There is a separation that is supposed to occur very early during infant brain developmental stages that allows for a clear separation between recognition of objects as being different from recognition of people. I was not treated by my mother for the duration of my childhood as a person distinct from her. I was treated not only as a non-person, but as an object that was a projection of badness that came out from within my mother’s own distorted mind.
As I described in *THE SHAMPOO LIE AND RUNNING AWAY, there were a few instances that I was aware of my own thinking within my own mind, but the overwhelming evidence continually presented to me all but swallowed any perception I might have been trying to gain of myself as a person separate from my mother’s beliefs about me.
For the summer months that followed my graduation from high school up until my 18th birthday on August 31, 1969, I had no glimmer of thought that I could legally leave home on that day. During every day of that summer my mother had wrapped her plans for my future around me as if she were preparing a mummy for a death after life. All I knew was that my parents were going to send me to Calgary Bible College in Canada that fall, where the uncompleted job of saving me and salvaging for me a decent future as an adult would be assumed by people who could take over the job my mother had obviously failed at. For that long entire summer on the mountain with my mother I never found a single thought within me that would contradict that plan for my life.
I could just as well have been that object, a dead body waiting to be mummified, because there was by then, after 18 years of being my mother’s daughter, not even a glimmer or a shadow of a spark of rebellion left within me. In defense of my own continual vacant childhood mindlessness, I sometimes think about how long it took our species to invent the wheel. If we evolved for millions of years yet only acquired language 140,000 years ago, left Africa on our global migrations maybe 70,000 years ago, and invented the wheel at earliest only 10,000 years ago, why would I expect that my own single separate little mind, isolated and alone, could even begin to imagine that I could suddenly invent some version of a Linda that could hop into her body and drive herself into some kind of independent future?
It couldn’t, and it didn’t happen. What did happen is that my family moved off of the mountain into a large, very nice rental house by Wasilla Lake at the start of the school year after my 18th birthday. I was taken along. A neighboring homesteader who lived on the valley floor named Lila worked at a large bank in Anchorage and put in a word for me so that I could get a job there.
I was thrilled to work among all the nice, nicely dressed adults that walked the floors of that large bank building, each knowing exactly what to do. I typed communications in triplicate on a fancy electric typewriter without error. I pushed a mail cart and delivered papers throughout the building. People smiled at me, spoke to me, and I spoke back the best I could. Otherwise they left me alone as I walked the polished floors among them like a ghost.
I commuted from Wasilla with my father every day, a drive that took over an hour. He was nice to me, too. We drove the old highway that ran along the base of the mountains as fall turned them a brilliant gold up to their timber line. Often the fog hadn’t lifted in the mornings as we passed through the forests.
I only had the job two weeks when my father and I returned home from work one evening to find the other children had already eaten their dinner and were somewhere out of sight. Two place settings were set at the dining room table. My father sat at the head and I sat at his right as my mother brought our dinner to the table. I could feel the heavy burden of an icy silence around my mother as she sat down in the chair across from me on my father’s left.
At first she said nothing as my father began to eat. I felt the familiar knot sinking into my stomach. I wanted to sit there not moving, holding my breath as I waited in her frozen silence. Time seemed to tick itself along on a silent, invisible clock connected to a bomb I knew was about to go off.
Still she sat there, staring first at my father, then turning her head just enough so that she could stare at me. I didn’t look at her. But as soon as I picked up my fork, put some food on it, and raised it to my mouth, she spoke.
Never before had I heard her voice sound like it did as her words fell out of her mouth leaden and heavy, harshly and crisply, low and quiet, clearly articulated, so evenly spaced they could have been bullets moving out of her in slow motion. I could hear the growl, and then the roar behind her words though she gave no outward sign they were there.
What always troubles me most when I return to this scene is that while her statements were simple, direct and clearly impossible and insane, they made as much perfect sense to me as I listened as they did to my mother.
