The Dark Side of Mildred’s Mountain series – Angel book 2 beginning with the POP! Goes Alaska letters – chapter 20
20. A durable, endurable child
April 2, 2013. I begin this chapter with the same trepidation I felt writing yesterday’s description of what happened at the fair the weekend of my sixth birthday. There is a two-week gap of silence in Mildred’s letters between what she wrote to her mother on August 30, 1957 and the next letter that appeared in the collection of her papers dated September 15, 1957. Because I know the patterns of Mother’s rage and of her attacks on me I believe she did not let go of me as we traveled home from Palmer in our big Ford station wagon. Her rage would have traveled home with us.
Alone in my tomb of isolation I would have spent my time on the trip home still listening to shrieking streams of verbal abuse about what I had done to destroy the joy of Mother’s wonderful day at the fair. As I write this I insulate myself from knowing intimately how I felt. I would have been terrified of what was going to happen to me next once we arrived home and Mother would be free to pursue her anger out of the public’s eye. Mine would not have been a thinking kind of terror. It would have been the creeping around in a shuddering belly kind.
I refuse to allow myself to follow my memory to the parking of the car in front of the log house, or up the steps into the house – and beyond. When Mother was mad at me she had no brakes on her actions. At the very least I would have been fully “spanked” bare bottomed and sent to bed without supper – and without the mercy of the sad, scared, concerned and worried looks from my young siblings (like little animals watching me clamped in a deadly trap) that would have let me know I existed at all in someone else’s eyes.
What I do understand as I write is that the aftermath of Mother’s self-justified rage and of her actions would have profoundly affected how I felt the day I started first grade after Labor Day weekend. I don’t want to know this. I have never on my own allowed myself to connect how Mother’s beliefs, feelings, judgments and abuse of me was transferred (like an infectious disease) to the sanctity of happiness and safety I have always believed I found outside of Mother’s reach when I was at school, beginning on my first day of first grade.
The wooden paddle
The destruction of my delusion that I was able to live a different life free of horror at school came to me in two ways. As I worked through the transcription of Mother’s letters I was shocked by dismay to read the nasty, hate-filled – and on behalf of my teachers, of their collusion with her psychotic madness about me – accounts of my “abysmal failure” to be a “good girl” at school.
A few years ago my sister Cindy contributed to the bursting of my “school was a haven for me” bubble by reminding me of something Mother no doubt began doing the first of my school days. “Remember the wooden paddles Mother used to bring to the school principals?” No, I had not remembered until she reminded me, but then I remembered them instantly.
I am glad because the existence of those paddles gives me a way to understand how the long arm and rabid words of Mother formed and then crossed over the bridge she was fully capable of creating and of sustaining between her psychosis of me at home and her psychosis of me when I was outside of her physical reach. She freely shared with willing others whose charge should have been to ally themselves with me on their school grounds. Leave it to the skill of psychotic Borderline Personality Disorder Mother to invent a way to turn a toy into a weapon through which she could convey to school personnel her version of hatred toward me.
(Now considered a retro toy wooden paddles with a small rubber ball attached by an elastic string were common during my childhood. Although the history of handball tracks in Egypt to 2000 BC, it is believed that the involvement of a paddle to bounce balls against the walls of buildings was added by Irish and Scottish immigrants to New York before 1900 to prevent frozen hands in frigid winter months. Wooden paddles with the balls attached began to appear in the 1930s in America so the competition could be taken indoors and played solo.)
Mother’s unique twist, as Cindy described it and as I then remembered was to remove the string and ball, write “Linda’s Paddle” on the wood and then march off into my future with the full intent of being a caring, involved so-helpful Mother of a little girl she assured the principal and thus my teachers was “nothing but trouble to me.” Mother gave the school her permission to use “my” paddle on me anytime they needed to. To whom does the credit belong that I was never “sent to the principal’s office” and never saw this paddle in any teacher’s hand?
How evil! How unfair, cruel and sick was this humiliation of an innocent little girl who entered what should have been a sanctuary from all of these influences in her life at least during the hours of her school days? As Joe Anne Vanover repeated over and over again in our last telephone conversation about Mildred, “You poor children! You poor, poor children!” And there I was all alone in a piranha cesspool of adult participants in Mother’s psychotic abuse leading me to believe from my first day of first grade, after being attacked for “envying” my siblings’ brilliant cotton candy in comparison to my dull brown apple, having my innocence and willingness to learn viciously sabotaged without my even knowing it.
(I note here that the pervasive deterioration of American’s educational system removes a platform of safety that is essential for children who are being abused at home. In the era of my childhood child crime against child (including drug sales) was not “in session” yet. Had I been bullied at school in any way during my school career I am not at all sure that I would have survived my childhood intact. It was soon to be my school experience to be nothing but utterly ignored. I could live with and through that.)
