Ordinary Evil: Memoir of a Buried Life
“Liar Liar Liar”
“When I told my mother, I thought she would die, but she went off to get a corned beef sandwich”
~Former Miss America and incest survivor, Marilyn Van Derbur 1
by Alethea Marina Nova (all rights reserved)
A few months later, the silence which once again dominated our lives, was allowed to continue when my mother called to see what I wanted for Christmas. When Punkin heard her voice on the other end of the telephone, I froze and attempted to collect my thoughts, but her question encased Punkin into a small panic. This was an opportunity to be real with her, but a scratchy, weak voice found its way through my throat and into the phone receiver. Punkin pretended as if the emotional scene at the reunion had not taken place. We instead chatted about Christmas presents and the weather.
When I hung up the phone, I felt nauseous and sat on my bed crying. I realized the lies had to end and it was up to me to stop them. Reality and truth were essential. I could not talk about holidays and flowers until I spoke the truth to her. It was vital to find a balance between the two fragmented parts of my wounded self. It was time to allow Athena to take her magic shield and gently help Punkin stand up to my mother.
Punkin quickly let me know she didn’t like this new plan, and she blasted me with stomach cramps and diarrhea. I also experienced the rapid heart beat each time I picked up the telephone receiver to place any kind of call. Even if it was to schedule an appointment for a hair cut, Punkin would freak out and make my heart race. My bladder was inflamed and the hunger became relentless.
No matter how much Athena tried to calm Punkin’s fears, Punkin was still terrified of what could happen.
As the days drew closer to revealing the secret, the symptoms increased dramatically. I began to wake in the middle of the night with terrible abdominal pain. Terror pulled me out of my sleep only to see that the clock screamed 3:00 a.m.
These were weeks of living outside of my own body, and I floated in and out of reality.
In January of 1999, I experienced a vivid and significant dream in which I was with my mother in an unfamiliar house. She was cooking hamburgers in the dream. She prepared the patties on the kitchen counter, shaped them, added spices, and then she placed them in the toilet to cook. She put the burgers inside the rim with a spatula, as if the meat would heat up and cook perfectly fine in a cold dirty toilet. In the dream I knew this was wrong and refused to eat one.
The next scene of the dream brought me to finding a note my mother had written. It said she was going to die soon, but that she was not afraid. During the dream I knew I had to come out with the secret because I did not want her to die before I exposed it. I comforted my mother in the dream, and then woke up.
I looked at the clock; it was exactly 3:00 a.m. In that moment I knew it was time to expose the truth.
The unknown house in the dream represented my present state of being, which was unfamiliar to me. In real life, as in the dream, I was finished with catering to my mother’s needs. This lack of fear was previously unknown to me. My mother cooking hamburgers represented nourishment, or in this instance, a lack of it because she put the food in the toilet. She contaminated it, just like she polluted our family by pretending the incest didn’t happen. Cooking the hamburgers in a soiled toilet, and behaving as if this was perfectly normal, had symbolized the fact that my mother felt it was just fine to stay in denial instead of allowing truth or providing any proper love.
The fact that I didn’t want to eat the burgers was a sign of personal strength. I knew it was wrong to cook meat in a toilet, just as I knew it was unacceptable for me to maintain the family deceit. My mother’s note about her pending death represented the demise of my my remaining silent. Her lack of fear had been a symbol of my own lack of fear because I was ready to tell her about my memories.
Within a few days of the dream, I experienced an intense therapy regression where I dealt with the fact that as a child, my mother often gave me dirty looks. I regularly caught her doing this to me when I was an adult, but in therapy, I remembered for the first time that she had also done this to me as a child. It was definitely a look that was similar to jealousy and resentment.
Involuntarily, this regression brought back the memories of my mother having to take care of my urine-soaked sheets until I was nine years-old, and in my childhood memory, her resentment over my soiling of the bed seemed more connected to jealousy, than anger about having to do more laundry.
