My family was not overtly cruel all the time. Many days they would pretend to be nice and supportive– when social custom dictated it or more surely when they wanted something from me that couldn’t as easily be taken by force. Recently, while trying to remove accounts setup by other people and generally false information written about me online, I came across an old, inactive facebook account circa 2006. I deleted it in a panic three years ago at the discovery that it was filled with messages and friend requests from a swarm of family members, led by my mother. I did so without reading them at the time, but now I see that no one said nasty things or made threats, and yet that is perhaps what hurts the most. Because I know that it is fake, that they had an ulterior motive. I also feel some of the judgment I received in the past for not matching their moods–the accusation that they were innocent and kind and I was reacting all out of proportion for presuming to be angry about bigger things then the behavior of one single moment.
My mother ended one of several bizarre “happy birthday” notices by saying, “I’ve been looking for you for years.” Once that knowledge pierced through me with a terrible fear, but not anymore. She looked for me because she wants money that I don’t have, because she wants another adult child who she can control and emotionally feed off of. It isn’t out of any genuine desire for my well-being. Likewise, with his friend request, my older brother sent the cloying message: “how have you been?” An arrogant and cynical attempt to gain information to pass onto my mother. My cousin also sent me a friend request, after openly avoiding me when we passed each other at a train station the year before; clearly negating the potential for any “friendship.” There were others, but the point is it disturbs me how they all feel entitled to condescend to me with their fake concern. They can’t find me, but I’m not “lost.”
I really would rather they just be open and up front with their intentions and abusive personalities. When I was younger, these facades confused me, they made me nervous. The inconsistency was disturbing, but of course I so wanted to believe that the lies were true, when I was treated well on rare occasions. There was a great deal of anger and self-hatred that came later on, when I would inevitably realize that I was lied to, taken in again. Just seeing these messages brought back many old feelings from childhood; vulnerability, wanting to be accepted, wanting love. For a long time I had fully absorbed the dictate that if someone is being nice to me on the surface I have to reciprocate, even when there is this history of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse.
Once my older brother “apologized” to me. We were in the car together–he was visiting while I still lived at home, so our parents had him come pick me up without even asking if that would work for me. I was thus his captive audience when he said “I’m sorry about those things that happened when were younger.” He amended this statement with a quick pre-emptive claim that our mother hadn’t put him up to this, and the excuse that “I didn’t think you’d still be thinking about all that stuff today…” He didn’t give a second thought to the days when he physically and sexually assaulted me, since after all he wasn’t the one traumatized from that experience. But that sentiment was echoed by our parents, who claimed if I just put all of this out of my mind, it would go away. Of course the idea that our mother didn’t inspire him to this is absurd because she is the one I opened up to about how much he had hurt me. I never confronted my brother, or told him what I remembered him doing to me in our childhood. And because I was still afraid of him at the time, I couldn’t respond with my real feelings; I just said o.k.
It meant nothing to me, but the problem was, he really expected this to be something of significance. Later that year, after I had moved across the country (but unfortunately not far from him) he invited me to go out for a drink, despite knowing very well that I don’t drink (on account of our mother’s alcoholism.) And he made the invitation through our mother, so as to score more points with her. My sister had him over her house for thanksgiving that year without inviting me, and she planned to do the opposite for Christmas. I quietly accepted it, but when he found out he blew up, exclaiming that because he issued these fake gestures that I had no right to be uncomfortable around him or demand that my boundaries finally be respected. He slipped back into calling me all sorts of disgusting names before hanging up. If he was really sorry for terrorizing, invading, and violating my body and sense of self for so many years on end, if he actually had some grasp of how serious his crimes were and how much they hurt me, then this wouldn’t have happened.
If an abuser is really sorry, it shouldn’t matter if we decide to have a relationship with them or not, if we write a book or even take them to court. If they were really sorry, they should be prepared to take the consequences and actually recognize the harm they did, not slip back into the same old patterns of abuse the second we offend their egos with our boundaries. The very idea that someone who had in the past rubbed it in my face how he manipulated me into doing things he wanted, someone who showed he had absolutely no concept of my rights or feelings as a person, would expect me to change simply because he had said a few words which cost him nothing is ludicrous. I was never going to trust him again, and there is no possible avenue to ever build such a trust between us today. Certainly that message, sent after five years of no communication, wasn’t going to bridge the gap.
The reality is, my family of origin are compulsive liars, manipulators, and emotional abusers. There is nothing they could possibly say to me that would change how I feel today or my choice that favors healthy relationships with people who don’t have a history of disrespecting me. But that choice was very difficult to make, because the toxic cycles they initiated in me were acted out with many other people before I knew what was happening. In fact, it was extremely disrespectful to begin with for my mother to pass around my facebook page and write those messages when I told her that I never wanted to speak to her again and wasn’t going to be a part of this sick family anymore. It was a violation of my boundaries, and a dishonest technique to try to get something she wanted.
These messages brought up all those insecurities I had regarding what these people thought about me, and a desire to impress or “show them.” But today, that is neither here nor there. They don’t know me, all they can think about me is a result of their prejudices, frozen in time from my first twenty years. They are really no different from the billions of other strangers passing through this world and pressing buttons on facebook. The symbolism of my mother taking out a “My Life” account in her estranged son’s name really says it all. She thinks that she has owns my life, I recall hearing from my sister that she once claimed (before I dropped off the map) that her therapist had agreed she has a “right” to know where I am. But she doesn’t. In the last birthday message before I froze my facebook account, after compulsively naming how old I am, she said, “I can’t believe you’re that age.” I know what kind of venom was really behind those words, I know the judgments that are her trademark. But I also know that today, it doesn’t matter anymore what she says.