The Stomach Monster, Swimming, Sunburn and The State

There is a joke among my friends and family that I am a bottomless pit. My high metabolism makes me hungry often, and when I’m hungry, the stomach monster starts to roar. It’s difficult, because all the sudden I’ll be too hungry to focus on anything else, and I’ll start being really irritable (I guess I just need more Snickers in my diet). Then I eat in large amounts, and eat more. Never gain a pound.

Thinking about this today brought back some ever so delightful memories of my childhood. Mom hardly ever cooked, so me and my sister mostly had to fend for ourselves. We learned how to make Ramen pretty quick. And anything that could be made in the microwave.

But when I was nine, after the dreaded incident of going to live at a stranger’s house due to The State, Mom stepped it up. See, that summer, she became obsessed with us getting swimming lessons at the local outdoor pool, which wasn’t exactly within walking distance of home. So, she started taking us there in the morning for lessons, and then we’d be left there to swim all day until she picked my dad up from work at about five in the evening. So, basically, we were kept out of the house to avoid The Evil State, by being shunted off to a swimming pool all day, with nothing to eat. Did I mention that? We never packed any food, and we were almost never given any money. A $1.00 hot dog on one of those long days was a rare treat. Sometimes, we’d be so hungry we would scavenge around until we found a peanut someone had dropped, and we’d each eat half of it.

I got my first second-degree sunburn that summer. Mom never sent us with sunscreen, either. And when we came home sunburnt, she’d rub some lotion on that burned like hell, and she’d yell at us the more we cried.

For a little variety, we didn’t always go to the pool, of course. When we didn’t have swimming lessons, Mom would sometimes take us to another city to sit in the car all day at a park, or out at the reservoir. We were scared to even leave the car for fear of The Evil State, so we stayed there most of the time. I’ve spent more time sleeping in a car than I care to remember.

And then there was one very rare occasion where our mother let our best friend spend the night over at our house. We were woken up in the morning because The State Lady had come unexpectedly, and was asking for us. So Mom told us to keep quiet and stay there, and lied to the woman, saying that me and my sister were out at the local amusement park for the day with some other friends (what other friends?). Our best friend had to walk home alone, all due to my mother’s fear that The State would find her two little angels.

And, of course, all this was our fault. The State wouldn’t be after us if we were good kids who did our schoolwork and kept our rooms clean.

I’m not posting all this angst and drama to be like “oh woe is me,” or anything. Really. I get that there are lots of people out there who have been through things I can’t even comprehend. Who have survived things I couldn’t. I’m just writing about it because I find my own twisted psychology interesting, and I hope to be of some help to someone else, sometime. Whether as support, or for research, or what have you. I care not. I just want to pretend I’m helping, while I’m sitting here contemplating my navel because it’s all so fascinating.

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To My Sister

Beloved big sister,

We’ve been through hell together. Childhood? What childhood? We were too busy trying to cope with an insane mother. Trying to figure out why everything was our fault. What we were doing wrong. Of course, I was the golden child. I saw Mom’s good side. She was a better mother to me.

You tried to mother me. Heck, I needed it sometimes. You didn’t understand that Mom was better toward me. So, that led you, a child, to unintentionally be an abusive sibling. You led me into depression. But you know what? Most golden children grow up to be narcissists, themselves. So I’m grateful that you were there to balance me out. In all honesty.

I’ve always looked up to you, no matter how much I tried to deny it. You were strong and sassy and smart and pretty, and I wanted to be just like you. How times have changed. I’m happy being me.

You hurt me. I won’t ever deny that. A lot of my depression issues come from innocent comments you don’t even remember making. That’s okay. You helped me develop a spine. I can take insults, spit them right back, and shrug them off. I stopped caring whether or not I’m Mom’s good child. I’m an adult. She can’t punish me anymore—not that she’d have the guts to do it anyway. I’m stronger than she is.

Sis, I love you. I’m so grateful to you, being there for me through my discoveries with depression and especially with this problem with Scott. I’m glad you’re letting me make you watch anime. I’m glad you’re taking me climbing, and offering to hang out with me. I can’t live with you anymore, of course, but I love having you around. You’re so caring and now, that you’ve grown up, you’re the kind of mom figure I wish I had. Definitely the closest thing to a surrogate mother I have.

Thank you for everything you’ve done. I forgive you.

