I remember once, when Avery was about eight, I was standing with him at the door of his closet. I was trying to make him do something. I think it was about getting ready to go somewhere or possibly about picking up. I never seem to be able to get the details straight because so many memories are similar that they intrude on each other. I just know that he was not listening to me, at all. I was bending over, holding him by the shoulders, speaking as earnestly as I could, and he would not listen. It’s not like he was arguing; he wasn’t even bothering to let my words into his ears.

I remember feeling frazzled, pressured, and impatient. Whatever I was trying to get him to do, I felt like I would be in trouble if he didn’t do it. So, in an effort to get his attention, since speaking face to face wasn’t working, I slapped him. He slapped me right back. It was one of the biggest shocks I have ever had. I would never have had the gall to slap an “authority” at his age, no matter how unjust they were being. No matter whether they had slapped me too.

I was so shocked, and offended, that I slapped him again. I don’t remember if he got in a second slap, I imagine he did. By that time I came to my senses. I apologized immediately. Being slapped by him was one of the most humiliating things that has ever happened to me, because I very much deserved it. I knew that he was in the right, defending himself against my anger. I don’t think I really got his attention, but he definitely got mine.
In my memories, I can rarely place exactly where Mom was. In spite of being a stay at home mom, she was never around. When I try to place her, there are a few things that come to mind. She was often in her room, on the phone, crying for hours. We were not allowed to interrupt her when she was in her room on the phone.

When I was little I would go to get my schoolwork checked, but it usually didn’t get checked because Mom was on the phone. If I did manage to interrupt her, she would curtly tell me to leave her alone, not to interrupt, and she would “deal with it later.” I quickly learned not to try.

I also remember her being out of the house a lot with one or more of us with her, running errands.

She also took a lot of long naps. Now I realize that she was probably struggling with untreated, undiagnosed depression, for my entire life.We were not allowed to wake her up unless someone was “dying or bleeding,” or she would give us a time when we were supposed to wake her up.

I don’t know why she never set an alarm. If we forgot or didn’t keep close watch on the time, she would berate us for not getting her up in time to do what she needed to. If we accidentally woke her up by being loud, she would also berate us. We all hated to wake her up even when she told us to, because she always woke with a strong startle response. She would jump out of her skin, and it would make us jump out of our skin too. Now I can't help but connect this to her own trauma and PTSD.
I remember that while we lived at Miriam Court Julia, who was 10 or 11, was put in charge of the laundry. The entire family’s laundry. I was supposed to be her helper, so she was also in charge of me. At the same time, Ellen, who was 7 or 8, was put in charge of the dishes. Eventually, (I’m not sure when) Gracie was the one who helped her. I think, before Gracie was bigger, when I was 4 or 5, I was supposed to help Julia sort the laundry and help Ellen unload the dishwasher.
A few weeks ago, I got a speeding ticket. I was speeding because I was late, and I felt invincible to the law. I shouldn’t have been doing it, especially since Jon has already been understandably stressed over our dwindling money and job situation.

When I told him about the ticket he gave me a very uncomfortable and totally useless lecture. He calls it yelling, though I’ve never heard such quiet yelling before. He was venting his anger on me, though.

I already felt terrible for costing us a significant (to us) amount of money that could have easily been avoided with some good sense. It was even worse that he has tried to both warn me and not nag me about my speeding habit.

Overall, the whole thing, including both of us sincerely apologizing, was done in about 15 minutes. Except, it wasn’t. I continued to feel terrible, both emotionally and physically. As usual, I explained it to Jon to process it myself.

My PTSD flashbacks are not of one particular traumatic event. They are not of one memory or even one person. They are not well defined, but I was experiencing one as he lectured me. I was re-experiencing people I love telling me I’m wrong. Even more specifically, I was experiencing the feeling that I am useless, burdensome, an embarrassment.

I realized that it is normal when I feel upset with myself, for me to frantically try to come up with ways to take myself out of my family’s life without them noticing. I have never been suicidal because killing myself would definitely burden people I love and I’m trying NOT to be that. To add insult to injury, I have never found a way to cut myself out of my loved ones’ lives without them being hurt by it, and this makes me feel helpless and doomed.

