(Note: This is mostly me just trying to stretch my writing muscles, and reveling in the drama. Feel free to ignore it, if you wish. I will not be offended.)
Hoarding, Bullying and Sibling Abuse, oh my!
Now, you may be thinking, “You can’t be serious, Mac! Sibling abuse? It’s just rivalry! Perfectly normal and healthy! Calling it abuse is just being dramatic! And hoarding is just that amusing quirk on that one TV show.”
That is where you would be wrong.
It’s a real thing. Siblings can be just as bad and damaging as an abusive parent to a child. And children of hoarders are often victims of child abuse. Living in a messy house definitely isn’t healthy.
Don’t believe me? You got time and want to read? Here, take my hand (sorry mine’s so sweaty), and let me take you on a little tour of my childhood. Because the best things in life are overly dramatic, and it’s fun for me to stretch the writing muscles.
Let’s start by introducing the characters. First, we have Mother/Mom/Mommy/Mama/Mommy Dearest. Everyone knows she’s crazy. We know that she was abused by her own mother, and promised herself that she’d never let her children think she didn’t love them. But she’s also, as far as we can see, narcissistic. She is most certainly a hoarder.
Next in the roll we have Sister/Sissy/Big Sister/Sister Darling. She’s two years older than us, taller, skinnier, and widely judged to be prettier. Best friend and confidante. The only way we could ever get through Mom was together, with her as our guide.
Then there’s Father/Daddy/Dad/Father Poppa Daddy. Everyone knows he’s the cool parent. Best dad a girl could ask for. Teacher of Geography and computers. But, alas, he works all day, so we don’t get to see him very often. And the poor man doesn’t know what to do with his crazy wife, but he doesn’t want his second marriage to end up as disastrous as his first.
We also have Best Friend to put in appearances.
The setting? A house in a small town. Outside, see the trailer on the left? The ripped tent on the right? The many cars in the driveway? The piles of junk under the carport? Outside is the cleanest place! The trailer and tent are both full of Mom’s stuff. On the porch is the fridge.
Inside the door, though, is where the true madness reigns. Don’t mind the smell—hold your nose if you need to. Take a careful look at the mountains of stuff completely filling up the large living room. The narrow pathways, which have been encroached on by years worth of dust, laundry, junk mail, yarn, feces from cats and mice. Be careful not to step on a knitting needle. And don’t you dare try climbing on any of that stuff to get into one of the inaccessible rooms! You might break something!
Down that hallway on the left are the bedrooms and bathrooms. In that hall, you’ll find the microwave. That’s our only source of cooking. See how two of the rooms and bathrooms, out of four and three, are completely inaccessible, as well?
On the right from the entryway, you will find the dining room (inaccessible) and the kitchen (barely accessible). The appliances therein died long ago. The sink is full of things you can’t get to. The stove/oven is in the middle of the floor because of a gas leak, and just forget about the dishwasher. You want a dish cleaned, you go to the bathroom.
Ah, all the clothes are in the bath tub? Well, the washer and dryer haven’t worked in years either! What’d you expect us to do with our clothes?
Got a good mental picture? Good.
You are Mama’s favorite—her golden child, her peacemaker. She loves to talk about you. You were such an easy birth, such a sweet and quiet baby. You know, now, that she probably loved you most in the family, except for your older half-brother, her son, who left when you were three. You loved her, too. She was Mommy.
Sister and Daddy are her scapegoats. The ones she blames for stealing her things, breaking her things, messing with her things, global warming, the black plague, and Methodists. She loves talking about everyone behind their back. You never want to hear the bad things, but you listen anyway, because she is Mommy and Mommy is always right. Mommy knows everything. Mommy makes you sure that Sister was mean. Mommy also has a trucker mouth, and you get in trouble when you repeat the words she says, although you can’t figure out why. All the people in the movies you watch say those words.
You have always been scared of Sister when she gets really mad. She screams and throws things. And sometimes she hurts you. But she’s not so good at everything. You’re the one who always makes up the games, and you let her play them with you. You are always the boys, because you’re a tomboy and you want to be Spider-man when you grow up, and she is the girls. But one time, when you’re playing one of your games, she does something bad. Her character’s pet pulls down your pants and underwear and touches your private parts. You’re scared. You try to move, but she’s bigger than you. Stronger. You struggle. Her character is laughing. Your character is the guy, the hero, but she’s laughing at you. You’re only three. She’s only five. You realize, as you get older, that she didn’t really know what she was doing, or how it would affect you. She couldn’t. But you’ll still never tell anyone. You can’t.