With love,

Mac

Sometimes You Just Don’t Think About It

Don’t mind me. My Prozac prescription ran out today (getting it refilled, so no worries. I’ll be Happy Mac again soon). That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it. I’m depressed. I do what I want!

It’s funny, I’ve been thinking recently. So many kids grow up without realizing how good they really have it. I remember one time in high school, I overheard one of those perfect, pretty, popular straight-A students complaining about how her parents had taken her phone away for a week. She was a good kid, she protested to her friend. Her parents were being so unfair.

Personally, sitting in my dark corner of the classroom, I wanted to tell her that she didn’t know the meaning of unfair.

But, at that time, I thought my parents were still normal. I was the crazy one, according to myself. Everything was wrong with me, personally, and most of the time, I shoved that off as regular teenage melodrama and only wrote about the good things in my journal. Never a word about The State, or hoarding, or having a VCR thrown at my head for quietly asking if I could use it. A total gloss-over of the summers of hell. Don’t worry, Mac. Be happy.

That’s what child abuse is really like. You never realize that it’s wrong. You just think the world is a horrible place, and all the nice things you see are just a facade. You love your abusers, because they’re not always the Big Bad Villain. This is your parent. Your sister. People you’re supposed to love. People who make flower crowns for you, and buy you big Get Well baskets when you’re sick. They listen to you when you cry because of your kitten who just died. They make banana milkshakes for you, and give you a spa treatment. They do your hair and makeup, and tell you they love you.

All of that kindness makes the other side so hard to comprehend. The yelling and fighting, scratching and screaming. Crashes and holes in the walls. The “you’re too sensitive.” Being blamed for everything that goes wrong.

That girl, Sarah, still annoys me. Just thinking about her. With her neat clothes and her neat hair and her perfect grades. Sure, she had her own problems, but it’s hard to remember that, looking at her from that angle. I just see a girl who doesn’t realize how good she has it.

Growing up with a narcissistic hoarder for a mother and a scapegoat, parentified child for an older sister is no picnic. All those things people take for granted, like a stove or hot showers, cell phones or an Internet connection. A clean house. Parents who didn’t yell or throw things at your head, and actually loved each other. Being able to play outside. Going to school. They were all distant dreams for me. As much a fantasy as being able to fly. That was what I spent time daydreaming about—having a normal life. Wishing—praying—that I was adopted, and that my real, functional family would come for me someday.

Well, it never happened, obviously. Someone else’s horror story is my reality. I come with my own Certified Tragic Backstory. And thus, my secret comes out. I am a Mary Sue.

EHS and Lockdown: The Summers of Hell

My mother has always had a thing with trying to separate my sister and I from our friends, all the while assuring us how much more intelligent we are. We weren’t allowed to play with the most popular (aka, richest) girls on the street, after one of them was mean to me one time too often. As a result, all the other girls had to make a choice: and it was made to exclude the crybaby. And, by extension, her longsuffering older sister. Lucky for all of them, though, as the cooler sister she had the brains and guts to sneak out. The crybaby never did. Two awesomes for the price of one, right?

As a kid, I wasn’t used to having many friends, let’s just say. All the girls my age that I knew well enough (a grand total of three) never wanted to be around me. The older girls just took pity on me. Sure, I’m grateful for that pity, but sincerity was always preferable.

I was ten years old when I became friends with one girl I could trust—my best friend to this day. Together, My sister, our friend, and me were an inseparable team. Except how my sister would go to this friend’s house without telling my mom. Or stay out too late with this friend.

This was where the trouble in our newest paradise really started. Mom started being quick to condemn this friend as a greedy little brat, and paint me and my sister as two angels Too Good For This Sinful Earth. Since the greedy little brat was having such a bad influence on her two angels, Mom started forbidding us to see her, except at church activities. That didn’t last too long, though, as I recall.

But, when we started going to school, it got worse. See, my aunt, uncle and cousin had moved into the neighborhood. This aunt is my mother’s sister, who’s a Type A personality you do not want to mess with. You get on her bad side, she is terrifying. Oh, and around her, my mother goes completely (and very unnaturally) passive.

Well, my aunt supposedly overheard our best friend calling my cousin fat. And the crap hit the fan.

Now, first of all, let me point something out. My best friend is pretty overweight. And a nice person by nature. Her saying such a thing about my totally awesome cousin, whom she always liked, is totally implausible. But our protestations amounted to nothing. Even as the excitement of going to school for the first time loomed, my mother was chewing out my best friend and her father. There was a very tense scene in my best friend’s front yard where the three of us had emotional breakdowns while Mom argued with my friend’s dad, about why we were never allowed to see this friend again. But our pleas fell on the deaf ears of a crazy woman. And my sister was sent to school with my cousin, in a different city.