Last night, I told Jon I wanted to crawl into a corner and tell him to run. I’m assuming this is not a natural or healthy response to someone being upset with you.

After about an hour, and some crying, my stomach finally relaxed and I no longer felt on high-alert emotionally. Jon points out that “only an hour” is a huge improvement for me and he is right. When we first got married, much smaller and less real issues would trigger me and send me into deep depression and avoidance for days or weeks.
I remember Ellen being the force behind some of the best birthday parties. Gracie’s birthday party where we all played in a kiddie pool in the front yard was mostly imagined and done by Ellen. One of my birthdays, that had themed and matching decorations of tulips, was done largely by Ellen.

I remember one birthday when I had a few friends over, opened all of my presents in the dining room, and then moved into the living room to play. I was called back into the dining room by Mom and Dad because, “You missed a little present!” When I came back, there was a box on the dining table almost as big as I was. It was my Molly doll’s clothes trunk that I had never thought I would actually get. I was shocked that they got me such an expensive toy. It was one of the most complete surprises I have ever experienced.

Unfortunately, I also remember feeling guilty for owning it for years afterwards, since I didn’t really play with such an expensive toy that much.

When we got older it was always Gracie that made sure my birthday was celebrated.
I remember that bruising after spanking was considered an unfortunate accident and often blamed on the child. “Your poor little legs! If only you wouldn’t have danced like that, the switch wouldn’t have hit them.”

Bruising was a fairly often occurrence, more so for some kids than others. Ellen and Gracie were “easy bruisers.” I had no idea until this week, as a 25 year old woman, that it was possible to spank and never bruise. I thought it was a random reaction that was basically uncontrollable. I thought all parents that spanked sometimes bruised their children. I had no idea that it was considered proof of abuse.
A few nights ago, when I lay down to go to sleep, emotions rose to the surface. I thought at first that I was going to have a panic attack but I was able to cry instead. I cried because I didn’t want this to be my story. I cried because I felt all the pain that this IS my story and neither myself nor anyone else can take it back or change it. I cried because it isn’t my fault that this is my story. It isn’t my fault if I can’t make everyone look good by telling the truth.

In writing this, I have felt guilty that it would make many people, most notably my parents, look bad. I was terrified that I was going to enjoy making their faults public. As I sobbed my heart out last night, I knew for sure; I don’t. I am writing this for one reason. It is my story and it is time to tell the truth about it.

I didn’t pick this as my story. I would give almost anything to have a story that I could enjoy writing. I wish I could write my story about a happy, well-functioning, but quirky family. I would do anything except continue silently or continue lying to myself. I wish that my story was an honor to my parents, but if the truth isn’t an honor, I am helpless to change that.

I would do anything to save my parents from their own choices and their own stories that they didn’t choose. But I can’t. I can only bring the truth to light. Bringing it to the light may cause some harm, but letting it lurk in shadows is definitely causing harm. The light may not make it pretty, but maybe it can give it the chance to be redeemed.

If I could walk into a bookstore and pick a story to be my past, this is not the one I would have chosen. This is a story of confusion, pain, and fear. This is a reality stranger than most fiction. It is not by my choice that it is mine.
I remember that we weren’t allowed to wear makeup until we turned sixteen. When Julia turned sixteen, she was happy to start wearing it, but when Ellen turned sixteen she was only interested in wearing it some of the time. I remember many Sundays after Ellen turned sixteen that Mom would say, “Aren’t you at least going to put on some lipstick?!” This translated as a non-optional command.

I was usually shamed for going out of the door with wet hair. "You can't go out looking like that! You look like an orphan!"
I remember the first time Dad admitted to me that he and Mom were having problems. I was 18 and we went on a walk around our extensive, six and half mile, country block. He walked and jogged and I was on my bike. I said almost nothing because the information he was giving me was so much to take in.

I was grateful, at first, that he was being honest. Finally, I was being given the respect and decency of knowing the truth about the situation I was forced to live under. I was also terrified. My entire world felt like it was crumbling around my ears. What he said was not very surprising on the one hand because it fit my reality a lot better than the basically good marriage I believed existed. On the other hand, I had honestly believed my parents were doing pretty well, and our family was overall normally healthy.

