*AGE 9 – THE TROUBLES OF JOHN

This letter is probably the single most difficult piece of my mother’s writing that I have transcribed so far.  Partly this is true because it is also the most honest.  Well, more accurately it starts out rather honest and then demonstrates the kind of deterioration that my mother’s mind could accomplish as it becomes, in my opinion, more distorted and inaccurate as it moves along through the process of writing this letter.

My memory reverberates through my body as I read these 1960 letters.  I can remember the places and the events she describes in them.  At the same time I exercise a kind of mental and emotional force to keep these memories at a great distance from me – because they are all painful.  Everything about me being a child was painful.  I lived and swam in, drank and breathed sorrow.

But it is NOT my own sorrow from my own personal history of terrible abuse that I suffered from my mother that washed over me as I worked with this particular letter.   You will see this in the comments I made as they are interspersed throughout the text of my mother’s words.

My sorrow that was triggered by this letter comes from my love of my older brother, John, who will be 59 tomorrow, June 15, 2009.  I had an emotional reaction when I read my youngest brother’s story, and yet this time my reaction was different.  I did not feel anger based on a wish that I could swoop in like Super Woman and whisk him away from her harm, as I did when I read my younger brother’s story.  This time I only felt sorrow.

I could feel the heavy burden of stress our childhood had placed on my brother.  I believe the condition of my brother, as his school was trying to communicate it to my mother, was the result of chronic overwhelming and devastating trauma as it existed on so many levels within our family.  I could feel that kind of despair that only comes from a child’s hopeless attempts to ‘keep going on’ under strain that never eases or ceases.

I have a history with John that goes back to the start of my life.  He was there to greet me when I was born into this world.  He is the one that loved me, that taught me to laugh, to sing, to talk.  He adored me.  He cherished me absolutely.  He saved my life.  He is MY hero.

This letter gave me a very clear picture – an encapsulated vignette of the consequences to him of my mother’s insanity.  It is very painful.  I would wish I could rescue all three of my brothers and both of my sisters.  No one rescued us, yet we all endured.  We all survived.  We all paid a terrible price for the catastrophic incompetence of our parents.  This letter describes to me what that price was like for John when he was 10 years old.

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This is the text of my mother’s letter without my comments.  Following this letter, you will be able to read what I have to say — about what she has to say:

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November 9, 1960

[Letter to my Grandmother – we have moved back to the Gov’t Hill apartments near Anchorage where we had spent the winter of 1958-1959.  I am in 4th grade, John in 5th, Cindy in 2nd – she is pregnant with David]

Dear Mother,

Just a ‘quickie’ to say ‘Hello.’  I wish it were a happy letter but it won’t be.  As I glanced in the mirror I look 100 years old [she was turning 35 on December 21, 1960] and then some and there are deep lines in my face that were not there yesterday as I so happily and eagerly dressed in my smartest maternity suit to embark to the Gov’t Hill School to visit our children’s classes (not for conferences as I have appointments for these next week and I now dread them) but to actually watch the class in progress! – and to have lunch in the lunch room at noon.  Cindy, being in 2nd grade has been so eager for me to visit school.  I never did visit last year.

First, I went to John’s room and have Carolyn’s real the long letter [written this way] I just finished to her that I’ve been trying to get mailed for weeks – it was interesting.  His teacher seems to have the class in control – very composed and good.  But the double class is a handicap and I knew it couldn’t be otherwise.  Linda is the only child in our family to be in a simple class.

John’s teacher said she’d been wanting to talk to me about John.  (Please this is only for your ears!)  John, she said, is extremely nervous and jittery.  He often day-dreams and sometimes seems to live in a world of his own entirely apart from the rest of the class and seems startled at times like this if she says “John” – “Who me?”  She says he’s capable of doing much better work than he’s doing.  Report cards come out for 1st time tomorrow.  He’s poor in Gym (I know – I’m sorry!)

Then when I left the school – the Principal (now this is what kept me awake most of the nite) asked me into her office and said, “John has certainly changed since he was here before.  He’s no longer the nice, quiet, obedient boy.  She said “he’s easily influenced by the wrong companions and seems to think it smart.”  I was shocked.   Just the day before that Mrs. Gunter had been to visit and told me about a boy (I’ll tell you some other time) who had gotten into serious trouble in Eagle River and it gave me a chance for a long discussion with the children about ‘building a good reputation’ and how important it’s to choose the right companions etc.  John never did like this boy and has always seemed so careful to choose the nicest boys.