After the memory was resolved in the regression, I realized the possibility that, at times, semen might have been on those sheets. My mother’s hostility may not always have been that she had to wash my urine but that she sometimes found evidence that my father was in my bed. My mother’s looks of jealousy meant that she allowed herself to think I was an over-sexed little girl who lusted after my father. My mother’s necessity to place the blame on a child, had embedded itself in my entire being, and I permitted myself to accept her blame. Somehow, through the years of my childhood, my mother had subtly convinced me that I had instigated the sexual abuse.
Overcoming the shame that was induced by my mother took weeks of intensive therapy. But when I overpowered her emotional hold on me, the gap where my guilt had lodged itself made room to fit emotions other than pain and rage. For the first time in my life, I opened up to feelings of compassion for my mother. I had stopped hating myself, which enabled me to cease hating my mother.
I could now go to her with my memories, only now, the words would be powered by love instead of venom. This was terribly important. I could not permit myself to go to her with the secret and have it come out with pain. I knew that placing her on the defense would bring disharmony and I could not lash out at her.
Before I began writing the disclosure letter to my mother, I needed to alert Abigail and Kylie of my plans. The possibility of losing them was exceedingly real because they did not support my desire to speak the truth to my mother.
As a child I kept silent out of fear of being killed. Now that my fears of death were minimizing, I needed to address Punkin’s concern about not being accepted by my sisters. She would need help from my courageous side, but Athena had difficulty expressing the truth with love. Athena was more of a warrior.
I began to write Abigail and Kylie about my decision, but excluded Madison because it was hopeless to expect her to hear me about the incest, much less for her to understand my need to be honest with my mother. She still knew nothing about my memories and always refused to hear anything negative about our parents; even if it was true. I also knew she would go straight to my mother with the information. This would mean no chance to present my side of things.
Ultimately, the threat of losing my biological family was very real, but I was willing to sacrifice Christmas get-togethers, family reunions, birthday cards, and everything else in life that don’t mean a damn without honesty. I had always thought that bringing out the truth would stop my life, but in gaining strength, I realized that being truthful with my mother was the only way I could move forward.
It was Athena who drove to the post office with the letters informing my two sisters. Athena had awakened earlier that morning. She had rubbed her eyes, stretched, and rejoiced that her voice would finally be heard. As I dropped the letters in the mail slot, Athena knew she was needed for an exceptionally important job and she got busy polishing her sword of truth, and prepared her shield to combat the lies.
As I sat down to write the letter to my mother, fear caused me to pause for a brief moment. Then I remembered that being true to myself, as well as true to my relationship with her, was imperative. The words began to find their way onto the page.
I had chosen a letter for the communication because trying to do something this intense on the phone could result in complications. I knew she might hang up on me as soon as I broke the family code of silence. A letter would offer her a chance to digest everything. I needed to do this gently because it’s difficult to be graceful when using words like “molested,” “incest,” and “he threatened to kill me.”
The false hunger attacked my insides as I typed out the words which I never thought I would have the strength to say. Occasionally, the hunger became insufferable and forced me to stop. The terror my father had instilled continued to jab at me just like the knife he used to threaten me, but I needed to be stronger than I ever thought possible.
My heart raced with each sentence.
Abigail was the first of my two sisters to respond to my decision to confront my mother. She left a message on my answering machine. Her words were as jagged as ice and she almost sounded desperate. She made it clear that I was no longer a part of her life, and just like that, thirty six years between two sisters was gone. I re-played the message three times to make sure I understood every word and to be sure I was not misjudging her tone.
Each time, her voice pierced me like a dagger. Her emotional knife was cutting me off from her life, just like the knife that my father once held to my throat.
After truly digesting Abigail’s message, I was in so much pain that I lay down to cry and soon found myself clutching my gut in the fetal position. I could not understand why Abigail had become so vindictive. She could have said she did not agree with my choice, but that she loved me just the same. She might have left a message to have me call her so we could discuss it rationally, but this was never done.
I had lost my sister.
Soon afterwards, I spoke with Kylie and learned she had decided to stay neutral. This would enable her to continue a relationship with everyone.
But it also meant that I would stand alone.