Mommy and Daddy don’t get along, like most mommies and daddies do. You know this, because you’ve seen them on TV and in movies. Your mommy and daddy haven’t shared a bed for as long as you can remember, and are really good at talking behind each other’s backs. Mommy somehow gets you to start thinking that Daddy wants to do bad things to little girls like you (it would be years before you would learn the word pedophile, and by then you’d already know that Mommy was crazy). So you are scared of Daddy, even though you love him. You don’t want to be around him when you are alone because he might do those bad things to you.
You are finally old enough to go to school, but Mom wants you and Sister homeschooled. You don’t like it. You want to go to school, like they do in the movies, and have friends, and go over to their houses, and meet their moms and dads. You want to be normal. But you are isolated. You just moved into a new neighborhood, but the girls your age are mean to you, so you often go home alone crying. It gives you more time to play with your castle, and all the characters you have collected. Maybe one day you’ll write a story about them. But you wish you had friends.
So, Mommy starts making Sister share her friends with you. She can’t go to see a friend without you, and you can’t go without her. Because the other girls don’t like you. But they like Sister. You realize this. You aren’t stupid. You are the peacemaker. Which means that you are the crybaby. And nobody likes the crybaby. She is gangly, awkward and stupid. You know why they like Sister better. She has a spine. Finally, some of the girls are so mean to you that Mom bans you from playing with them, ever. That, of course, increases your popularity tenfold. But you don’t understand. You still like those girls, although they don’t like you because you are stupid and clumsy and a crybaby. But you still want them to like you.
As near as you can guess, now, Sister didn’t like you because you were the favorite. She is the one who realizes there is something wrong with Mom, and shows her displeasure by being bad more and more. Sneaking out in the middle of the day (while you are supposed to be either cleaning your rooms, doing your school work which Mommy always forgets about) to play with your friends. She never invites you. And when Mommy finds out, as she always does, she sends you to bring Sister home. Popularity rise.
Mommy and Daddy fight—did they always do that? It gets loud. They yell at each other. And you hide, wishing they would stop, wishing you could have a happy family. Mommy says she’s leaving. She comes in and talks to you, saying that when she married Daddy, she thought somebody would love her. You’re crying, because you don’t understand. You love her. Doesn’t that count for something? What will happen when Mommy leaves? Daddy works all day. He can’t take care of you. But maybe you’ll be able to go to real school.
But, of course, Mommy doesn’t really leave. She knows you wouldn’t know what to do without her. She has to know. She knows you love her. Even if she yelled at you that one time you asked her to let you go to school. Even though the house is always a mess, so she won’t let any friends come over. Because that’s your fault. You are a messy, sloppy girl, and you need to clean your room. And you wouldn’t be so stupid if you would do your school work.
And sometimes she’s fighting with Sister, because Sister being bad isn’t always so innocent. She makes Mommy mad all the time. And though she is your hero, you can’t pretend you like her for that. She makes Mommy unhappy. She makes Mommy cry. Neither can you pretend, no matter how small you make yourself in the dark closet, or how tightly you put your hands over your ears, that you can’t hear them fighting. They yell a lot. Sister screams. There are crashes. What is going on? Has sister been hurt? Is she okay? Did Mommy hurt her? Sister is crying. But you can’t come out. You can’t try to help. You are small. You are weak. You are also crying, because you are the crybaby, just like everyone’s always said. You are scared. And if you come out, you’ll know. You don’t want to know. So you keep your hands to your ears and sing your favorite Primary songs.
Sometimes, Sister would hurt you. You knew you deserved it, because you were slow and stupid and a big, gangly crybaby. She hit you in the head with a video when she thought you were lying to her. When you fought over a movie you wanted to watch, she clawed at your forehead with her long fingernails. The scar was there for years. But at least you felt a bit like Harry Potter.
