September 1965, shortly after my 14th birthday. I am in 9th grade the winter Mother took her children, left Alaska and rented an apartment in Tucson, Arizona:
Her hands and fists, slapping and pounding my back. Mother shoving me. Across tan living room carpet, an expanse of it between the bedrooms on one side of this apartment and the bathroom on the other side. I stumble sideways trying to escape her. She is screaming about what a dirty girl I am, what a dirty girl I have always been. I try to turn around to face her. SLAP across my face. Pushing me forward. Both her palms push hard against my chest.
“I’ll show you what I mean by clean!” She bellows. She hits. She tears at my clothes once our feet reach the bathroom floor. The door is not closed. “Take those clothes off and get into that tub! Into the tub!” She reached over to set the stopper, turned on the hot water, stormed out the room still screaming at me. I stand still.
Roaring water. Tub filling. Steam rising. Screeching Mother quickly returns carrying yellow dishwashing gloves and her floor scrub brush, bristled side in the palm of her hand. She used it as a weapon. Aimed at my face. I ducked my head. Bash on the side of my skull. She tears at my clothes. “Take them off right now! Do I have to do everything for you?”
“No daughter of mine is going to be a filthy pig!” I am naked. Mother pushes me hard toward the tub. I fall hard sideways into the scalding, blistering water. It bites my skin. Turning red. Mother’s gloves are on. Scrub brush, hard against my skin. All over my body. I am crying. I do not fight. I cannot escape.
What redemption was there in this trauma that meant I should keep it? What beauty was there other than my innocence? Years later my brother who was four at the time reported to me he watched the entire scene through the still-open bathroom door. What redemption? What beauty? Or was this assault only too horrible to forget?
What triggered Mother’s rage that day? A speck of dandruff on the shoulder of my blouse? A single blackhead above my upper lip? Less than newborn pink skin on my elbows? I do not know.
What I do know is this. In 1980 during my alcoholism/addiction treatment program I was eventually assigned the task of writing my first “4th Step.” Readers familiar with the famous AA 12-Step program know that this meant to be an inventory of one’s own wrongdoing. My counselor stressed the inclusion of ‘resentments’. Being dutiful and willing I entered into this task as honestly as I knew how.
Resentments. How did I know what a resentment was? “Write about someone you are still angry with. Holding onto resentments kills alcoholics, you know.” OK. I found a quiet place to sit in the center’s day room. Pen to spiral notebook paper I began to write about the first thing that came into my mind. It was this bathtub memory. This was the first time in my adult life since I left home that I had EVER thought about anything that had happened to me during the first eighteen years of my life. Now I was 29.
I had meant to do this job right. I was not prepared for what happened inside of me before I finished writing my first sentence about this memory. Suddenly there were clearly TWO distinctly different memory versions in my mind about what had happened that day. The second version felt absolutely real: Mother attacked me. We are in the bathroom. I scream as I turn on her. I grab her hair on both sides of her head in my hands and I bash Mother’s skull against the edge of the tub as hard as I possibly can. Over and over and over again.
I don’t stop when the tub edge and the tiles around it and the floor and the walls are splattered red and wet with Mother’s blood. Her brains are in tiny fragments all over the room. I don’t even stop when there is nothing left in my hands but mangled gory mats of Mother’s blood soaked hair. I didn’t stop until nearly in panic I shoved the chair I was sitting on away from the table and stood up.
At the moment I experienced this altered version of my bathtub memory I knew, “My GOD! If I had EVER let go of how I angry I was about what Mother did to me during all those years I would have killed her. That would have been the only way I could have stopped her. I would have had to murder my own mother. I would not want to live knowing I had done that. I would never want to be that person.”
I probably choose to keep this particular memory in the first place because it was a part of my soul’s destiny to learn a redeeming and beautiful truth from it years later. There is a difference between hatred and rage at injustice that leads to a fight for survival. People continue to ask me why I never ‘fought back’ against my mother. My recall of this bathtub memory when I was 29 was the first time I had thought about anything that happened to me in my childhood.
When this recall came it was paired with an affirmation that I needed to know. There was no good way I could have stopped Mother from doing what she did to me. If I had known my own rage and let go of it, I probably would have had it in me to fight against her and win. But winning would have meant killing her. I know now I lived through my 18 years of abuse from her the best way I could have. Patient endurance was my only way out. This book is about I felt living such a life.
“Be fair in your judgment. Every good thing is of God, and every evil thing is from yourselves. Will ye not comprehend?”