This is another one of the difficult memories for me to write about. That is why I have to be particularly careful to keep it embedded within the context of when it occurred and what I knew then, rather than allowing it to escape into the ‘what I know now’ era of my life.
This memory comes from the months we lived in Tucson without my father when I was in 9th grade during the school year of 1965-1966. I had just turned 14.
I have absolutely no memory of what triggered my mother’s attack of me on this day. My brother, David, who was 4 years old at the time this happened remembers witnessing the trauma of this event.
It happened in the first place we lived in that winter, Alvernon Garden Apartments. That place has now been torn down, though the high school I attended there, Rincon, still is in active use. Some time after we arrived in Tucson we rented a small house on Hawthorne Street. My brother remembers this happened at Hawthorne. It did not.
Before I disclose my memory of this event I want to write about what it was like for me to remember it again for the first time after it had happened. When I was in 7-week inpatient treatment for ‘alcoholism’ in 1980 we were required to write a ‘4th step’ (from the AA Big Book model) with particular focus on our ‘resentments’. I was determined to do this treatment ‘thing’ correctly so that I could ‘get better’, and tackled my task with a vengeance.
The very first supposed resentment that came to my mind as I sat in the treatment center dayroom with pen and paper was about this experience I will call ‘Scrubbed in the Tub’. I had never, not one single time, ever thought about this experience after it happened to me.
When the memory appeared in my mind, it was nearly instantaneously transformed into a double memory. One memory was about the facts of what happened. The other memory was about what COULD have happened. The second memory followed the first because as soon as I remembered the real version I asked myself the question, “How could you have allowed her to do that to you! You were 14, for heaven’s sake. Couldn’t you have fought her back? Couldn’t you have DONE SOMETHING not to let this happen to you?”
At the instant the word ‘could’ entered my mind the second version of the memory appeared. I am not going to go into detail about how I had been vanquished as a being separate from my mother from the time of my birth. I will not write here about how being victimized and terrorized for over 13 years prior to this incident had affected me so that I had no possible way to even know that fighting her back was an option. I will simply tell you the two versions of the memory.
(This memory is an example of covert rather than necessarily overt sexual abuse.)
In the real memory something on this day triggered my mother’s psychotic obsession with my being a ‘dirty child’. (Personally I suspect her obsession was connected to her own child sexual abuse history that my mother was not consciously aware of but that had to be expunged from within her own psyche and projected out onto me.) I will never know that part of the details of this traumatic event. What I do know is that she ‘switched’ into the powerful, rage filled, violent demon monster mother who assaulted me with great power and vengeance. I was a tall, thin whisp of a girl and as usual did nothing to attempt to avoid her blows.
In her screaming mad rage she insisted that I needed to take a bath. Immediately. RIGHT NOW! No sooner had I entered the bathroom and was closing the door she forced her way into the room, a pair of rubber gloves on her hands, fully armed with a floor scrub brush. She turned the bath water on as hot as it would go, set the plug and turned on me again.
As fast and brutally as everything happened, I do know she did not close the bathroom door as she began to tear my clothing from my body. My brother confirms this when he tells me he remembers his trauma of watching this all happen when he was 4. Once I was naked she knocked me down into the scalding hot tub water, fell to her knees, and still screaming and hitting me began scrubbing my whole body from head to foot with the floor scrub brush.
As I sat in that treatment center 15 years later with my dutiful pen poised above a spiral pad full of blank paper, I had intended to write about ‘how I resented my mother’ so that I could fix myself, cure myself of these supposed resentments that I was told actively fed my addicition. Nobody had warned me about what could happen once I set out on this task.
The first memory appeared, then the word ‘could’, and nearly instantaneously the ‘substitute’ memory appeared. In this second memory at the instant my mother shoved her way, screaming, through the door and into the bathroom I attacked her. She fought me back with all her full power but I not only matched her, I beat her. In fact, I more than beat her. I killed her.
Before I even knew what was going on in my treatment-center-trying-to-be-a-good-girl mind, I had my mother’s hair firmly grasped in both of my hands. I dragged her head down to the edge of the tub and began smashing and smashing and smashing her head into its hard iron sides until her skull cracked open and her brains and her blood were splattered all over the smooth yellow tiles that surrounded the area and beyond. I did not stop until there was nothing of her head left to bash with.
By the time this second memory had completed itself, I was left sitting there with my pen and blank paper feeling nothing but gratitude. I had no complicated way to think about what I had just experienced. I only knew that if I had ever let go of the rage I REALLY felt about what my mother did to me, I would have killed her. I knew at this moment that would have been the only option I could have found to have stopped her. I also instantly knew that no matter what, I would not have wanted to grow out of my childhood being the woman who had murdered her own mother. I could live with the abuse. I could not live with being a murderer.
Having just written the post introduction today to the other page I added about the brain and body’s ability to block memory, I see as I am writing this new page that this second memory really came from all the rage that had been stored in my body as a result of my mother’s abuse of me. By the time I reached that 1980 treatment center, the rage-memories that were blocked from consciousness but that were remembered in my body were even bigger than they would have been when I was 14. Another 4 1/2 years of traumatic abuse had been added to my experience. The rage in this substitute memory came from that full spectrum of abuse history, not just from the first 14 years of it.
I know of no magic cure for the amount of blind and deadly rage that lies in the memory of my body. Knowing it is there, however, keeps me alert to the terrible danger I possess within me should that rage ever be inadvertently triggered.
I learned a painful and tragic lesson about the potential of this blind rage to harm others the day I abused my own little son. I doubt that it would ever appear as a premeditated rage, though I don’t know that for certain. I do know that given my vast dissociational history, abilities and practice, that I am at extremely high risk for being a perpetrator myself.
I want to also mention here the very real fact that differences between female and male physiology determine that males are programmed in different biological ways so that violent, traumatic early child abuse experiences are far more likely to create violent responses than usually happen with females. My mother was perhaps one of the exceptions to this rule — though had she come through the same developmental challenges being a boy rather than a girl, believe me, her actions would have attracted notice!
What does constitute fighting back? Where does the power to attack child abuse come from? Who REALLY cares, and why? I do know that if I had ever allowed my mother’s treatment of me to goad me into killing her, I would be the one paying the price for her death, not her. If that had ever happened, her illness would have won.
While it might seem a dreadful and macabre subject to even begin to consider – going against an entire set of human taboos – there are cases of children murdering their parents. I know of three such cases that have happened in recent time just in this rural area where I live. I bring this up in order to expand the arena of what we are willing to consider if we say to anyone, “Why did you allow that to happen to you?”
When we ask this, even in our own minds about our own histories of abuse, we are empowering the words ‘could have stopped the abuse’ with fantastical meaning. My second memory of what happened in that bathroom was a ‘could have’ fantasy. During the time I was shamed, humiliated, beaten and tortured, having my entire body scalded and my skin scrubbed off raw with a floor scrub brush, I HAD no other option.
Today, of that fact I am certain.