Evidently she told him how disappointed she was – in him – he never told me!  She said she had to speak to him in the lunch room and then again the second time.  She said, knowing us and the high standards we set [she wrote set twice] for our children she felt we should know she said some parents simply don’t care and knew that wasn’t the case with us.

Oh Mother, I was just shocked.  It could be worse he’s honest and didn’t do anything bad but why?

She also spoke of his extreme nervousness.  I don’t see it.  He’s energetic and quick but I don’t see him in school!

I guess I’ll have a complete physical but Bill says that won’t cover glandular disturbances and all.

I talked to him at great length.  I let him know how I felt but I was not cross.  As far as I can tell – he’s happy!

He needs help on his Arithmetic but the teacher complained because he got 1 or 2 wrong on Spelling tests!  So what?  She said (this, in my opinion is stupid!)  that she had promised to bake a cake for them if they all got 100.  Bribery.  (some kids couldn’t be capable of getting 100 no matter how hard they try!!)

I know John lacks confidence.   He feels boys don’t like him and he feels hurt and inferior because he can’t play baseball and football.

I plan to get his skis and have him take lessons in that and music – then every day for ½ hour he’ll do arithmetic.  He’s also going to join cub scouts again!

They talk of too much planning of children’s time but they can do things.  Don’t you agree?  Especially sensitive children, shy, like John.

The damn teacher – Oh.  I was fed up!  So superior and almighty.

He’s so sweet and wonderful but he must be that way at school too!

Linda’s class is in a new big room and her teacher is Excellent.  I didn’t talk to her but will see her next week but Linda is the lucky one.

Poor Cindy!  She gives me the impression ‘all is well’ but I wonder.  At lunch her teacher (don’t like at all!!!!) sat opposite me and one other mother.  We were the only visitors.  All thru lunch she told the other woman what a ‘good boy she had’ – what ‘a nice boy’ and ignored Cindy.  Again why?  I intend to find out.  She’s so smart – that partly their trouble [sic].

John’s teacher spoke of his superior intelligence.

She said on achievement tests he was only slightly above class level and should be on top.

Last nite I was so tense and nervous Bill was worried!  Couldn’t go to sleep.

Then to top it all off D. Kennedy gets elected.  Wouldn’t he?  Damn, damn, damn!

Write soon.  I must plan for this summer.  Camp for John, swimming lessons.

Our life has been tense – especially since we came here and I’m afraid dear John has felt it!  Write soon.  Love, me.  (Worried and concerned Me)

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Here is the letter again, with my comments:

November 9, 1960

[Letter to my Grandmother – we have moved back to the Gov’t Hill apartments near Anchorage where we had spent the winter of 1958-1959.  I am in 4th grade, John in 5th, Cindy in 2nd, Sharon is in kindergarten.  Mother is pregnant with David]

Dear Mother,

Just a ‘quickie’ to say ‘Hello.’  I wish it were a happy letter but it won’t be.  As I glanced in the mirror I look 100 years old [she was turning 35 on December 21, 1960] and then some and there are deep lines in my face that were not there yesterday as I so happily and eagerly dressed in my smartest maternity suit to embark to the Gov’t Hill School to visit our children’s classes (not for conferences as I have appointments for these next week and I now dread them) but to actually watch the class in progress! – and to have lunch in the lunch room at noon.  Cindy, being in 2nd grade has been so eager for me to visit school.  I never did visit last year.

First, I went to John’s room and have Carolyn’s real the long letter [written this way] I just finished to her that I’ve been trying to get mailed for weeks – it was interesting.  His teacher seems to have the class in control – very different from his teacher last year.  She’s composed and good.  But the double class is a handicap and I knew it [L:  split grade classes] couldn’t be otherwise.  Linda is the only child in our family to be in a simple class [L: The 59-60 year of my 3rd grade in Chugiak elementary I was in a class that was split between 3rd and 5th graders]

John’s teacher said she’d been wanting to talk to me about John.  (Please this is only for your ears!)  John, she said, is extremely nervous and jittery.  He often day-dreams and sometimes seems to live in a world of his own entirely apart from the rest of the class and seems startled at times like this if she says “John” – “Who me?”  She says he’s capable of doing much better work than he’s doing.  Report cards come out for 1st time tomorrow.  He’s poor in Gym (I know – I’m sorry!)