So, the only time they got to see each other, really (since during that time we were forbidden from going over to our friend’s house), was when we had church activities. And when our friend got a license, she would drive us to and from those activities. And she would take long detours so we could just hang out for a few minutes. That certainly didn’t help matters.

But school was an instant love for me. I was practically a straight-A student throughout middle school. I loved learning new things—like about paragraphs and cells.

With my aunt living so close, though, she decided the golden trio (me, my sister and her daughter) needed to work harder, because there was no way our parents could pay for our college. So, the solution was to graduate with our Associate’s Degrees. How were we to do that? Electronic High School during the summer, of course! My sister and my cousin, both being actually in high school, were immediately signed up, of course. Me, I was offered the opportunity.

Now, I could tell that my aunt thought this was a great idea, when she brought it to my attention. But I had my misgivings. I was just out of seventh grade, which I’d only had one semester of. I’d taken in a lot of new information. I couldn’t handle what was in ninth grade classes when I couldn’t even fathom what eighth grade would hold! So, walking on eggshells, I told her very carefully and submissively that I didn’t think it was right for me, and I’d really rather not.

The next day, she returned, literally cornering me and yelling about how I had to do it because I was smart enough, don’t lie to myself. And my dad wasn’t going to pay for college. And I was getting enrolled whether I liked it or not.

It seems so minor. But that day was the day I climbed my favorite apple tree, sitting high in the branches where nobody could see me, and started dragging a sharp piece of apple wood across my skin.

So, much of the summer consisted of going to a computer lab at the local university extension and getting on computers with my sister and cousin. I tried. I really did. I submitted a few assignments for the Earth Systems class. As in, the first two. But when it got to abiotic and biotic factors of the environment, I was completely lost. Besides, next to me on either side, my sister and cousin were playing around on the Internet. Of course, this was a classic thing with me. Everyone else played around while I got stuck with the short end of the stick—like when my sister always snuck out. I wasn’t about to let that crap happen again. So, I also began Internet playing.

But one day, my aunt came along, and sat beside me. Without thinking about it, the first thing I did was check my email. She glanced over at my screen and whispered, “Mac, what are you doing?”

“Checking my email,” I whispered back.

“No. Get to work.”

I blinked, about to say that my sister and cousin had been doing it too, and why was I getting blamed, but looking over at their screens, I saw strictly aunt-appropriate things. Traitors. But I wasn’t about to sink to that level. So I said nothing. I tried to do the work, I really did. But online classrooms are not my environment. I struggled (never making it past those darned abiotic factors) before they finally stopped taking me. Summer passed, and I started eighth grade that fall. I never said it to anyone, but in the back of my mind, I referred to that summer as the Summer of Hell.

While my sister was going to school in another city, I was allowed to go to high school at home. So, I got to go to school with our friend during my freshman year, when she was a junior. It was a great time. After school, she’d sometimes drive me home (again with the long detours), and others we’d go over to her house for a while and play Kingdom Hearts.

But, of course, the good times were not to last. Near the end of the school year, my sister got in trouble for staying out too late with this friend again. And now, my aunt was here to back my mom up. So, they devised the plan to put my sister on “lockdown.” She was sent to live at my aunt’s house (my cousin had moved out by this point), allowed no contact with friends, no computers, no phone, no TV, no music. Only books and school.

And then, my turn came. The last day of freshman year. Nobody taking roll, of course, so my friend, myself and some others decided to have a mini-party at A&W a couple blocks away. We were going to take my friend’s car, until she realized that was what had gotten my sister into so much trouble, so we walked. Had a great time. At the end of the day, I went home and took a nap.

Only to be yelled and shaken awake by my mother, who wouldn’t tell me what was going on, or what I had done wrong, just that I was getting in a car with my aunt.

Enraged with the dim disgruntlement of the half-awake, I grabbed my iPod (music always helps calm me down) and headed outside. I couldn’t argue with my aunt. I was too afraid of her. That’s the kind of woman who will steamroll you if you so much as look at her funny. Except, no sooner had I got out there than the iPod was confiscated. And it was a very quiet drive to her house.

