This week I had a flashback that filled out a half-memory from kindergarten. We were told to lay down on our floor-mats for nap-time, and I resisted that day, giggling and talking with another boy until the teacher intervened. Outside the classroom, there was a row of one-person bathrooms, she took me inside one of them and pulled down my pants to ‘spank’ me. When she was done, I was crying, and she fondled my genitals, while saying ‘soothing’ words before sending me back into the classroom. This was a private catholic school that my mother sent my siblings and I to as collective punishment after my sister was suspended for vandalizing the public school library. And what I realized after this flashback, was that this is what she sent us there for. Because the public school district where I lived no longer beat children, and she wanted harsher punishments if any of us dared to act out on account of the abuse that we received at home.
I often overheard my mother repeating the story of how she went to the school at the end of that year and begged the principal to give her financial assistance when she could no longer afford our tuition. I’m sure she didn’t tell him that she wasn’t particularly religious, but only wanted to send her kids to a school where repression and meanness were the norm. My mother presented this to other people as some kind of proof that she had made an effort as a parent, when in fact she neglected our real needs as a rule. I know that since it was school policy that siblings would have the same classes, that my brother also had my kindergarten teacher who had beaten and fondled me and who knows how many other children in the bathrooms. At the time, my mother lied to me and said that she took me out of the school to protect me from having my brother’s brutal first and second grade teachers, but if she was really interested in protecting me she wouldn’t have let me attend kindergarten there in the first place, or threaten to send me back to this school (or worse) in later years.
My primary non-family abuser, the neighborhood friend of my brother also went to this school, but his parents didn’t run out of money. Who knows how much of his physical and sexual violence he learned at that school. But it was my mother’s deluded fantasy that my brother and I would have “turned out better” if we had been abused at this institution throughout our childhood. And she had no problem openly vocalizing this. I can imagine how much more homophobic the environment would have been for me, and perhaps that is part of what she meant. When I was three or four years old, I remember going into the basement to retrieve a dress I liked to wear. My mother stood at the top of the steps and screamed at me to leave it there; she beat me when I wouldn’t. My sister later said they were both afraid I was gay at that age; perhaps my mother hoped I could be brainwashed against it in that school. My being straight was certainly part of that “betterness” she longed for.
This was the sort of situation my mother regretted–that she didn’t beat us more, send us to a harsher private school, press even harder on the controls she felt entitled to wield over us. She never regretted screaming at us, she didn’t regret being drunk all the time or not keeping her disgusting hands off our bodies. I was labeled “bad” alongside my brother, as if through guilt by association; lumped indiscriminately alongside the person who terrorized and tore me down every day of my childhood. But I don’t see that I ever really did anything to deserve that label. And while my parents singled me out in various ways to abuse my traits and characteristics, I saw them do the same to my siblings despite their being completely different. The fact is, my parents would have verbally abused me no matter what I was like, socially, emotionally, physically…there was no way to be that could have pleased them.
I didn’t think so during my childhood; I longed to be someone else, anyone else; since I wasn’t valued as I was, I thought it was up to me to change. But the thing is, when I really did change, as most people will going from eight to eighteen, these changes weren’t acknowledged in the slightest by my family. It was still the exact same treatment, and being so isolated as I was back then, this really hurt me. It was the highest order of emotional abuse, to ignore all I had done or tried to do. And at that age, to label someone a failure, and for no reason…as if there isn’t a wealth of years and possibilities still left. They were jealous of that, they wanted to make sure I wouldn’t recognize there was still a chance for me, that I wasn’t doomed.
Today I know, despite what my mother said, I couldn’t have been “better” in her eyes, because no matter what she would continue to find fault and neglect to praise. I would always have been unacceptable; perhaps because she projected outwards her own perversion, as if I was tainted for supposedly inspiring sexual feelings in her when I was a young child. But I’m not responsible for her perversion or her unrealistic, hateful standards. I wasn’t ‘bad’ to begin with, I didn’t need to become ‘better,’ I just needed a healthy, kind, safe, and creative environment in which to develop my own personhood. I was denied that at every turn, at school and at home; I needed better parents, not to be a better child. There was nothing wrong with me, and it was not her place to openly grieve for the fact that I wasn’t “better,” especially from such a bankrupt position. It was her job to see my talents, my intelligence, my good qualities, and encourage me to express them. Her failure to do so is what is unacceptable, but ultimately my parents are the ones who should have been sent away to a place where they had little freedom.