Since the conversation encompassed all six and a half miles, I’m guessing it lasted between one and half and two hours. He went all the way back to when he and Mom were dating and told me what seemed like everything. He told me he should have realized when they were dating that he shouldn’t have married Mom, and told me their marriage got worse as soon as Julia was born. He told me that their sex life was never good. He told me so much that I am having to censor it here.

I just tried to process it all. I was honored that he was sharing with me, and thought that maybe this meant he would let me help him.

I felt confused, trying to figure out where the truth met between the dire story he was telling me and the face that he and Mom put on to us kids and the world. I wished the block wasn’t so big, so the conversation would end. By the time we were almost home, I felt so sad for him and Mom.

It made me really uncomfortable that he talked about their sex life. I also wondered if he really didn’t realize that his confiding in me about his unfulfilling and disappointing sex life made me feel like I was supposed to offer him sex. I knew, at least I was almost sure, that he would be horrified by this suggestion. But, on the other hand, I felt like he should have known that it would make me feel like that.

This was the first time that we had this ‘conversation’ of him listing all Mom’s faults (largely sexual in nature) and the ways he had been wronged in their marriage. He technically admitted to having some faults as a husband; but, while Mom’s faults were shared in specific detail, I never figured out what he thought his were.

At first, I tried to give him counsel. I wracked my brain for the right thing to say that would save him and Mom both. After hearing his exact same story with all the lurid details too many times to count and realizing that he didn’t want and wouldn’t receive anything from me on the subject, I refused to listen to it. At the time, I didn’t realize that what I was experiencing was verbal sexual abuse.

Sometimes, he changed it up a little by interjecting into his saga of marital abuse, strong advice about how I should and should not treat my future husband. He would use Mom’s actions against him as examples of how I should never treat my husband. I wish I could say that I didn’t take any of this skewed situational advice to heart, but I did. I still find it cropping up sometimes in how I think about myself as Jon’s wife.

One night, he took me out to eat and started talking about Mom again. I told him that I was unwilling to listen anymore and we needed to talk about something else. He tried to say a few more things about her, but I politely and firmly cut him off. I could barely eat, my stomach was so tense. Once he realized that I really wouldn’t listen to him talk about Mom he had nothing more to say and we ate our entire meal in silence.

That meal marks the point for me when Dad and I stopped talking. Once I didn’t allow him to talk about Mom, he basically stopped talking to me altogether. The few times that we have had private conversations since then he has mostly talked about his current girlfriend or again, Mom’s failings.

Only within the last few years have I learned the technical term for the kind of relationship I was taught that God wanted me to have with my Dad: Emotional Incest. Where his emotional needs would be met by his children.
I remember watching Ellen and Mom have a "discussion" in the laundry room under the stairs. I must have come in to get something and had to stand there and wait for Mom. Our laundry room was tiny, and you couldn’t really pass someone in it without squeezing. Ellen was trapped, further in than Mom. Since I was behind Mom, I could see Ellen’s face. It was obvious to me that she was in quite a bit of pain. Must be another of her headaches. Her face was a little pale and wore that tensely-trying-to-relax look that I have come to recognize on someone still functioning under a massive headache.

Mom was telling her that she didn’t understand why she always had a bad attitude. She didn’t understand what was wrong between her and Ellen. She needed Ellen to communicate more with her. And why didn’t Ellen ever smile? I think Mom was crying.

Ellen was trying to explain that she didn’t have a bad attitude, she had a headache. She didn’t smile because she had headaches. There wasn’t anything wrong between them. Ellen was trying to communicate. She needed Mom to quit assuming what Ellen was thinking and feeling.

I think I remember this instance in particular because it was the first time that I realized Ellen was making sense and Mom wasn’t. All I had to do was look at Ellen’s face, and I knew what was wrong, more or less. But Mom didn’t. She looked at Ellen and saw a bad attitude, resentment, and a cold shoulder, even though she knew that Ellen had headaches almost constantly. I didn’t process it right then because I didn’t know what to do with the information that Mom couldn’t understand what was obvious to me.
I remember when Mom would tell Gracie, “Go do something with your hair. It looks like a mop.” Every. Single. Day.
I remember, when I was somewhere between 5-8 years old, I was given the chore of vacuuming our large kitchen and dining room. I hated cleaning the floor because I was always sure to miss something. I thought the hard surface attachment to the vacuum never worked well, but I wasn’t much better with a broom. Mom told me to do it with the vacuum this time, because the vacuum was easier to use. Her opinion, even though it changed regularly, was usually stated as absolute fact.