You are eight and Sister is ten when you find Mommy in the bathroom, crying. She tells you that The State is going to come and take you away, and give you to people who are going to do bad things to you. And this is because your room isn’t clean. You know that it’s too late for apologies, and that love won’t do anything, because these bad guys, The State, have found you, and they want to take your family apart.
They take you out of the house while Mommy and Daddy are getting it cleaned. You’re sad, because it’s two days before you turn nine, and you have to spend your birthday somewhere else. The first night is with this lady who’s a friend of Mom’s. She scares you a bit. She has three kids, all older than you. You know them, and you don’t like them thinking that you are poor in some way. Lesser than them. It makes you mad, and you’re glad when you go to the home of the next lady, who doesn’t have any kids at home. Her house is beautiful and clean, and she’s really nice to you and your sister. She has two guest rooms and lets you pick which one you want. She helps you learn cursive and spelling, and buys you a cheesecake for your ninth birthday. You don’t remember how long you stay with her. But part of you doesn’t ever want to go home. When she tells you and your sister that The State aren’t bad people, that they’re just people who are trying to help, you’re not sure you believe her, though. How can they not be bad, if they’re making Mommy cry?
All too soon, Mommy and Daddy have the house clean enough for you to come home. But they have to keep it clean, and you all have to go to counseling every week. It’s in the city, and you love the city, so you’re excited, although you don’t really understand counseling. And you miss the other place, although you don’t tell Mommy and Daddy, because that would hurt them.
Counseling doesn’t last long. As you learn later, Mom started making excuses not to go. She hated the counselor, she says. And she starts avoiding the appointments she has with The State Lady, who had come into your house and taken pictures of the embarrassing mess before you went to the other houses. How did Mommy do this? She wakes you and Sister up early in the morning when she takes Daddy to work, and then you go to a park in the next town, where you stay until you pick Daddy up late in the afternoon. Then you go home, and aren’t allowed to go outside until after six, because that’s when The State offices close. You never get to see your friends, and when you do, you know they never want to play with you. But you have books (you are reading Lord of the Rings and Dracula and Harry Potter) and your castle. You decide you have no friends, and need no friends. After all, you have your sister.
But your sister isn’t perfect. She makes you really mad sometimes. You are ten when you hit her in the head with batteries and tell her to “go to the Abyss,” as you’d read in that awesome book about dragons.
Mom starts letting you go out more, and you and your sister make a new, nicer friend. She is both of your best friend. But you know, deep down, that she likes Sister better, just like everyone else. After all, she is Sister’s age, and you are younger, less mature, whiny, and stupid. As always, the crybaby. Nobody likes a crybaby. And you don’t like not being liked. You want your own friends. You pray for them every night. When you and your sister fight, Best Friend, just like everyone else, sides with her. When you share your feelings or just go home because you don’t want to fight with Sister in front of Best Friend, Sister says you are too sensitive. You’re a crybaby. Too whiny. It isn’t that bad. You need to get over it. You’re Mom’s minion, and just like her. One time, while you are walking home, Sister follows, so does Best Friend. And Best Friend’s four younger brothers. Sister drags you back, down Main Street. You are angry. You hate her.
At times like this, when you hate her, you hit or bite yourself, because you know it’s bad to want to hurt her. And she hurts you anyway. So you hit. You bite. You try to be better. You nearly commit suicide a few times, because you know that would show her. She would be sorry. But in the end, you just can’t go through with it. You know you are too much of a coward.
You want to stop being the crybaby everyone hates. The more books you read, the more TV and movies you watch, the more you see what strong people are. They don’t cry. They blow up anyone who makes them mad. They punch them. They aren’t afraid. You want to be like them. They are mostly guys, of course, so you become even more of a tomboy. You become scared of being a girl.
When you are fifteen (in public school finally and already through your first boyfriend!), you, your sister, your mother, and friends went to the midnight showing of a movie. You and Sister have an argument, and she gives you that cat-ate-the-canary look you hate so much, so you sit at the other end of the theater, all by yourself. The next day at school, Best Friend yells at you for being whiny and immature. And a freshman, of course, because she is a junior. You sluff the rest of school, go home, and cry. As always, the crybaby. That is your role in life.
