I am now certain that this event happened at the end of my 3rd grade year of school — after mother had taught us over the winter on the homestead. It would have been at the end of this year that the teacher decided to have my classmates bussed back into the valley for the end of the school year picnic.
I know what evil is now. It is being mean to someone. I was not evil. I was not mean to anybody. One time I was mean to a shrew. I dropped a rock on its head and killed it. I wanted to kill it because my mother hated shrews. Somehow I thought I was doing something good for her by killing that shrew. But I felt bad when it was dead. I, Linda, had killed it – perhaps one of the few times that I had a sense that Linda existed. I was maybe about 9. We were waiting for some reason at the homestead along the jeep road where all the poppies bloomed. Was that Carr’s place? I killed the shrew there, and when I felt bad I put the tiny body on the top of a wooden fence post, as some child version of honoring it, honoring its life, exonerating myself by killing it.
That felt mean to me. But I could feel badly after I killed it.
My mother hurt me all of the time, and she never felt bad about that. She was mean to me. That was her evil side showing. I didn’t know that then, but I know that now.
I am almost 56, and maybe I am making progress by finally catching a fleeting glimpse of what evil is.
It was a sense that I wanted to protect my mother from what she hated (never mind she hated me and needed protection – in her mind – from me). She hated shrews. She said they were bad things, like tiny rats, more dangerous and more awful because they could squish themselves flat and get into anything.
I knew that was true. They had gotten into a big shut trunk and eaten the toes off of my sister’s (tiny tears?) doll. (All three of us girls had tiny tears. I had a little white metal trunk that the doll fit into along with her clothes. There was a little drawer in there, and a little closet rod with tiny coat hangars for her clothes. I guess before we moved to Alaska I had cut the toes off of my sister, Cindy’s doll. I don’t know why I did that. Maybe I was mad. Maybe Cindy got my mother’s love and I didn’t and I was mad at Cindy for that. I don’t remember).
But I killed that shrew as if I could kill them all by killing that one shrew.
But what was much worse is that I knew last winter my mother had spent many hours, an entire day, sitting with my baby brother, David, on top of the picnic table alone at the homestead, terrified, because she had found a shrew in the crib with my brother, and everyone knew that just like rats would, shrews ate babies.
We had made the long slow trip home over the jeep road, up our mountain road that day. My father reutnring from work after he had picked us up from Eklund’s in Eagle River where we had waited for him after we got done with school. And there she was with the baby on the picnic table.
I didn’t know that wasn’t an ordinary reaction. I had to feel sorry for my terrified mother. I never thought to feel sorry for my brother. After all, mother had surely saved him from that shrew death.
Only now I know more about that. It was not a good thing for my mother to have been alone with my brother David as much as she was. Her brain and mind didn’t work right, so she could not build a healthy brain and mind in my brother. Because mothers do that, you know. They give the way their minds work right into their baby’s brains so that they end up pretty much working the same in the end. Sort of like an echo. Sort of like downloading a mother’s brain right into her baby’s skull. Making a mold in his head just like hers. That was not a good thing to happen.
Infant development specialists talk about “attachment,” and they talk about the kind of interactions a mother can have with her infant in which she is frightening (like with me as wh hated me) and the frightened mother, which could certainly be seen with her crouched for hours and hours on a picnic table terrified a shrew would eat her baby. That mother did not make my brother feel secure, shrew munching possibility or not! What mattered to my brother (of course because the shrew did not eat him) was that my mother could not calm him down, or pay any attention at all to how HE# was feeling – and infants need that. They need to see their own emotions mirrored in the face and voice and body language of their mothers – in a certain way – that lets them know who THEY are – separate from their mother.
My mother didn’t mean to hurt my brother’s developing baby brain. I’m not sure that she even meant to be mean to me. Accidents happen. But we need to look at what causes accidents so that we can take care to prevent them, and we need to know how to help people who have been accident victims themselves.
When it comes to raising children, and it comes to child abuse, and when it comes to hurting the way a baby’s brain grows from birth, these accident victims are very likely to pass the accident that happened to them right on down to their children. That is a fact.
And I certainly know about this one! It happened to me.
Maybe I thought the shrew was evil and that made me mad. So I killed it. Other than a fly, and perhaps by default the occasional trout I snagged on the end of a line when I was a child, that shrew was the only thing I ever killed. But I am just now beginning to understand how evil makes us mad.
There are other things that make a person mad. But that might be the truest, healthiest reaction to evil that I can think of. To get mad at it.
Maybe people like my mother have become immune to shame. She could have developed an immunity to it because she had way too much of it when she was a child, and probably way too much of the wrong kind of shame – the shame that did not belong to her – the same way she then tried to give that shame that did not belong to her in the first place directly to me.