I used the vacuum. I didn’t have a bad attitude; I just didn’t look forward to the, from my view, interminably long chore. I vacuumed some, but then I found a trail of wood ants somewhere along the floor. That house was infested with wood ants. I found that it was very satisfying to suck them up with the vacuum, much more satisfying than generally rubbing it over the floor never sure if it was getting cleaner or not. Without conscious decision I quickly became focused on chasing ants around the floor. Sometime later, I don’t know how long, Mom came into the room and was shocked to see that I hadn’t gotten farther then I did. I had been alone in the room until then, with no supervision.

Her voice broke my focus, “What on earth are you doing?”

I looked up, startled, and my heart sank. How was I supposed to explain that I had been chasing ants? This time, she wasn’t particularly angry. She was almost gentle.

“Were you doing what I told you to do?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“I’m going to have to give you a spanking for not obeying me.”

Gulp, silent nod, “But, I just got distracted . . . I’ll stop now! I’ll finish vacuuming real quick.”

“Is getting distracted a good excuse to disobey me?”

“No, Ma’am.”

“Come get a spanking.”

I put down the vacuum and slowly went to her room for a spanking. The spanking was over quickly and she sat me on her lap afterwards, wiping off my tears. She always gave us lectures after a spanking, I don’t remember the words to this one, but I remember she was still gentle. She seemed genuinely sorry that I hadn’t obeyed her and was hopeful the spanking would keep me from forgetting what I was doing in the future. She sent me back to vacuum again making a joke that I was the only daughter of hers that would get distracted chasing ants.

I went back to the vacuum crying furious tears. I wasn’t mad at Mom. I didn’t think that maybe I didn’t deserve a spanking for being an eight year old that couldn’t stay on task indefinitely. I was mad at myself. Angry enough to explode. HOW, could I POSSIBLY have gotten distracted AGAIN! What was wrong with me?! When was I going to stop it! Hadn’t I gotten enough spankings? When was I ever going to learn! I was so STUPID. I hated those stupid ants. I was NEVER going to lose focus like that again. I was going to focus; really focus this time, and not EVER forget again.

I don’t remember what happened on this particular occasion. Did I finish vacuuming before losing focus again? It’s hard to say. I would often get spanked multiple times for not finishing chores fast enough, for forgetting a chore, or for getting distracted. Even if ‘getting distracted’ was my tendency to over clean areas Mom didn’t care about.

It was important to finish chores within the time Mom believed it should take. The time set might be reasonable for an adult who was familiar with the housework, but never for an unsupervised child. It was equally important to finish them in the right way. Too detailed, and you would take too much time; not detailed enough and you would be called back multiple times, and probably get spanked for laziness.

To unload and load a dishwasher, wash any hand dishes, and wipe down the kitchen should take half an hour even though there were 6 family members to clean up after. Sometimes there were two of us doing it (which only meant more fighting) but the time didn’t change either way. Only since being married have I realized; as an adult, it takes me about an hour to clean a kitchen to Mom’s standard when it is just me and my husband making the mess.
I had another nightmare about Mom. Nightmares about Mom are not unusual. She is usually sadistic in them, sometimes mocking, sometimes chasing me. I think the most common theme in them is that I am running, running, running. I try to dodge behind things, I try to get ahead, I try to zig, zag, and circle back, but no matter what I do, she is always right behind me. If I think I’ve lost her, she turns up suddenly. When Jon and I first got married, I would wake up from these dreams and immediately have a panic attack.

The dream this time was different. It started out the same; Mom was not much of a personality, just a mindless beating machine. She was beating someone always. In the dream, Eric was about five years old and I was concerned she would kill him.

I was not angry at her this time, I didn’t feel helpless. I knew that what was happening was wrong and I simply couldn’t let it continue. I did what I could to stop her in the moment. I hid the boys, and possibly Gracie, in the attic. I also took Mom’s stick away, grabbing it with my hand as she swung it at me. The next day, the church was coming over, Crossroads, the church I grew up in. We conveniently had a small amphitheater in our backyard to host them with. Gracie and I had a plan to save us from Mom’s beatings before she killed one of us. As the people from church were arriving and Mom was getting ready, Gracie and I went outside, took the boys with us and locked her inside.