You volunteer at the local haunted house. WHAM. You are home. Find a love for the dark, antiheroic, gothic side of life. Get labeled emo by Sister. No biggie. You know, now, that the best way to deal with it is to agree and laugh it off. She won’t let you go with anything else. You are sixteen when Sister spends the summer at a scout camp for the first time. When she comes back, you know the rift has deepened. She calls you a spoiled, selfish brat. Well, at least that is better than being the crybaby.
You are seventeen when you, Dad and Sister visit Grandma in California and go to Disneyland. Sister’s been worse lately, so you don’t want to share a room with her, but you’ve always liked Grandma’s guest room, so you don’t argue. But you remember how Sister was being so disagreeable that Dad nearly canceled the trip. So, when Sister wakes you up one night ordering you to plug your phone in because otherwise the battery’s going to die, you are very upset. She won’t let you go back to sleep. You won’t wake up Dad, because that’s what little crybabies do. So you go into the bathroom and cry. When you finally come out, having written Sister a note trying to explain your feelings, you find she’s put a box of Kleenex on your side of the bed, and gone to sleep. She likes to play Mommy. But far be it from her to ever give you a hug and tell you it’s okay, like Mom would. You place the note on her nightstand and go to sleep. The next morning, the note is crumpled up in the garbage, and she is more hostile.
It isn’t until months later, when you have finally reached your eighteenth birthday, that you find out from Best Friend that Sister said she’ll never forgive you for that. This is when things come to a head again, and a conversation in your room turns violent. She hurts you, but you win the fight. She tells you she’ll never forgive you, and refuses to speak to you for over a week, except when you say you’re sorry, and then she says, “No you’re not.”
But she finally starts talking to you again! Acting like nothing ever happened, you are joking around just like you always did!
A week later, the second conversation in your room turns into the second fight, where she picks up the electric skillet lid and starts beating you with it. You win again. She tells Mom and Dad you started it, and she was on the defensive.
But it’s another thing all too quickly swept under the rug. You are used to this.
Fourth of July, Sister has her driver’s license now! You and she and Best Friend go to the gas station to get some food and hang out and watch an awesome movie. But wait! Another argument. You leave the store, deciding to walk home rather than upset Best Friend more by fighting with Sister. What else could sister do but follow you in the car, headlights shining in the night. You can’t get her to leave you alone. You start running. A family stops and asks if you’re okay, and you tell them yes, because you can’t think of how to put what’s wrong into words anyone would take seriously. You finally call Mom, who walks over a mile to tell Sister to stop (she barely listens, of course), and to walk you home.
But what is the rug for? To put everything back to normal the next day!
But you’re getting stronger. Better. Bigger. So, when Mom and Dad start fighting again, and Dad says he’s leaving, you realize you’re not the scared child anymore. You’re more physically able than both of your parents, and you can yell louder. So you order them into the same room, blocking the door until they talk it out. When Mom says let her out or she’s going through the window, you start crying (crybaby), but you retain control enough to say that you’re the one who’s leaving, in that case, and they can both go copulate with themselves. That shuts them both up. Because you’re stronger.
So with Sister at college and inviting you to come live with her and Best Friend, you have your misgivings, but you agree. Things start off fine. Until you ask Daddy for a car, half-jokingly, and Sister goes ballistic and violent. But that’s what the rug is for!
Oh? Sister annoyed you and followed you to your room and wouldn’t leave you alone until you could put into words exactly why you were annoyed, and until you calmed down enough for her? Rug? No, not this time. You see, you’d heard of sibling abuse by this point. And tonight, you look it up. You cry when you realize that this isn’t all your fault. That it’s not all because you are a stupid, whiny drama queen crybaby.
Soon you realize Sister walks all over not only you, but Best Friend and your other friends, too. And you are all supposed to bow down before her feelings. So, you decide to stop being the doormat, and letting everything go under the rug. You decide to fight.
And it’s this fight that gets Sister arrested for domestic violence.
Welcome back. How was the tour? Dramatic? Probably. Long-winded? Of course! Whiny? You bet! After all, I’m the crybaby! It’s my job. But maybe some good will come of spitting all this stuff out that won’t just be to my own crazy, messed up family. That’s what I’m hoping for. And, like I said, if nothing else, it’s a good writing exercise.