There would be no support, no one to say they believe me. The affirmation I had received from Abigail and Kylie when I first shared my memories with them would not be repeated.
Kylie told me that it didn’t matter if she or anyone else believed me because they were my experiences –my memories. Even though it hurt to lose her as an advocate, she was absolutely correct. Kylie did me a favor by not validating me, because the isolation meant that I could not use anyone as a crutch. So in spite of both of my sister’s choices, I refused to crumble. On the contrary, I continued to write my mother, and it was Athena typing out the words.
I explained in my letter that the truth being spoken was to liberate both my mother and me, and was not being exposed to attack her. She needed to understand that the letter was not written with hate or vindictiveness. As gently as possible, I communicated my memories and how they were connected to the disease I was suffering from. I made sure she would understand that my memories came from me, not from the suggestion of anyone else. I clarified to her that, in therapy, as I remembered what was once blocked out from my mind, and as I removed the feeling of being a victim, the physical symptoms were disappearing.
I concluded the letter by disclosing that in my memories, she knew the incest was taking place.
As the last paragraphs were being typed out, Punkin stirred inside. She made me think about the moment my mother would open my letter. I could feel Punkin pulling my arm and pleading, “Let’s not tell her!” I tried to comfort Punkin by telling her there was nothing to fear, but I could feel her weakness. She didn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.
Oh how I just wished Punkin would listen to Athena.
Then, without really thinking about it, the balance of the two opposite parts of me began to center themselves. Punkin and Athena merged into one in the moment I realized that even if I had chosen not to speak with my mother, she would still carry the knowledge about everything, in silence, for the rest of her life. Whether or not this was conscious or unconscious, the sexual abuse would have always affected her, and our relationship would always suffer. Just as important, I knew that caving in to my fear would be forcing myself to live a lie and to be a lie.
The wounds which remained in our family would never truly heal unless it was brought out in the open and faced with honesty. If I did not send my letter, the grief would be like a suitcase filled with dirty laundry chained to my ankle. The only way to break my binding chain was to send the letter. So in late February of 1999, and one an a half years after remembering the incest, I typed out the final words to my mother:
The healing of our family is long overdue. The truth can never hurt. It may be painful at first, but once it is out in the open, the veil is lifted, and we realize the lie was much more hurtful to our souls, to our functioning in every day life, and to our family. I will always love you; I will always be here if you need me. I will not yell at you, or try to make you feel guilt. I will always be here, no matter what. If you need time to get yourself together, I will be here when you do, no matter how long it takes. But remember, life is short and, each moment precious. I would love to have some time with you as my mother.
Love always, Alethea
I sat on the floor of my living room looking at the seven page letter. I re-read it three times to make certain every word was perfect. Then it struck me, “If I send this, I’ll die.”
What power the past has over our lives!
Instead of allowing my fear to control me, I pulled out a drawer containing some envelopes. I chose one with butterflies to announce to her that my letter was not written with anger. Once the envelope was sealed, I placed it next to my purse. It was Sunday so I planned to take the letter to the post office the following day. My next step was to call Kylie.
I told Kylie that I was mailing my letter to our mother the next day. Abigail had asked Kylie to be informed when I was about to disclose the incest, so I requested that Kylie please pass the word along. Kylie was supportive, even saying she loved me.
I hung up feeling a sense of peace come over me. It was done. The letter was finished; the phone call had been made. Athena’s sword of truth was ready for battle, and she took Punkin’s hand. Together Athena and Punkin would face whatever was on the horizon.
The next day I was about to leave for the post office when I noticed the light flashing on my answering machine. Abigail had called. Her words were controlling, malicious, and her voice had a tone of self-satisfaction. The phone call was made from my mother’s house.
Abigail had just told her everything.
Abigail went behind my back and deliberately put herself in the middle of what was between my mother and me. I had been so careful to present my letter with love and gentleness. Abigail had no right to think she could ever speak for me. She robbed me of being able to express my pain in my own way.