There, I was told it was my turn on “lockdown.” Because I had been accepting rides from my friend when I wasn’t supposed to. And I had gone out with my friends, leaving the school grounds, without telling my mother. (Who had, actually, confiscated my cell phone when hers was broken a few months previously.) Never mind that I didn’t have her number memorized and didn’t know how to contact her without my cell phone. Or that I didn’t even think about it. My aunt assured me that yes, I did think about it, and I did deliberately spite my mother. No matter how much I protested my relative innocence in tears, I was assured of my damnation. And, realizing I was trying to break down a concrete wall, after that I just stopped talking. I listened silently as I was informed that I would not be going back to the local high school, but separated from my evil friend, and sent to the same high school as my sister. I cried myself to sleep, still trying to figure out what in the world I had really done.

Thankfully, the next day, I was taken to the library and told I could get one book. The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, as I fondly recall. That book was my escape—my refuge from the madness of real life. I spent all day reading it until my parents came to pick me up, out of the blue.

Of course, I still didn’t have a cell phone. And I didn’t have computer access, as I was still on a less strict lockdown. So, I was cut off from all the friends I’d made once more with one brutal stroke. Most of them, I haven’t seen since that day.

And that fall, I started at a new school. Discovered the escape to be found in working at the local haunted house—an outlet for my issues. Developed the Mormon Goth persona, so there would be no more crying protestations against what I was considered too young to understand. I learned my lesson. Shut up and take it. Suck it up and deal with it. You can’t fight crazy with tears. You fight it by yelling louder. Drowning them out.

So yes, I do have social issues. I don’t tell people what I’m really thinking or feeling, most of the time. I’ve worked very hard to separate myself from feelings. That way, it doesn’t hurt as much when I’m second-best to yet another person. When I’m invisible. When I’m treated unfairly.

It took me a while, but I realized the Summers of Hell were plural. More than I could consciously remember, with all Mom had put us through over the years.

Hi, my pseudonym is Mac, and I’m a Mormon. Believe it or not, my life in a “good Mormon family” was my own hell.

Family: isn’t it about. . . frustration? A Message from the Dysfunctional side of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Sometimes, I just want to scream. And sometimes, I do. Surprising, right?

My dad’s fed up with my mom (can’t say I blame him). After twenty-three years, he’s finally talking about leaving her, and I support him fully. But we’re Mormons, so divorce is anywhere near natural for us, when we’re taught that “Families are Forever.” This isn’t the doctrine for those of us who really don’t want to spend eternity with some of our family members, though. Second, my dad’s already been through one divorce, and he never wants to do it again. Can’t say I blame him.

But on the other hand is my mother, who won’t ever admit there’s anything wrong with her. She’s gone to counseling, but stopped because she didn’t like the counselor. That’s not the type of person you can get to admit they have a problem. We want to get the house cleaned up, but she won’t allow it. To put it mildly, she’s a very difficult person to live with.

And then you have my sister, who was stupid enough to get herself arrested for domestic violence. Ordinary people know that you don’t go after a sibling with scissors! She and I are both still dependents of my dad, but she’s righteous and I’m a leech, apparently. And then, what really annoys me, she has the NERVE to tie my dad up in a phone conversation when I’m trying to talk to him about Mom! Seriously!

Yeah, I know it’s impractical to be mad at her when she doesn’t know what’s going on (because someone was dumb, got herself arrested, and can’t legally be around her ‘victim’ right now). Latent hostility bubbles forth, I guess.

Maybe it’s also because whenever I’m at home and one of my parents is on the phone with my sister, I feel unwelcome. Unwanted, even. Like the un-favorite. Because they’re always so happy when they’re talking to her. Laughing, making plans. Then I (forgive my language) get to deal with all the shit. I wish I could talk to my sister too—I wish I could be laughing and happy and making plans, even though I know the phone won’t get passed to me. I wish I could be the one living with a happy, functional family and having adventures. I wish I could refuse to come home.

But I can’t. I’m the one who’s gotta be the chauffeur when Daddy has surgery. I’m the one who’s gotta help out. I’m the one who’s catching all the flack. The one sleeping on a board, serenaded by a symphony of flies and mice accompanied by the soothing smell of mold, cooking everything in a barely-functioning microwave, and all that fun stuff. Sheesh, why couldn’t I be arrested? Oh, yeah. Because I don’t have any friends who’d take me in.

Damn, that’s depressing.

Life as a Hoarder’s Kid

Hoarding. It’s a lot more than an amusing eccentricity that makes the character you’re writing more unique. Ever tried being the kid of a hoarder?