[Linda note:  Why would she be apologizing to grandmother because John is poor in gym?  Is this the ‘boy’s version’ of mother’s doll complex for girls?  I feel sad reading this about my sensitive, loving, gifted brother – the same boy my mother wrote all those ‘special’ things about in 1953-1955 is now 10 years old.  How could he not suffer from life with a mad woman as a mother?  It is not JUST that she abused me maliciously, but also that he loved me and had to see-hear-know these hurtful things were happening to me and there was nothing he could do to stop them.  When my mother wrote in her 1955 diary about John tucking me into bed and giving me a kiss, I KNOW he was offering the only kind of ‘help’ to me that he could give as a young child.

Being a sensitive child from the start, gifted musically and in many other ‘non sport’ ways, he would have been especially vulnerable to the tension and chaos of our home, as well as to the violence.  Oh, but that this teacher could have found a way to encourage John to have talked to someone about the reality of his home life and about his experience of it.  Yet even today it is doubtful that a teacher would intervene on behalf of a child displaying these symptoms of distress without having to contact the parents – who may well be the source of the distress – and who would no doubt react vehemently if not violently to any suggestion from a ‘public’ person that their practices as parents were brought into question or criticized!  My brother remembers very little about his childhood, but does remember having chronic stomach aches – that left him the day he left home.

In this situation with my brother, if my mother had ever found out that the school had ‘talked to him’ without her knowledge, all hell would have broken loose on an entirely different level.  Any child under the care of an insane parent would be put in additional jeopardy with an increased risk of devastating consequences to the child.]

Then when I left the school – the Principal (now this is what kept me awake most of the nite) asked me into her office and said, “John has certainly changed since he was here before.  He’s no longer the nice, quiet, obedient boy.  She said “he’s easily influenced by the wrong companions and seems to think it smart.”  I was shocked.  [Linda note:  I feel guilty thinking this, but ‘thank heavens it was John getting this report from school and not me.  She would probably have killed me!”] Just the day before that Mrs. Gunter had been to visit and told me about a boy (I’ll tell you some other time) who had gotten into serious trouble in Eagle River and it gave me a chance for a long discussion [L:  Anything that my mother might interpret as a “long discussion” was no doubt one of her anxiety producing, one-sided, long winded, irrelevant soliloquies that had nothing in the world to do with OUR reality as children!] with the children about ‘building a good reputation’ and how important it’s to choose the right companions etc.  John never did like this boy and has always seemed so careful to choose the nicest boys.

[Linda note:  Choose them HOW?  It’s not like we had anything like a stable home on any level that any of us could bring friends into.  NEVER.  Even Cindy, who had friends in Eagle River and could visit them during the times we actually lived ‘in town’ knew enough to NEVER bring a friend home.  She tells the story of one time she did arrange ahead of time to bring a friend home.  Mother met the girl’s when they arrived at the door —–  well, hopefully Cindy will write this story.  But did John ever even nave a friend around the time he was 10 years old?  What did he feel like inside?  What did he feel about himself?  Did ANYBODY EVER ASK HIM?]

Evidently she told him how disappointed she was – in him – he never told me!  She said she had to speak to him in the lunch room and then again the second time.  She said, knowing us and the high standards we set [she wrote set twice] for our children she felt we should know she said some parents simply don’t care and knew that wasn’t the case with us.

[Linda note:  Obviously this teacher was oblivious!!  How mothers like mine can hide their true nature!!  My mother was so good at what she did, nobody suspected her of the terrible kinds of treatment to children she was capable of.  In that era, nobody would have believed even one of us if we had tried to tell our version of ‘the truth about our mother’ to ANYONE else!  And yet all of the signs were there, they had to be, that could have acted like the clues they were from the crimes she was committing.]

Oh Mother, I was just shocked.  It could be worse he’s honest and didn’t do anything bad but why?

She also spoke of his extreme nervousness.  I don’t see it.  [L:  This is really hard for me to read!  It makes me want to cry, to scream!  Do I hold onto the fact that my mother was mentally ill, that she was doing the best that she could do?  Of course she didn’t see it!  She was the only person in her world.  We were her dolls, we were not real, and there was nothing we could do to make her SEE us, HEAR us, FEEL us as the individual people we were!]  .He’s energetic and quick but I don’t see him in school!

I guess I’ll have a complete physical but Bill says that won’t cover glandular disturbances and all.  [L:  AHYAHY!!  I would keen for you!  Oh, soul of my soul!  Blood of my blood!  Heart of my heart!  Oh my sweet and precious brother!  What have they done to you????  Oh ye child of trauma, of trauma on top of trauma.  Oh, but that I could cry enough tears for you now that they could solace and heal you back then!]

