This is a memory that my mother did not keep for me. It was not a part of her litany. It was too small a memory for her to keep track of. It was not all that important to her. But this was my size, and I have never forgotten it. It, too, is a trauma memory for it always comes back to me – or I go to it – in exactly the same way. It never changes. This was perhaps October after my 5th birthday.
Daddy is taking us on a Sunday drive outside of Glendora. We are far enough away from home that there are no houses, no people and no other cars. Daddy is not driving fast. Baby Sharon sits between Mommy and Daddy in the front seat. Cindy is behind Daddy and John is behind Mommy in the back seat and I am in the middle.
There are orange groves on Cindy’s side of the car, and behind them hills, maybe mountains, but they aren’t very tall. On John’s side there are orange groves but no mountains. On both sides of the car there are ditches full of dried grasses running along sides of the road that look just the same.
I made up a game to play with myself. If looked out Cindy’s window on Cindy’s side, and then shut my eyes and slowly turned my head toward John’s side, and then opened them and looked out his window, I could make the mountains disappear.
If I looked out his window and then shut my eyes and slowly turned my head to look out Cindy’s side, and again opened my eyes, I could make the mountains come back again. I repeated this several times, enjoying my magic trick, when suddenly I opened my eyes on Cindy’s side and there was a beautiful fox shining red in the sun as it ran in the ditch alongside the car. I was delighted!
After watching it for some time, I went back to playing my game. Only this time I could make both the mountains and the fox disappear and reappear. When I looked out Cindy’s side and closed my eyes, and turned my head slowly to John’s side and opened them again, so that the mountains were gone along with the box, I somehow also had a sense of time, that I was moving backward and forward from the past into the future, and I was in the middle of that, too. No matter how slowly I turned my head back with my eyes closed, the fox was still there. It was as if nothing really was moving.
.A child’s brain is supposed to form itself using prediction within a safe and secure environment in interaction with its caregivers from birth. My world did not offer me that, and yet my brain was developing some prediction pathways through my game. I could predict that the orchards and the ditches were a given no matter which way my head was turning. I could predict where the mountains were and where they were not. Once the fox appeared, I could hope and I could anticipate where the fox would be, but I could only predict for certainty where the fox would not be. Adding this element of the unknown with its anticipation complicated my game of expectancy. But it was the action of my mother that I was most in need of being able to anticipate or predict. But I could not do that. It was not possible to be careful enough.
Then suddenly one time when I have my eyes shut, turning my head slowly from the left to the right, a blow from my mother’s fist punching my face shocks me as it throws my body backward against the seat. With my eyes shut I never saw it coming. My eyes are wide open now, tears gushing, as she lunges at me from over the back of the front seat screaming at me, hitting me harder and harder.
“How could you be so selfish and ungrateful? You stupid child,” she screeched. “Your Daddy and I are trying to do something nice for the family, taking you all out on this beautiful drive through the countryside. And here you are wasting our time by deciding to take a nap? You never take your naps when I want you to. You never take naps when you are supposed to. I did not give you permission to take a nap now. That’s just like Linda! You don’t appreciate anything anybody ever does for you. You are the most ungrateful, selfish, spoiled girl in the whole world! You always ruin everything!”
I couldn’t get away from her, I couldn’t hide and I couldn’t make her stop. My father kept driving down the road as if nothing was happening. My mother kept screaming at me and hitting me and slapping me as hard as she could, again and again and again. I covered my face with my hands, but she held onto them with one of hers and kept on slapping and punching me anyway. I wanted to tell her I wasn’t sleeping. I wanted to tell her that I wasn’t even pretending to sleep. I wanted to tell her about the fox in the ditch, and how I could make it disappear and come back again, just like I could with the mountains.
“Take us home, Bill,” mother finally yelled at my father, having exhausted herself. She was so mad even her voice was shaking and she was nearly out of breath. My little sister was crying in the front seat.
“Look what Linda has done! She has made her sister cry. She has ruined everything and she’s not even sorry! I can’t stand the sight her. I can’t stand to be in the same car with her another minute. Look how upset she has made me. I can’t see straight. Take us right back home this minute, Bill! We can’t enjoy anything when Linda is around. I wish she was somebody else’s child. I curse the day she was born.”
Children learn from a very young age about themselves in the world through playing. After the age of one children need increasingly controlled levels of stimulation through rough and tumble play that involves not only their body’s full engagement, but their selves with others in play in a social environment.
I had none of that. My mother told me all of my childhood that every time she let me go outside to play while we lived in California that I “upset the entire neighborhood.” There are lots of reasons why that might have been so, not the least of which is that I was terribly abused and had not had the opportunity to develop within my brain the ability to regulate my emotions, distress or social interactions.
I was not safe in a secure world, as this Fox memory indicates, not even to explore the world of my own mind and my place in my own life as my own agent of self. In this experience within this memory I was trying to develop this sense of myself as the agent of my own reality, of my actions, of my perspectives and of my feelings. This is a natural stage that ordinary children have accomplished nearly completely by the age of two. Even by the age of 5 I was already developmentally distressed. My mother’s consistent interference with my continued development meant that by the age of 18 I still did not have as much of a self as does a normal child by the age of 5.
I was not provided with any meaningful capacity to “come forth” into my being or my own life separate from my mother. My way was blocked, there was no escape, and her abuse of me was pervasive.
That this memory was not added to her litany simply meant that it contained no evidence of any new fatal flaw that she had not already discovered through some other prior episode. It gave her no new fuel for her fire.
I remembered this on my own; evidently because I experienced from deep within myself a sense of my individual selfhood. The world of “inner exploration” as the attachment experts would call it, which can only happen when one is safe and secure in the world
I had also both been playing and having fun. These became such luxuries that by the time we moved to Alaska, not more than a year later, I had nearly lost the capacity for both.