It is so important how one’s truth is presented. I spent weeks on that letter and poured my heart into it. I had no idea if Abigail gave my mother an accurate account of my memories or not. She most likely gave her own vision of things. This was totally unfair to me as a human being.
These were vital, important issues for me. I could not comprehend why Abigail did this, nor could I understand her hatred. Abigail exposing my memories and my personal experiences to my mother felt as if she was trying to get back at me for going through with my plans.
After I stopped shaking and collected myself, I realized that I could still send the letter to my mother if I ran to a letter express office to send it overnight.
That is exactly what I did, and my next step was to send an email to Abigail. I let her know that this was between my mother and me, and that I had a right to speak about the violation I suffered as a child. There was nothing in my letter to my mother about Abigail, or any of my other sisters.
This was about my memories of myself and my father, and of myself and my mother. My letter to my mother was private, and about no one else.
The next betrayal was learning from Kylie why Madison had acted so cold and distant at the family reunion. Months earlier, Abigail had told Madison about my memories.
Things quickly came together in my head. Now I understood the strangely impersonal Christmas gifts I had received from Madison and why Abigail had grown distant in the previous weeks. It became obvious that Abigail and Madison had been corresponding about me and my memories. It was clear that Madison had influenced Abigail into disregarding me and disbelieving my memories. Abigail had believed me when I sent her a copy of Letters to My Sisters, but now she was treating me like garbage, and I knew why.
Madison’s version of things probably catered to Abigail’s self-comfort.
I could understand if Abigail and Madison had called to discuss the situation with me, but this didn’t happen. Instead, their desire to keep me quiet had caused an atmosphere where I received backlash instead of support. I decided to call Madison to see if she might be willing to talk. I left a message on her answering machine.
While waiting for her to call back, I calmly realized that even though the nightmare with my sisters had taken place, the secret was out, and I handled it with dignity. I had refused to behave in an ugly manner, or to react to the ugliness being thrown at me by Abigail and Madison.
In addition, even though my mother did not hear it from me first, I was the one who began the process and who took the steps to break the silence; so Punkin rejoiced inside me.
I was beginning to develop a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Athena was retreating because Punkin was feeling insecure and abandoned. My phone message to Madison had not been returned and my mother had not yet responded to my letter.
The silence was overwhelming for Punkin.
I now understood why so many victims and survivors of child sexual abuse and incest keep quiet. The pain of the silence is too much to bear.
The sick feeling eventually grew into anger because the little girl in me who was raped, molested, and threatened…also had to live with the guilt. I had been an innocent child, yet it felt as if I was the one who had committed a crime.
After a number of days, I opened my mail box and saw an envelope from Madison inside. That one small piece of mail had so much power that I paused before taking it out of the postal slot. When it was in my hand, I felt a brief sense of relief and said to myself, “Well, at least it’s something.”
As I opened the letter I knew to prepare for the worst, which was exactly what lay within the envelope. The letter was more like a note scribbled on a sheet of scratch paper. It could not have been more impersonal. When I began reading, my stomach churned and adrenaline rushed through my chest. Nothing could have prepared me for Madison’s words.
I had long been aware of her hatred of me and that she had the strongest denial system of all my sisters, but her words were like death. She said she was so angry she could barely even write. She said she never wanted to hear my voice on her answering machine again. She called my mind “malignant, twisted, demented,” and wrote that she would no longer be “contaminated” by my memories. She told me I was delusional, called me a “liar liar liar,” and said that I no longer existed to her.
She concluded with, “you make me sick.”
Her hate-driven words were enormously effective. I walked into my bathroom, looked in the mirror, and wondered out loud, “Maybe I am demented? Maybe I did make it all up!” One small piece of paper had succeeded in making me question myself. For a few minutes I thought I would lose my mind, and wanted to die.
“I tore myself away from the safe comfort of certainties
through my love for truth, and truth rewarded me”
—Simone de Beauvoir
Still looking in the mirror I saw Punkin staring back at me. Athena was long gone, and at that moment I thought she was gone forever. The part of me that felt like shit was the little girl who didn’t dare speak up.