I talked to him at great length.  I let him know how I felt but I was not cross.  As far as I can tell – he’s happy!

[Linda:  I am beginning to feel like a member of a Greek Chorus, participating in a mutual tragedy that was our childhood.  Someone, please HELP parents such as mine were!  Help the insidiously deluded ones, the ones that can suck all the sane people right into their madness!  What a statement:  “As far as I can tell – he’s happy!”  She was speaking her truth, even as she was murdering him from the inside out!  She had no possible access to a reality other than her own.  My father was no help.  Both of their realities were WARPED!]

He needs help on his Arithmetic but the teacher complained because he got 1 or 2 wrong on Spelling tests!  So what?  She said (this, in my opinion is stupid!)  [Linda: That’s right, attack the teacher!] that she had promised to bake a cake for them if they all got 100.  Bribery.  (some kids couldn’t be capable of getting 100 no matter how hard they try!!)  [L:  Ever heard of being part of a group?  Ever heard of group participation, group effort, children helping one another toward success of meeting a common goal?]

I know John lacks confidence.  [L:  Gee!  And why might that be?]  He feels boys don’t like him and he feels hurt and inferior because he can’t play baseball and football.  [L:  Distortions, distortions, distortions, destructive, denying distortions!]

I plan to get his skis and have him take lessons in that and music – then every day for ½ hour he’ll do arithmetic.  He’s also going to join cub scouts again!  [L:  Yup, that will solve the problem!  About as much as giving a man a bottle of after shave before he faces a firing squad!]

They talk of too much planning of children’s time but they can do things.  Don’t you agree?  Especially sensitive children, shy, like John.

The damn teacher – Oh.  I was fed up!  So superior and almighty.

[Linda:  Remember what she said about his teacher at the start of this letter?  “His teacher seems to have the class in control – very different from his teacher last year.  She’s composed and good.”  We are witnessing some of how my mother’s mind actually worked as she progresses through her thoughts as she writes this letter to her mother.  Now she’s a “damn teacher…..so superior and almighty.”  Scary, the way my mother thought herself to any position she wanted to, within her own reality – unchallenged and dangerous that she was!]

He’s so sweet and wonderful but he must be that way at school too!

Linda’s class is in a new big room and her teacher is Excellent.  I didn’t talk to her but will see her next week but Linda is the lucky one.

[Linda:  I see it even here, her twisting, conniving thinking process.  There would be no way that she could actually give me credit even if I was doing well in a class – because she has already determined it is all because I am damn it anyway – the lucky one!  I can sense her wrath at me between the lines here as she wrote this letter – her rage that John, her (supposedly) precious wonderful son has been targeted by some damn teacher – while all the time Linda is sitting in some lucky classroom and being spared the hardships poor John (in her warped thinking) is having to endure.  She could find no way at this moment in time to attack me – and boy, I bet that infuriated her!!!]

Poor Cindy!  She gives me the impression ‘all is well’ but I wonder.  At lunch her teacher (don’t like at all!!!!) sat opposite me and one other mother.  We were the only visitors.  All thru lunch she told the other woman what a ‘good boy she had’ – what ‘a nice boy’ and ignored Cindy.  Again why?  I intend to find out.  She’s so smart – that partly their trouble [sic].

John’s teacher spoke of his superior intelligence.

She said on achievement tests he was only slightly above class level and should be on top.

Last nite I was so tense and nervous Bill was worried!  Couldn’t go to sleep.

[Linda:  This STILL scares me, knowing what I know about myself as a child and my mother.  All this tension and ‘nervousness’ she is feeling she NEVER would have felt had this situation been about me.  She would have beat me and beat me and beat me and screamed and yelled and shouted and hit and punched and abused me until she got it all out of her system – even if it took days, weeks or even YEARS to do so.  Her problem here was that she DID NOT in any way allow herself to entertain such a response to John.  Nor could she find a single reason to implicate me in John’s difficulties so that she could blame me and THEN attack me.]

Then to top it all off D—- Kennedy gets elected.  Wouldn’t he?  Damn, damn, damn!

[Linda:  Hum, this is an enlightenment!  I suppose because my mother was raised by her mother and grandmother to hate Catholics?  I remember when Kennedy was assassinated.  She joined the best of the grieving  masses!  Where was her hatred of him then?]

Write soon.  I must plan for this summer.  Camp for John, swimming lessons.

Our life has been tense – especially since we came here and I’m afraid dear John has felt it!  Write soon.  Love, me.  (Worried and concerned Me)

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Read the rest of my mother’s 1960 letters here.

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