“Well, Bill. It is obvious you love Linda far more than you love me. It is obvious you spend far more time with her than you spend with me. It is obvious you prefer her company to mine. You should have married Linda instead of marrying me.”
Her words were an indictment. Her proof was the time I spent alone with my father on our daily commutes. Once those words were out of her mouth she slowly pushed her chair back, rose to her feet, walked out of the room, across the living room, and into my parent’s bedroom and slowly closed the door.
No further words were ever added to that one sided condemnation. My father did not speak to me again on our daily rides to work and back. A few days after this had happened, my older brother returned home after his second summer of working at sea on a Coast and Geodedic Survey ship for a short stay before he headed off to his second year of college in Ashland, Oregon.
I had always adored my brother. He had been my hero and my salvation from the time that I was born. I had not, however, been able to actually identify the feeling of missing him when he left home ahead of me. He had simply disappeared. Now he was back, but only for a few days before he left again.
I remember listening to him play his guitar as he sang a mournful ballad to himself quietly behind a closed bedroom door on the Saturday evening before he was due to leave. I sat on my bed embroidering the edge of a pillow case. I heard my mother’s steps as she came down the stairs, turned, and knocked on his door. She wanted him to come out and join her version of a happy little family John’s-going-away-to-college gathering by the fireplace in the family room.
At first he ignored her and kept on singing. She kept knocking and calling to him until he finally stopped playing and told her he wasn’t interested. She insisted. He refused. Finally she left his door and walked into my bedroom to tell me it was time for the party. I looked up at her, met her eyes, and quietly defied her.
“If John isn’t coming, I’m not coming, either,” I told her, and I turned back to my sewing. She stood there for a moment at the end of my bed and I listened as she walked out of the room. She paused at John’s door one more time and knocked and pleaded, but I heard nothing from him but the sound of his song.
I had joined my big brother in his defiant rebellion against our mother. My father took my brother to the airport that Sunday evening, and on Monday I went to work as usual with my father. It was the third week of September.
My father and I again ate dinner that evening alone together at a silent table. We had tuna ala king over toast my mother had prepared and left in the kitchen for us. My mother was nowhere in sight as we ate, closed again behind her bedroom door. After finishing supper and cleaning up the kitchen I went downstairs to my own bedroom and closed the door.
Not long afterward I heard my father knocking and calling my name. “Come out here, Linda. I want to talk to you.” I knew something was wrong. My father had never asked to speak to me directly in my entire life.
I sat on the bed in the little room my brother had slept in only two nights before, facing my father as he sat on a chair. He told me, “Mildred and I have decided that we no longer want you under our roof. You have always been more trouble than all the other children put together. You are nothing but trouble. You are the cause of all of the problems in the marriage between Mildred and me. Tomorrow I will take you to enlist in the Navy.”
That was all he said. He got up from his chair and walked out of the room. I returned to my bedroom and the next day after work my father took me to the Navy recruiter’s office and handed a note to the man behind the desk that read, “I concur with Linda’s decision to join the Navy.” I signed all the papers as I told the recruiter that I wanted to study journalism. He said that was fine.
The following day was Wednesday. My father told me to close my bank account and tell my boss at work that I would not be coming back. My boss wished me well and told me I was a pretty girl, but I needed to learn how to smile.
My father took me to the store to buy a small blue flowered cloth suitcase with a zipper. My mother told me as she showed me how to roll up my clothes and pack it that she thought the Navy was romantic because I would probably be stationed by the sea. Blue was a very nice color. If I was careful and lucky I would find a nice officer to marry me. In the meantime the Navy would teach me important things, like how to follow orders and not leave hair on a soap bar or in my hairbrush. She told me that they would force me to learn everything I had refused to learn from her.
She took me out to dinner on Thursday night in Anchorage. I remember watching a dark sky filled with brilliant colored ribbons of northern lights all the way back home.
The following evening, Friday, I was on a jet plane. It had taken four days from decision to gone.