I’ve discarded the word limits on these submissions, because there has to be room to say the things that need to be said. So, if that’s a reason why you haven’t submitted, fret no more. When you get to the “I wanted to” paragraph, you will understand, I think, the depth of work it takes to write these. Even with the promise of anonymity, the words are hard to write. Because in order to write them, we must think them, and to think them, we often must remember. We must remember the torment and the abuse and the pain. Kudos, again, Anonymous, and thanks for sharing this piece.
A week ago, I sat down at a small town diner with my friend Ellen. Ellen asked me, “what does your brother think about your life?” Her eyes lit up with interest to ask this. When she had met me at the diner, a few minutes earlier, she was full of delight and held me close and kissed and hugged me. I have always known Ellen and our years together seemed to concentrate into that one warm, delicious greeting.
Ellen knows my brother well. Just like she did with me, Ellen came to the hospital to see my brother when he was born. Ellen came because she had been life long friends, not intimate friends, but friends nonetheless, with my mother.
Ellen’s only son, Gale, was nine months younger than me and nine months older than my brother. I don’t remember a time when the three of us didn’t play together at church. It was Ellen who took my brother, Gale and me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark, and The Empire Strikes Back. (Gale was the first boy I ever held hands with, but that’s another story.) Ellen was their Den Mother for Cub Scouts. Ellen hosted great birthday parties for Gale. Ellen was as much a part of my childhood as any next door neighbor or interested aunt or teacher.
Now Gale, my brother and I are in our forties. The small town that nurtured us still keeps them, but I’ve moved on to another part of the country. The reason that I was meeting Ellen was because I had come back to face a life transition and I knew Ellen would want to hear about the details of it. I know that Ellen loves me.
What does your brother think?
How do I answer this? I decided to be honest. “My brother hasn’t spoken to me in over five years.” This really isn’t the shocker, as much as the look on Ellen’s face tells me that it could be. The shocker is the reason why. Can I tell her? Should I tell her? In my adopted hometown, 1700 miles away from this little community, the truth about this situation is clear, but when I’m here and the familiar sights and sounds drug me, when the avalanche of expectations can be triggered by the slightest look or a small snide remark, I’m less firm in my convictions.
The truth is this: My father, mother and brother are mentally ill. They are verbally and emotionally abusive. I am not safe here.
I want to shake Ellen and say, I want to tell you everything. I wanted to tell her about the last forty-five years; the first twenty of which I lived with depression, suicidal thoughts, a crippling low self image, a longing to find affection or acceptance or freedom anywhere. I wanted to tell her how my childhood was lived in fear of constant humiliation and manipulations with money and food. I wanted to tell her how often I was told how fat and ugly I was. I wanted to tell her how rarely I received physical affection that wasn’t accompanied with a slap on the rear. I wanted to tell her how my 250 lb brother had physically threatened me because he was so determined to win a game of keep away in the pool with our children. I wanted to tell her how my mother had thrown a temper tantrum, she wanted to go home! because my obstetrician didn’t want to induce me, on my due date, during my second child’s birth. I wanted to tell her about how my mother and brother have never spoken directly to my husband after 16 years. I wanted to tell her about how my father had publicly humiliated me, in front of a bus load of tourists in Orlando, Florida, because I had kept him waiting ten minutes. (Never mind that I was dressing and feeding five children so that we could enjoy a theme park.) I wanted to tell her anecdote after anecdote, I wanted to tell her story after story. I wanted to tell her about all of the tears that I’ve cried, all the books I’ve read, all of the conversations I’ve had with counselors, social workers and pastors to get out from under this.
I explained to her that I can easily guess the reasons why. I think he is furious with me that I have not done more. I have not been a better daughter. I have not jumped when my parents said jump. I have not brought up my children in spitting distance of their house so that they can manipulate, abuse and threaten my family to their satisfaction. My brother will not speak to me because I have preferences that do not include his Southern Baptist piety and his gratuitous patriotism. My brother is furious with me because I met a man whose company I love more, who I trust, who makes me happy. My brother is furious with me that I’ve followed my husband and had a family with him. My brother is furious with me because for my own survival , I have chosen to distance myself physically and emotionally from these abusers. My brother is furious with me and will not speak to me because I grew up and I’m out of his power.
I told Ellen that this is the issue in my life that defines me. I told her that in God’s perfect love, he allowed me to go to college in another part of the state and hear messages of grace. He allowed me to see families that were normal. He stirred longings in me to be accepted and honored and loved. He brought a beautiful, healing in-law family into my life to nurture and comfort me.
I doubted that this was the right thing to say. To Ellen’s credit, she didn’t question me. She didn’t raise her eyebrows and accuse me of being ungrateful daughter. She didn’t throw back on me my family’s standing in the little town. She didn’t mention the fact that they have been church-going, “faithful” pillars in the community for fifty years.
She just listened.
There may come a day when the whole town will know. There may come a day when my parents will be frail and my brother will need my assistance to care for them. There may come a day when my own reputation and the expectations of what a good daughter should be will be discussed. There may come a day when I will have to walk away from everyone who knew me as a child and never look back.
When we left the diner that day, she loved me even more. She sacrificially gave to me. She met my children and embraced them all. She continues to write to me on Facebook, to love me and to encourage me and to be what she can to me.
I can’t believe that I told Ellen my secret.
To her, I am not liar. I am not making this up. I am not crazy.
Perhaps I’m just that little girl, that lonely, sensitive girl she took to the movies all those years ago.
I am, but then I’m not. Maybe the most important thing I did that morning in the diner was not tell her the truth about my family of origin. Perhaps the most important thing I told her was where I am now.
I told Ellen that now, after a lifetime, I am free.