It’s not made of amusing eccentricity and clutter, and saying, “Hey, Mom, we need to get rid of some of this stuff,” and her saying, “You’re right.” No. You try telling my mom to get rid of some of her stuff, she yells and throws things, but she doesn’t ever get rid of anything, and it’s all your fault, and she’s going to walk out, and to hell with everything.

It never goes that far, but I really wish she would just walk out. As the useless so-called housewife, what she does is sit at home all day playing Solitaire and listening to movies, while my dad’s out, working hard. She wouldn’t last a day outside her house. She doesn’t even have a driver’s license anymore!

Anyway, being the kid of a hoarder means never inviting anyone over. Friends have to wait outside for you, and even then, you’re embarrassed, because outside’s a mess, too. Not knowing when you stink because the whole house smells bad. Not knowing how to use simple appliances like an oven, because yours hasn’t worked for as long as you can remember. Not knowing how to clean. Apprehension whenever anyone comes to the door. The fridge is on the porch, and the microwave is in the hall. You wash dishes and clothes in the bathroom, and pray the water heater doesn’t break, because it’ll never get fixed. Flies, mice, spiders, ants and silver fish are common. During the winter, you just store food on the porch—that’ll keep it plenty cold. Entire rooms have been full of stuff for so long, you can hardly remember when it was usable. You can’t walk through the house barefoot without your feet being covered in dirt, crumbs, and stepping in animal feces. When something sticky spills on the floor, you clean it up with whatever’s closest, whether it be dirty laundry or junk mail.

And you know what really sucks? Hoarding in and of itself isn’t illegal. Authorities apparently can’t step in and do something about it unless a)there are children involved, b)a disabled person is involved or c)animals are abused because of hoarding. Once upon a time, someone reported my mom, and The Almighty State could step in because my sister and I were children. Mom responded by keeping us in another city all day to avoid them, and not allowing us to go outside.

Now, I’m an adult, and my dad doesn’t and never has had the guts to stand up to my mom—like it would work, anyway. He’s not disabled. Our animals are pretty well treated. So, he’s stuck with it. As am I, when I lack the money to live somewhere else. But it doesn’t change how I’d do anything to lock her up somewhere and restore the house to what it once was.

Mommy Dearest

My mother. She’s crazy. All my friends know that. I’ve known that almost all my life. No, she wasn’t the totally abusive kind. She always told my sister and me how much she loved us. Abused by her own mother, she made a promise to herself that her kids would know that they were loved. And she’s one of the best people to have around when you’re sick. Sometimes, she really knows what she’s talking about.

And then there are the other times.

She’s the type of person who thinks she’s an authority on most subjects, even though she has no idea what she’s talking about. And, of course, her sharing her profound knowledge comes with hearing about what happened to her, and how she saved the day, and how she taught people the error of their ways, and so on. We have a joke in my family—whenever Mom’s talking to someone, we roll our eyes at each other and comment on how she’s telling her life story again. But if you were to believe her, she should be the current prophet of the Mormon church. Even though, you know, she hasn’t gone to church since I was eleven.

Thanks to her, I didn’t go to school until I was in seventh grade, and when I finally got in, I didn’t even know how to divide. I took dance classes, not the martial arts I wanted. I spent a good deal of my childhood dodging Child Services, like some kind of criminal. I was locked inside the house all day, and Mom was the prison guard at the door. I was forbidden from seeing most of my friends at one time or another, and I was put on “lockdown” for something I didn’t do.

She tried to forbid me from wearing nail polish, piercing my ears, and even wearing pants. Watching action movies. Playing RPGs. Reading Lord of the Rings. Watching horror movies. Wearing black. Going to a rock concert (you should have seen the fight we got in the day afterward—she grabbed me by the collar of my new concert t-shirt, she was so mad. I just smiled at her. So she walked away. First time I ever won). Those didn’t work out so well, obviously. Now, all those things are a part of my daily life.

Every time I asked her why I couldn’t go to school, or why I couldn’t go outside, she yelled at me. That may not seem like much, but to a child, it was terrifying. I didn’t understand what I’d done wrong.

Now that I’m older, I’m the one yelling at her. Quite often. And I don’t care that much. Yes, I love her. No, I don’t honor her like I should. But I figure it’s payback time. She got her yelling and swearing in. Now it’s my turn, and I mean to enjoy it. I’m not the scared child anymore.

I never said I was a good person.