing how much pain I was in, my mother never approached me. She remained motionless on the other side of the counter and she silently watched me bend over in the fetal position. I was crying so hard my stomach had formed an array of twisted knots that could only be untied by a loving mother, but she could not fill that role. She instead continued to stare at me from across the room. After a few minutes, it seemed she felt obligated to force out one more generic, “I’m sorry.”
Within seconds the pain transferred itself into the root pain of her not protecting me from my father and Athena was close to emerging. I could feel her inside of me searching desperately for her sword and shield, but Punkin had hidden them. Punkin knew that if Athena were to wave her sword of truth, it would be the end the family as she knew it. So Punkin hid those two powerful weapons and did what she always did; she became a good girl, because silence meant acceptance in the family, and in Punkin’s mind, acceptance was “love.”
Soon I was invisible to everyone in the room, and I went into a mental fog. I faintly heard them agree among themselves that no more needed saying. Their voices lingered and murmured around me. Everyone ignored me, and I was no longer a part of the room.
I sat motionless in my chair, invisible, as I vaguely heard my mother say she just didn’t know how to behave any differently. Although the adult, healing woman I was becoming with the therapy understood this in a rational sense, Punkin could not understand it at all. Punkin was still a very traumatized and emotionally wounded child.
I listened half-heartedly as my mother said she had been in denial her entire life. My mother then expressed her pleasure that the conversation had ended, and referring to her entire life, I heard her say, “I just don’t want to feel any more pain.”
If only my mother understood that she wouldn’t experience so much pain if she stopped inflicting it on everyone else.
At some point I heard their conversation turn to sharing loving memories about our father. I desperately needed to retreat to a place where I no longer had to listen to the feel-good stories of a child rapist. I floated out of the room and found myself sitting on my mother’s front porch. I couldn’t bear to be in the same house with a group of people who wanted to live a lie.
Trying to sleep that night was impossible. I drifted in and out of consciousness, and each time I woke up, the pain was like a jack-hammer in my gut. Even the sexual abuse was not as emotionally devastating as my mother’s cold heart. Her form of love was conditional to her comfort. It was more out of a sense of duty. It was frigid and mechanical.
I called my mother from the airport the next day and expressed that I loved her, but told her I needed to go home. She said she understood. The conversation ended peacefully and we spoke of her golf games. As usual, she could only truly function when she and I, and Punkin, all pretended everything was fine.
As I waited for my flight to board, I realized for the first time in months I actually felt good again. I did not have the shakes or the abnormal hunger. There was no fatigue in my head and my bladder was calm. As painful as the night before had been, the conversation had relieved part of the pressure inside of me. Even though Punkin kept her secret safe, I had managed for the first time in my life to express some of my true feelings to my mother.
When I returned home, I felt so healthy that I nearly convinced myself that I never had to speak to her about the incest. I think Punkin enjoyed the fact that she got to say some things without speaking the unspeakable. This way, Punkin was still a member of the family, while still being able to speak up a little bit.
I tried to justify my compromise by telling myself that my mother would never admit to the sexual abuse, much less that she covered it up. As I began fantasizing about a life without ever having to speak the truth to her, my body revolted against my decision.
The hunger resurfaced after a few days and became intrusive. My bladder flared up again and I could not properly release my urine, and once again, heavy fatigue kept me from leaving the house. I had nearly persuaded myself into thinking that being superficial was tolerable, but neither Athena nor Punkin would allow me to conform to the lie.
Punkin wanted her voice heard without having to speak, so she was giving me terrible physical symptoms. Athena wanted to give Punkin that voice, but openly revealing the incest was unsafe for Punkin. The internal conflict created self-doubt and physical turmoil. I had chosen silence but knew I was cheating myself. Punkin needed my real mother; she needed me. By not exposing the secret, I would be doing exactly what my birth mother did, which was nothing.
Chapter Seven: Liar Liar Liar, coming soon…
© 2016 Alethea Marina-Nova. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the author.