II. A dimly browning memory
One part of Mildred’s bizarre psychosis involving me as her chosen child in hell had to do with the fact that in her mind I was a failure at getting and being sick. It takes a special kind of mental illness for a mother to rage against a child for not getting sick often enough or bad enough as if I evilly intended that these patterns occur. Mildred had that kind of an illness.
The chronic message given to me in every way she could possibly convey it (and hence to my siblings) was that I was supposed to suffer because I deserved ONLY to suffer (a component of being the devil’s child in hell) while her other upper world all-good children were NEVER supposed to suffer because they did not deserve to. It certainly never broke Mother’s heart to see me sick.
I have always held a vague sense of memory that seems to be connected to my having chicken pox. I am in bed around age 3 to 4 I believe in the Altadena house. The fact that I “only had six pox” while poor darling Cindy (she never asked for this distinction any more than I asked for mine) later suffered greatly with many chicken pox was brought up to me in Mother’s verbal abuse litany against me throughout the rest of my childhood.
Mildred was always marching against me with her army of abuse possibilities. The most important point regarding my health as a child is that no matter what Mildred thought, wished for or said it was a powerful protective factor for me that I was tough, strong, healthy with great stamina and physical resilience. Had I not been born this way I would not have remained alive. When it comes to the balance between severe abusive physical trauma in my childhood and frequent periods of forced confinement and isolation, I now understand that those ‘down times’ after Mildred had exhausted herself physically by beating me allowed my body to crash and recuperate. (The isolation was, of course, far more frequent and prolonged than what I needed for this physical restoration.)
When it comes to the varieties of abuses Mildred had in her arsenal to attack me with, her verbal abuse in regard to my ‘refusal’ to get sick often or badly enough had very minor impact compared to all else I endured. Because I had never been loved by Mother, and because nobody ever betrayed me by pretending they loved me ‘sometimes’ if I was good enough (as happened to Mildred when she was a child), I was not psychologically damaged by this abuse approach. I carried such a burden of terror and grief all of the time that no matter how often Mildred used this particular weapon it held no power to make me feel worse than I always did related to my reactions to her abuse of me.
This fact was not a sign of my invulnerability to pain. It was a sign that there was only so much suffering I could bear. I had far worse things to worry about and deal with when it came to what Mildred did to me. It will be seen in Mildred’s future letters and in photographs that I am often outside the family close-closed structure (as in the picture on the cover of this book) and missing entirely from many pictures of happy events.
It was Mildred’s psychotic permanent and pervasive separation between her adored, cherished, darling other (upper world all-good) children and me as the devil’s child in hell that hurt me. All these ‘minor’ ways Mildred conveyed her feelings about me were simply facets of a many-sided weapon of Linda destruction. I was caught with Mildred in a perpetual struggle between her wanting me dead and needing me alive at the same time. I suffered and endured because I had no choice, yet I was still a child who had to pass through developmental stages over the course of my childhood that I could neither skip nor resist.
At least five hours have passed since I wrote about my vague sense of a memory that I suspect is connected to my being sick with chicken pox. My mind keeps returning to this sense. To this unseen scene. I am aware that I feel sick. My body is sick. I cannot see anything specific or clearly, yet it is as if I have my eyes open in that time and place that were left seeing something then that only appears now as if my own eyes are mirroring back to me a vision of a brownish cast of dimming light in the room connected to two other brown dim rooms. I am small. My body is small.
I can see the outline of a window close to where I lay. A tall window. A low sill. Lit with a brighter soft light. I know the window is at the front of the house to the right of the door if you were coming in. There are trees out there, grass, a sidewalk, a street. I have a sense I want my Daddy. I want him to walk up the sidewalk, come up the sidewalk right now and in the front door. He does not come. He isn’t there.
I have a sense something happened suddenly. Unexpectedly when I was lying in this bed. Mommy is very mad at me. She is very big. She wears an apron. Her sudden rage hit me like a shock wave rolling all the way through my body but it stuck there and stayed there and has never left that spot I cannot see at all clearly now.