Increasing my powers
What powers did I have to combat this conspiracy of abusive aggression against me as it took place between Mother and my teachers? I consider it both a divine irony and a gift to me that with an August 31st birthday I entered school being the absolute youngest child in my classroom. This disadvantage hurt me in considerable ways throughout the history of my childhood.
Not only did I live under the gargantuan shadow of a psychotically abusive mentally ill woman in my home life, I was deprived of stepping out from under this shadow even in the one place some degree of safety, protection, compassion, understanding and of rational objective intelligence (let alone of professional ethics) should have protected, assisted and helped to sustain me. I had not been allowed any opportunities to play in ordinary ways with my siblings or with other children. I therefore had been deprived of the opportunities necessary to become even remotely socially and emotionally competent or adjusted.
Add to this extremely hurtful, difficult and disadvantageous condition the fact that I always suffered from being the youngest student in every grade of my schooling it might be a wonder that I consider these age-related challenges as having been one of my most useful protective factors that strengthened my resiliency so that I could endure and survive within the hell I was trapped in. The key word here is “challenge.”
Obviously I was born with the challenge of making it through the deadly mine field of Mother’s psychotic brutality that defined the 18 years of my childhood. I never wavered in my course and I never succumbed to her harm. I do not consider myself special. I took the only road through my childhood that was available to me. This was a completely natural road. I lived and I kept on living.
Mother did not specifically design me to be the youngest child among my school peers. Nature and the laws of Alaska regarding school attendance gave me that challenge. I did not survive Mother by being weak. As I grew older and as her psychosis worsened my strength had to increase in equal measure. I had to continue to be a durable child. Spending segments of the time of my childhood outside the worst of Mother’s abuse allowed me to find my own ways to meet the challenges presented to me by my age which included a corresponding diminishment of my physical size compared to my classmates.
Given the combined conditions of my childhood if anyone was going to save me it was I. I had no way of knowing that the obstacles so familiar to me were any different than anyone else’s were. Nobody ever told me I could not win the race through the years of my childhood.
I therefore was preserved from any self-doubt. I was able to live heroically because I had no other option. The challenges inherent in being the youngest and smallest person in my classes therefore simply made me stronger as a matter of course. To use a popular phrase, “Failure was not an option.”
Fuel added to a healthy fire will by nature’s design simply feed the fire and burn itself up. The more the fuel the greater the fire. Challenges were my fuel and because the age challenge was a persistent one I never ran out of fuel. Lucky me. (The challenges of our continual moves, changing schools and often starting school late gave me similar patterns of advantage.)
I am left now, however, needing to be an emotional acrobat, an intellectual gymnast of great flexibility and endurance, a skilled contortionist to make my way through what Mildred reports to my grandmother in her letters about my “behaviors,” my “attitudes” and “shortcomings” at school. As I first encountered Mother’s statements I felt dismayed beyond belief and words to find my teachers had apparently not returned to me the thrilled adoration and blissful appreciation I so innocently, naturally and unconditionally gave to them. I have throughout my life preserved in every recollection of school nothing except positive thoughts and feelings about my teachers and my classroom experiences.
School was my sanctuary. Have my rave reviews been tempered now by reality? By whose reality?
A friend of mine who has read the first four manuscripts of the Mildred’s Mountain series assured me that if Mother had received the same reports from teachers of her adored children that were given to me she would have translated them through her all-good filter either into something positive or would have criticized the error of their teacher’s ways. At the same time if the same reports were given by my teachers as were given about my siblings Mother would have filtered them through the all-bad half of her psychosis about me into something negative. I will comment on these patterns as they obviously appear in Mildred’s following letters throughout the volumes of The Dark Side of Mildred’s Mountain series.
April 3, 2013. I did not mention this when I first wrote this chapter because I did not want to believe my own certainty. I cannot continue to leave this part out because the vision of this is only growing stronger. It will hang around haunting my mind and my emotions until I put it where it belongs.
Father must have ridden to work in Anchorage with someone else on the first morning of the school year, or perhaps he didn’t go to work at all. Mother had the car. She drove John and I to Chugiak.
John’s class was in a two-story building separate from mine. She walked John to his classroom door and left him there. Then she walked with me to the principal’s office which was in this same building. I was told to sit down in a chair in a row beneath a window. My feet did not reach the floor.
Mother stood talking to the principal who was seated behind his big desk. She took the wooden paddle with my name written on it with red crayon out of her purse, holding it in front of her while she told this man what a bad child I was and all about the paddle. When she finally handed it to him, the principal took it in his right hand, reached forward and laid it on top of a pile of papers at the front corner of his desk.
Then I had to follow Mother who kept telling me to “hurry up” across the playground to the long one-story building where my class was. She scolded me, left me standing at my first grade classroom door and walked away.
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