So great was the chaos created by Mildred’s patterns of continual moving that placing any one of my memories both in time and in space has been extremely difficult for me to do. It has only been through the final time line of the early years of my life that I have constructed through the history told within Mildred’s writings that I finally have enough information to place this memory where it belongs.
In Mildred’s letter of September 26, 1959 she told the story of Father’s building a connecting passageway between the small old trailer on the homestead and our canvas Jamesway. This means I was only eight years old when I got this nosebleed, because I have always known in my memory where I was inside the dark cavern the hut of our home seemed to be. I could always see the doorway Father had cut through the canvas to create the narrow tunnel that led to the trailer. Now I know not only where this nosebleed started, but when.
Although there were two small plastic windows with mesh in them in the plywood ends of our dwelling, there were no windows along the side walls making it always dark in the back where the canvas walls curved up over the triple bunk bed my father had constructed by shortening the legs of metal army beds and stacking all three together. Mine was the top bunk because I was the oldest. Sharon’s was the bottom because she was the youngest, and Cindy slept in the middle.
Late one rainy weekend afternoon my mother attacked me again. I don’t remember why. Perhaps mother had overheard me referring to her as “she” while talking to my siblings. Perhaps she had accused me of something I did not do and banished me to the back of our ‘cave’. Perhaps I had tried to speak up for myself in under my breath in a whisper as I turned to walk away from her, and she heard me. I know I was walking away. I know she called me back to her. I know as I approached her she hit me across the face, hard. Mother hit me in the face often. This time she hit me with her fist.
Of course she screamed at me. Always a litany of horrible words. Her screaming escalated until she finally hit her crescendo with, “Get out of my sight! I can’t stand the sight of you! Go to bed without your dinner!” I escaped the short distance to the dim back of the Jamesway. I crawled up to my top bunk. Only then out of her sight did I cry.
My sister, Cindy, who was six sat near the bed on a small straight backed wooden chair painted turquoise to match the bunk beds, supposedly color coordinated with the Pepto Bismal pink Mother had used to paint the canvas walls of the Jamesway. After a little while Cindy stood on the edge of the lower bunk and peered over the edge of my mattress to see me. She was worried. She had probably heard along with my smothered sobs and sniffling another unusual sound, that of garbled choking. “I’m going to get Mommy,” she told me. I didn’t want her to. I couldn’t imagine why Cindy would bring Mommy. I did not want her to come near me, but Cindy ran off to get her anyway.
Mildred complained loudly as she stomped back to my bed, her feet hitting hard across the linoleum that covered the hollow rough plywood boxes of the Jamesway floor. She came because Cindy, her angel child, had insisted. “Get out of that bed this instant,” Mildred demanded when she saw me. “Look at the terrible mess you’re making, Linda, blood all over the place! You will have to clean this up! Get up! Get out of that bed!”
But she did not grab me and yank me down. I slid off the far foot end of the bed, as far from her as I could get, but she told me to sit on the little turquoise chair which put me right there by her legs. She stopped yelling at me, though. Her voice changed. She called Daddy. He was now standing behind me. He told Cindy to go get the metal dishpan. Someone gave me a towel to put on my lap. I sat with my head bent over the pan, blood flooding out of my nose. No amount of criticism from Mildred or direction from Bill stemmed the flow.
Soon my brother, John, and sister, Sharon, were sitting on the floor close to my feet next to Cindy. At first the blood made a high tinny plinking sound as it fell into the round white pan with the red rim. I can still hear the sound changing as my blood deepened in the pan until it became a faint plop-plop. I watched the bottom of the dishpan disappear under blood. My nose kept bleeding. Then a strange warm and cozy quiet I had never heard before surrounded me. For the first time in my life my family had me in its circle. I felt connected. Included. Loved. Cared about. I belonged and the feeling of being wanted and of not being in trouble is a memory I carry in my body. I have noticed when it reawakens and resonates with any similar feeling that comes to me today sometimes when I feel connected to people I care about.
It would not have been impossible for my parents to take me down the mountain Jeep road to get medical attention, but the trip would have taken hours and my father didn’t believe that such a journey was necessary. I guess both my parents were content to stand there watching their daughter bleed to death because by the time my nose finally quit bleeding there was a lot of blood in the dishpan. But that feeling I was experiencing for the first time in my life was so beautiful to me and so precious that even if I had understood the threat of death I was under, I would gladly have paid that price for that sense of connection I translated into what it feels like to be loved.
My sister, Cindy, reminded me about ten years ago that traumatic body memories can be connected to ‘good’ feelings just as they can be to ‘bad’ ones. If I had not had that particular nosebleed, and that particular experience, perhaps I would never have known that glimmer of what the feeling of connection was supposed to feel like. Maybe without this experience I could never have imagined or recognized these feelings later.
What I understand now about this day is that I did not get to escape the hell of Mildred’s ‘lower’ mind that she made sure I lived within as much as possible. During my nosebleed my family simply joined me there for a while. Once my nose stopped bleeding – I believe because God made it stop – my family went back to their ‘good upper’ life with BPD Mildred and left me down there in hell. That’s the way things were.