This story contains mature or graphic content
Though Daddy’s playtimes hurt, at least he played with me. Mommy didn’t. Before I was old enough to lift my head or even roll over, Mommy told me how she felt.
“Don’t smile at me, you little brat,” she’d sneer as I reached for her, waving my arms and cooing. “You think you’re something special, but you aren’t! You’re just a girl—a worthless girl! The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.”
The more I reached out, the farther she moved away.
One of her favorite phrases was, “Don’t get your hopes up.”
Mommy used that phrase for almost everything. From times when I grinned at her and patted my bottom, hoping she’d change my diaper, to times when I dared to reach out and pet the various cats our family always seemed to have.
Mommy made her point that life was hopeless very clear by showing me the futility of having my needs met as well as by her harsh words. She showed me by letting the urine in my diaper ripen until my skin blistered. She showed me by refusing to hold me when we were alone, making me beg for human contact so that she could laugh at me.
She only held me when friends or family visited, as an outward show to “prove” what a good mother she was and how close we were. I was so starved for attention that I allowed her to hold me, but early photos showed that my attention was usually on my aunt or my grandmother.
It was very important to Mommy that she proved her family wrong in their derision of her choice of husbands. The relatives on her side of the family had decided that she had made a terrible choice and that she would live in misery.
And she had made a terrible choice. She did live in misery, when Daddy made special “house calls” to fix television sets for sweet young things instead of coming home for dinner.
But when her family visited our dismal two-room apartment in Paterson, NJ, Mommy made her life seem as glamorous as possible. When Nana asked where Phil was (Phil was my Daddy), she’d curl her scarlet lips into a vacant smile and make excuses for him, reminding her skeptical family how important his job was, making sure the population of Paterson had television sets in good working order to watch.
Then she’d scoop me up and coo into my ear, jiggling me to show off in front of her family. Her murmured words may have had the lilt of a loving tone, but the whispered syllables that only I could hear reminded me that I could do nothing to make her love me.
I tried not to believe her, but I was very young so eventually I gave in. I knew from the time that I was able to walk that if I was to survive, I would have to take care of myself.
When Mommy sent me to bed without dinner, I learned to find pizza crusts in the garbage after she and Daddy were asleep. When she refused to give me water, I learned how to drink from the faucet without chipping my teeth. I learned that when Daddy offered chocolate, it would quiet my rumbling stomach.
Even though Daddy’s chocolate was never free. My earliest lessons in economics informed me that anything I wanted was going to cost me something precious and dear. As a toddler, the only thing I had to offer was my body.
Thankfully, my body was exactly what Daddy wanted.
Yes, this is an all-too common theme, possibly becoming common enough so that the mention of yet another case of incest brings rolling eyes and yawns of boredom. But these persistent reports of early childhood abuse also show the desperate need for the raising of public awareness.
I knew that need for the raising of public awareness, in theory, even as a toddler. That’s why I’d bring police officers to the apartment when Mommy and Daddy would fight, even though I knew that they’d either make-believe nothing was wrong or Daddy’s smooth talk would convince them that I was a liar or a spoiled brat.
Of course I was persecuted for “telling” over the years. I was called “negative,” “needy,” even “depressed” by people who desperately did not want to believe that the woman they knew as an avid PTA member and the man they knew as a volunteer fireman were capable of such atrocities behind closed doors.
And yet, what was I to say? For most of my childhood and my young adult years, whenever anyone asked me to share a memory, the only memories I had to share sounded as if they came from a horror flick. I had a choice: make up nice stories to placate others, so that I would be worthy of being in the presence of other human beings, or be honest, keep crying out for understanding, and risk ostracism over and over again.
Well, the air behind closed doors quickly becomes fetid, leaving the children gasping for relief. And so, I march on, speaking out whenever and wherever I can, until no child ever has to grow up the way I did.
No matter what.