I was startled. The startled did not stop. A shiver on my insides that didn’t stop even when it froze there. Her attack came screaming at me out of nowhere. I did not understand. Something froze in me. A part of me is stuck there in a world that no longer exists. Made of thickening browness like almost solid smoke. A part of me waits. Nothing moves anymore but my eyes. My eyes stayed there seeing and my ears hearing – something – where there is nothing left to hear. Something is scaring me.
My being was invaded with fear and a sense of guilt for something I could not comprehend. I was paralyzed. Part of me there now in that brownish dim room memory. I know where my head was on a pillow. I know where my feet were and what direction in the room they were facing. In a bed. With blankets. By a window. Near the front door. First I was sick and safe and then I was sick and not safe.
A vague sensing memory that makes no sense and probably never will that has something to do with my sister Cindy. Something to do with me being sick but not sick enough and it is all my fault and all my fault that Cindy gets sick. Sicker than I do.
I was so deeply confused. Words. Her angry words at me that tell no sense to me. My world. Turned into nonsense. I know I am supposed to do something because I did something wrong. But I don’t know what I did. I don’t know what I am supposed to do. This part of me stuck back there in time will probably stay there until I die.
Circumambulating this memory from within as it feels like from without as I write I have an awareness that because I WAS sick, probably with a fever, I felt very strange in my body and thus the world felt strange. Sickness must have been such an unfamiliar experience for me. To have my body in a state of weakness. Of decreased strength and stamina. I probably knew instinctively even at three or four years old that this increased vulnerability put me even more at risk and in danger.
It also strikes me as I write that perhaps this memory belongs to what I would call a ‘genesis incident’ and is, therefore, a genesis memory. I remember very clearly and always have even very early experiences that Mildred took as crimes I committed that each proved my guilt around some fatal flaw. These genesis incidents became segments of repeated memory as they were chanted over and over again, brought up during beatings throughout my childhood.
It may well be that my not being sick enough or often enough, etc. crimes were added to Mildred’s litany exactly at the time my dimming brownish room experience took place. This may well be the origination point of this litany segment. Perhaps I am not clear to myself in my memory related to this experience because I was in my sickened, weakened body at that time.
In addition, I would have been fully aware by this age of Mother’s doting on her darling children when they were sick. It may be that this incident was the first time it was made very clear to me that it was impossible for me to receive the attention and affection my siblings received from Mother when I was sick. Maybe that is exactly what Mildred’s psychosis wanted me to learn.
While it was impossible for me to feel resentment, jealousy, envy, anger, self-pity, curiosity or wonder connected to my experiences in the world, or to even question what happened to me or why all the way through my childhood, this fact would not have prevented this experience from having a profound impact on me – one I was helpless to understand and one that I have never forgotten.
Any time Mildred’s psychosis was triggered toward me I would instantly be disconnected from any contact with my siblings (a state that often lasted for days or weeks at a time). At these times I was completely deprived of the nurturance I received by being with them in any way. By the time I crossed into the ages above three and my brother, John, into his ages above four I know that Mother was increasingly able to corrupt his ability to reach me when I needed him most – and when he needed most to respond to me when I was in greatest need.
Although Mother had absolutely no power to change John’s love for me, she was able to begin to corrupt the sustenance within our relationship. Because his love had sustained me since my birth, the loss of contact with him when Mildred attacked me (which was frequently) meant that I was separated from the only love and attachment I had ever known. When I needed him most and he could not come to me, and I know he knew when this was, my brother was in hell. He has remembered his powerlessness to help or to rescue me with a sense of guilt all of his life.
It was one of John’s most important protective factors that he had been born the first child, doted upon and nearly worshiped as a son, until he was nearly 14 months old when I was born. Importantly he was not exposed in the womb to Mother’s super-heightened stress hormones as she attacked me. Neither, of course, was I. (Mildred’s ‘problems with me’ didn’t begin until the time of her difficult labor with me, as explained in Story Without Words). All of my younger siblings experienced Mother’s insane levels of abuse of me in some way from the time they were conceived and from the time they were born.
Here I am the next morning, sitting outside as the high Arizona desert sun rises. February 2, 2013. Pen in hand. My Family Dollar Store $2 spiral notebook. Out in my long black down jacket with my morning cup of dark brown coffee lightened with vanilla flavored powdered cream as a treat. Gift from my daughter who lives 1700 miles away from me.