Instead of church starting, I went up on the stage and told them everything that was happening. The church was shocked and totally silent but I knew that they believed me. As I was getting down off the stage, sobbing uncontrollably with relief, I was aware that an ambulance of some kind was already arriving to take Mom to a psych ward. I knew I she would be cared for, I would never have to see her again, and it was over. I cannot overemphasize my feeling of relief. I wondered what I would do with my life now that this was over. For so long, it was the only goal I had. I couldn’t stop sobbing.

I woke up with my body acting like it was trying to sob but I didn’t actually have any tears. Pretty quickly I was crying for real. I cried because the dream was so bad, yes. But I think I cried more because it wasn’t real. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful that my Mom never really beat us within an inch of our lives, that I remember. But we were abused, and the abuse was no less real or long lasting, because it could have been more severe.

In real life, our abuse never stopped. Other people didn’t know about it, not even our closest friends. In real life, if we had even been allowed to stand on the church stage and start talking about how our family really was, no one would have believed us. Even if someone was willing to believe us, what could we tell them? The abuse was too subtle and hard to explain to anyone who hasn’t experienced it themselves. More importantly, it was all we knew as kids. For myself, I didn’t even know that the abuse was abuse. I didn’t know that it was even bad. I thought all loving parents spanked their kids and sometimes bruised them.
I remember, one afternoon as we were eating lunch, one of us got into trouble. I don’t remember why, I’m not totally positive on whom. I do remember Mom pulling them reluctantly to the back of the house to get spanked. I remember that the tension in the air was thick.

I was simultaneously feeling sick that my sister was getting spanked, nervous that Mom would find something to spank me for when she got back, and relieved that it wasn’t already me back there. From there, I remember the story two ways. This situation was so common I assume that two separate memories have combined.

In one memory, I mentioned to my older sister that it always made my stomach clench when someone got spanked, even if it wasn’t me. She gave me a curt nod, pretty obviously feeling the same way, and told me to be quiet and keep eating.

In the second memory, I gave a nervous laugh, not because I thought anything was funny, but just because the relief that it wasn’t me was so great. I mentioned that I felt really bad for whoever it was, but I couldn’t help feeling relieved it wasn’t me. My older sister quickly quieted me with a few words of disapproval.

Both her responses sound kind of cold and mean. I didn’t like the way she shushed me, but I knew the real reason wasn’t about me. If Mom heard what I said, I could easily be the next one spanked. If Mom was upset enough to spank one child, there was no telling what would trigger her to spank you too.

Intro & Explanation

For a long time, I have wanted to write down my memories of my childhood. I never have because I was afraid it would be disrespectful to those I would speak of. I was afraid it might strain, or end, relationships that are precious to me. I still have all these concerns, but I now have other concerns that are even more pressing.

What kind of relationships have I made, if telling the truth might end them? Maybe the truth will actually strengthen them. I am no longer afraid of the truth being disrespectful. My silent ‘respect’ has not helped anyone or made them feel any better. Maybe honesty is the most respectful thing that I can give.

For myself, I am writing this in an effort to understand and make sense of my own past. I have been afraid that if I face the past, the relationships made there would be destroyed, but they are being destroyed anyways. I feel them slipping away. Maybe facing it will allow us all to grow relationship on the stable ground of the truth, or acknowledge that they were already gone.

I realize that my memories are simply that, memories. You may have different memories of the exact same occasion. When I say that I’m telling the truth, I don’t mean that I have some sort of corner on the truth of these occasions. I mean that I am not lying about what I remember. I will not accept someone saying that my memories are not true or not important because for better or worse, they are my entire life. On the other hand, if you were there in these memories, I want to know how you remembered it. I truly want to understand, and I want more information than what I have here.

I hope that I have made it obvious that I am not writing or sharing any of this for revenge or out of bitterness. I am writing this in an effort to find the truth for all of us.

I share the stories in the order that they come back to my mind. I have not tried to organize them.