Punkin’s fears had come true. It was painfully clear why victims and adult survivors retract their accusations, or back down from their own truth. They cannot bear the wretched feeling of being condemned and then punished by people they thought loved them.
When Madison called me a “sick demented liar,” I felt the pain from every survivor or child victim who has ever found the strength to voice what happened to them. If I had come out with my memories before I gained enough strength to deal with the ugliness then I may have gone right back into denial. I may have retracted what I knew to be true, and would have catered to the family code of silence.
I would once again, have become a lie to my own self. I had to go beyond Madison’s cruelty and lack of love, and move forward. I could not look back.
As I examined my reflection in the mirror, I decided to transform my misery into action to help others and I became thankful for Madison’s words of hate. Athena was now looking back at me in the mirror.
Madison enabled me to feel the exact emotions that survivors and victims go through when they dare to point to their abusers. Without this awareness, I could not honestly help others be true to themselves, or to honor their experiences. I began to cry deeply for victims who finally find the courage to verbalize their suffering, only to have family members crush their strength.
Athena had somehow managed to crawl out from under the rubble. She had found her magic shield, and I began to go through something profound.
Pain is often the doorway to a true metamorphosis, and so, my transformation began.
While I continued to wait for a response from my mother I received one last tirade from Madison. Her new note was short and to the point. She informed me that if I sent her any letters they would be promptly burned and “flushed down the toilet, an appropriate receptacle for your crap” she wrote.
She then announced that she would be monitoring her phone calls and would exercise the delete button on her computer if I tried to email her. And that was that. It was over, and the silence picked up right where it left off.
Looking at the severe reactions from my two sisters, from an objective point of view -instead of from pain- allowed me to discern that their anger was unjustified and their reactions greatly exaggerated. Madison had always harbored resentment for me; I just didn’t know how deep it was. She seemed to have kept something hidden within herself for an extremely long time. I felt it when we were children and it grew worse when we became adults. Such hatred cannot be waged against a sibling if there is not already something going on inside the person.
Madison might not even know what her resentment is rooted in. It may be subconscious anger from a painful childhood event. Nevertheless, her letter was judging me with anger, she used personal insults, and it lacked human openness.
People attack when they are afraid to face painful things, but those who hide from emotional pain still hold onto it.
Confronting emotional or physical trauma is a cleansing. I had looked at the jaws of my past and said, “You cannot hurt me anymore.” Abigail and Madison will carry their anger until they face the root of it. It was time to pick myself up, dust myself off, throw my shoulders back, and move on without looking back.
While standing with my full grocery cart, I could not help but notice the man in a wheel chair in front of me in line. He only had a small number of items and seemed a bit down on his luck. He looked as though he could have been a veteran of the Vietnam War, or a poor man. He definitely had been through trials in his life.
As I waited to pay for my groceries, my thoughts anxiously focused on the fact that I had not yet heard from my mother. Out of nowhere the man in the wheelchair turned around to look me in the eye, and said, “You know, after the clouds have disappeared, there will be a silver lining.”
I was stunned. It was as if this stranger could read my thoughts, or he was an Angel in disguise, sent from Heaven with a message for me. Not really knowing what to say, I just looked at the man and smiled. I was too surprised that he knew exactly what I needed to hear at that precise moment. Appropriately, this took place in the grocery store, one of the biggest triggers for my psychosomatic ailments, and a place that still haunted my dreams. It was a Divine moment, and one that will remain with me forever.
When the letter from my mother finally arrived, I was too afraid to open it so I placed the envelope aside. I wondered if my mother’s words would equal Madison and Abigail’s cruelty.
The pain and abandonment from my sisters lingered within me like smudges of dirt and grime on a clean window, but I was determined to continue transforming my grief into positive energy. A powerful surge ascended from my soul which told me that I needed to help other survivors get through being vilified, ostracized, and disbelieved.
With my new strength, I opened the letter from my mother.
Chapter Eight: Monsters in the Bedroom, coming soon…
- Used with personal permission from Marylin Van Derbur
© 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.