As a child, I often had to compete with the television for my parent’s attention, and generally lost. From the minute they arrived home from work until they went to bed, the tv was blasting and they sat transfixed, unavailable, even through dinner most of the time. They wouldn’t even turn their eyes in my direction, let alone hit the mute button or turn it off; I was often left standing there, with no response at all or a one word, barked answer and silence except for the electronic voices, which obviously didn’t care about me either. My mother often had a book perched in front of her face in addition, which she would only put down in case she wanted to scream at me, a task which would provide me with her full attention, but obviously didn’t meet my needs. I can’t stand today when I try to talk to someone and they are focused on some screen instead; it’s demeaning.
It often shocked me to know that my parents had our house custom-built and thus decided the design and layout themselves. For people who were so uncomfortable around their children, and so disinclined to see or hear them, it was a ludicrous choice. This was compounded by the fact that one day my father decided to cut a massive window through the wall separating the living room and the kitchen, leaving even less privacy and having them constantly complaining about noise as they sat in the living room and watched tv all day and night. I remember in one of those summers under my brother’s constant tyranny, when I would go out into the kitchen to try and get something to eat, he would pace back and forth in front of the window between the two rooms every time I made a sound to see what I was doing, to monitor me even while he was on the phone.
I was anxious about every move I made; he would race in sometimes and arbitrarily refused to let me eat certain things, accusing me of being “fat enough already.” On one occasion I had made a sandwich and he knocked it out of my hands onto the floor; when I tried to run out of the room, he dragged me back in and smeared my face into it across the floor. It’s no wonder that I developed the habit of eating large amounts of food when no one was around, when I could be spared this nitpicking, criticism, intrusion and abuse that was in fact a family past time. One night I went into the kitchen to make myself something to eat just as he was cleaning up and leaving; he tried to insist that I use the same pan that he did, and became enraged when I said no. I was beaten severely the next day, twice; the first time right in the morning as I woke up, and the second when I had tried to sneak back into the house after hiding out in the woods in complete boredom for several hours.
I spent so many days in that period with my back against a door, my heart pounding nearly out of my chest. There were times when he was on the other side with a butchers knife, sticking it between the cracks (whether those were around the frame of the door, or the holes that formed in mine from him breaking it down so many times) screaming how he was going to kill me, and I knew he could. It had the effect that I became hyper-aware of every movement around me; I could feel intensely footsteps in the hallway, voices out at the other end of the house, the ‘click’ of a beer can opening…I was always sure that they spelled some horror for me. My breaths would become short, my entire body would go tense. It took me many years, only until recently, to not jump, and freeze in terror when I heard a knock on the door I wasn’t expecting. Each knock would seem to echo throughout every nerve in my body until I wanted to scream.
My mother was an incredibly light sleeper; any little noise could wake her up, but she refused to take responsibility for this, to try ear plugs or go into therapy to find out what the source of her problems were. Instead she blamed us, each and every time. I remember when my brother and I were three or four years old, she would come stomping out of her room in the morning, screaming because we were ‘too loud’ with our toys; feeling no shame about leaving us alone. I had to tiptoe constantly around the house for fear that she might wake up; it was a prison. Yet, again, they made adjustments such as installing hardwood floors that increased rather than decreased the noise levels, and I was harassed for simply leaving my room to go the bathroom while she was sleeping. She would always exaggerate what I had done to make it my fault; that I was ‘stomping,’ slamming doors or knocking things over when in fact I went out of my way to be careful, but it was never enough.
When I was seventeen, I contracted crabs, not from the person I had just broken up with, but on account of my brother and his girlfriend leaving an unsanitary mess in the bathroom. I suffered for months of scratching at night, hoping the problem would silently go away before finally looking it up online and finding out what the problem was. My parents got me the treatment kit, but were adamant that I keep my condition a secret because my sister was about to visit along with her husband and son. What followed was a nonstop six days of verbal and emotional abuse. My crabs came back after the first treatment, but I had to wait until the morning after they left to reapply. My parents, masters of denial, conveniently forgot what I could possibly be going through. They screamed at me right in front of my brother for waking them up by taking a long time de-nitting in the show and demanded to know what I was doing, repeatedly saying “WHAT??” so that it my answer would be loud enough for him to hear, as if I wanted him to know my embarrassing details. I had no idea at the time the deep irony of this situation–years after the sexual abuse ended, I contracted an STD from my brother, but yet again it was posed as being all my fault.
I was seventeen that year, still a minor, still a student under their care, but they would install new countertops appliances, bathrooms…and then scream at me for using them, saying that “we just installed those to sell the house!” They never did sell, but they saw me as nothing more than an object of resentment, not meant to touch their nice new things. I recall years earlier my father screamed at me that the living room was only for “family entertainment,” and the ‘family’ that he was referring to consisted of only him and my mother. My parents wanted nothing more than for me to leave, but would do nothing to actually help or assist me in doing so. They liked to harass, but when it came down to teaching me how to drive or how to fill out forms and applications properly, there was nothing forthcoming. They preferred to act as if they already lived alone, which of course did not help move the situation along at all.
My parents were extremely intrusive, sexually, physically, and emotionally. They were imposing, and couldn’t care less about my desire for privacy. For years I had a recurring dream that I somehow wound up back in that house, trapped again with no way to move out. This dream showed me that in fact my unconscious mind was still living in those conditions, hearing those hateful voices echo against the walls, believing those lies they told me about me, protecting their secrets. As if I was still back in that house, even as I am under much more comfortable conditions, many thousands of miles away among different people. Leaving and cutting them out of my life was essential, but not enough. As I’ve been examining more deeply the messages of the abuse and how they’ve affected me today, I’ve been finding relief and my life both internally and externally has started to change.