And with my brown tobacco cigarette. I know clearly when I smoked my first. Age 16. Money dropped into the machine in the Westward Hotel in Anchorage. Pack of Kools in my hand. Firm. Smooth. Square edges. Richness. Open it. Smoke my first. This story will grow into my story later in my writings.
I have not been able to walk away and leave behind my need for comfort from this addiction that at age 62 I know is killing me. I look inside. I know. I realize. Last night when I returned to visit little girl. Memory related to me. Frozen with words. Without comprehension. Mother raging at me all confused. Never having fully left that dimly browning room.
I look around as the sunlight creeps among the shadows now. Bright dashes here and there across the dampened desert soil of my garden. Brown. So many shades of brown. Darkened dead leaves shuffled under climbing rose bushes. Rotting. Enrichment of the soil from worm digested compost.
And here sits I. Alone. Of course. Listening to chirping morning birds, soft cooing inner chuckles of doves who seem to know secrets.
Shadows of leaves brown against the light tan paint of this old house I live in. That plant seems to be a magic plant I’ve never seen elsewhere. It is growing a trunk below the roofline where the water runs and drips. A wise plant. Chose its perfect spot. It keeps its leaves. Keeps them green. Grows up to peek its newest twigs inside my bedroom window.
Smoking comforts me. So many forces. Growing up. Against me. Memories from childhood. Yes. All connected running through tangles of contact between ‘then’ and ‘now’. Smoke traveling in air. I set it free from my browning lungs. Smoke. Travels.
I think of the pipe of my father. In the Jeep’s own womb. Traveling. Interminably repeated long hours of travel home and out of the valley again. Crowded, encapsulated. A family traveling at the speed of Jeep on rough, rough roads. Together. Alone. Through the ever changing wilderness. Inside with Velvet pipe tobacco smoke. Outside. A world so vast. Free. Remote and distant.
We. The pack. The Lloyd family. Above question. Beyond reach. Linda. Always threatened. Always at the center. At the bottom. Always there. There in a world of dimming brown shadows while the light, the natural light, belonged in other people’s lives.
Such a message given to me as a child. No right to joy or health or even to my life. “Shame on you for rejecting sickness!” What power did I have to wish sickness of my siblings and make it happen? “Set them free, Linda! Set us all free! Damn you anyway, you unsick child!” Yes. I remember. I remember well perhaps with every puff I have ever taken from a cigarette. The single stupid regret of my life. That I ever started smoking in the first place. I don’t love myself enough to stop. I can’t see far enough ahead of me to know if I ever will.
Smoking draws a line between those moments of life when I as the creator of smoke am involved in also creating its freedom and those moments when I see and smell and watch no smoke at all. As if in an arctic winter cold I open my mouth, exhale, and see no vapor to comfort me because I am alive. Simply alive.
So many days and days that could never be counted. Punished. In bed. I was not sick. I was helpless. I could not rise and say with shouts and screaming, “I am done with you Mother! I am done with you. I want no more of you forever!”
There would have been a look of shock upon HER face. I could have watched her. Startled. If I could have persisted she would have turned into vaporous tendrils of drifting smoke herself. Disappearing. Leaving us behind. Together. It would have been so quiet then, a kind of peace we never knew as long as she stayed. An invader. The culprit. The source of turmoil and strange behaviors that most certainly troubled me.
But no. She remained. She didn’t even shrink as I grew older. No bad genie returning to her bottle. If she would have would have I found the family shovel and buried her then in the browning blackness of Alaska soil?
She is there now. Ashes. Gone. Do I wish her unhappiness? I hope not. She came. She went. No differently than I, at the end. It is our own sense of inner peace we’re after. High or lowly. Long or short. In the end. All a teensy wisp of smoke. Gone. Off to some other world where all that’s come before and hangs around with memory traces in our body, in our mind, things that trap and chase. All gone, too. From this world. While the greenish yellow fluffy birds of winter twitter amongst the gray twigs and branches. Free. Watching our life and then our disappearance while the sun of a clear day rises.
Please click here to read or to Leave a Comment »