Thar Be Monsters…

Daily Prompt Revisionist History Go back in time to an event you think could have played out differently for you. Let alternate history have its moment: tell us what could, would or should have happened?

C’mon. The only stories anyone would revise are the sad ones.

Thirty odd (they’ve all been rather odd) years ago a friend said, “You’ve had a harrowing life.” I never liked her as much after that. No one wants their friends to pass judgements on their lives. Who can fairly do that, anyway? One man’s meat and all that, right? I resented the comment because it was — and had been — my life and I was not “harrowed” by it.

Still and all, there is one thing I would change. I wish I would have woken up earlier. You see, I went through much of my life blind, with my eyes closed and while I know that’s why my life didn’t “harrow” me, it would have been nice to see things as they were much sooner.

I think.

For years and years there was a little voice inside that telling me to see. I wrote a lot of journal entries and seeing was a theme in everything I wrote. During my animal totem years (late 80s/early 90s) I perceived my animal guide as the red tail hawk, and his great attribute is vision. I watched them all the time when I was hiking and took it as a good sign if I arrived at the beginning of a hike and a hawk was there. That was most of the time, by the way.

All I knew of this animal totem business I learned from Hyemeyohsts Storm’s book The Seven Arrows. Since I spent so much of my time in a wilderness park that had been a sacred spot for the Kumeyyaay Indians, I felt that their lives filled the hills and valleys. The animals who lived there were part of my world. There are much worse teachers than nature, anyway. 😉 Now I think that when we need to learn something, we’ll find a teacher. I needed to open my eyes and I was fumbling about for someone to help me.

When my mom ended up in the hospital, deranged and ill, I finally learned the truth.  A brain scan showed the scar tissues and lesions that come from a life time of alcohol abuse. My mom had been a secret alcoholic for much of my life. I didn’t know this until I was 44, and she was a few weeks from death.

She wasn’t a friendly drunk who got maudlin or goofy. She was a mean drunk who got abusive and cruel, and I was the usual target of her cruelty. Why? Because I was also the person she relied on to manage her life, the person who (unwittingly) picked up the slack for her. Her feelings of guilt must have been heavy and one stragedy she had for bearing them was to turn me into an unworthy daughter who deserved punishment and contempt.

I wish I’d seen this sooner. I wish I’d known the truth when I was younger, and I wish I’d had help contending with it. When it was over, and I visited my aunts for Christmas, my Aunt Jo sat me down and talked to me straight and direct about my mom and our relationship. It was shocking in a way. I had always “felt” the truth of things, but because the truth was contradicted by my mom’s words, I had grown up and lived in a kind of twilight where she was concerned. Part of me KNEW she was mean; the other part of me said she wasn’t. I constantly worked to maintain the presence of the peaceful, kind “good” mom while knowing that, at any minute, with no warning, and probably because of something I did, the malicious, caustic and sometimes physically abusive “mean” mom would appear.

I know people who had two functioning parents who believed in their children and supported them. I don’t feel envy, but I do feel a sense of wonderment. Like a lot of children from families with absent parents, to some extent I raised myself. This has made me independent and self-reliant (on the one hand) but it also made me view others with a kind of trepidation. Sure, things are OK now, but sooner or later something’s going to happen to turn all the good things upside-down. My independence and self-reliance comes not from a solid sense of self, but from a lingering mistrust of others — and of myself.

Still and all there’s no point in looking back unless it leads a person to greater self-awareness and peace and, possibly, makes it possible for a person to direct their life in a better way. Though in my youth I thought it was silly, I now know that “happily ever after” is something to shoot for.

17 thoughts on “Thar Be Monsters…

  1. I know there are a lot of things I wish I had known and realised when I was younger, especially in connection with my parents. I never really understood a lot of decisions that were made, but it was a different time and place.

    • Your childhood in bombed out Britain in your neighborhood was definitely a place that no longer exists. I figure with my mom, now, she was a poor woman who couldn’t handle what fate had sent her way. I do not like her, but I feel mostly pity for her. That was always the case, actually. I would not have done the same in her shoes, but I’m another person completely from her so naturally that’s true.

  2. Maybe when my father o’d’ed on drugs I should have, as Mom and brother suggested, let him die. Somehow I don’t think that would have worked for me. Not in the long run. Or them either. There are some short cuts you just don’t take.

    • I let my brother die and it was no short cut. My mother too, for that matter, since, if I’d abandoned my life and moved back to Montana to live with her and care for her she probably would have lived (live?) longer. When the moment for that decision arrived, it was clear that it was her or me; it had come down to that and I grabbed my own life. I thought in that moment, “I’d rather die than take care of you.” It was a revelatory moment that showed me that I’d reached the end of my ability to sacrifice myself for her. But I figure everyone has to deal with the “slings and arrows” in their own way for their own reasons. The puzzle pieces of our lives, though not completely individual, have imperatives that are unique for each of us.

  3. Very telling and true. I will try to keep this in mind that, being treated as an object of pity for the hand you’ve been dealt, isn’t a goal or admirable to achieve. Sometimes I forget that pity isn’t all one should. It would be nice to be admired for qualities of character and choices and accomplishments. It can just be hard to find them at times. Maybe I need an eye-opening experience as well.

    • My friend was trying to show her understanding and I knew that, but it was still insulting somehow. I have believed for a long time that no one has a “perfect” life and that we are all deserving of compassion and the benefit of the doubt. I guess I believe we get what we get and, whatever it is, we have to do the best we can with it. I was just unable to see what I had “gotten” and that made it so much more difficult to make good decisions even about myself. I think a lot of children of alcoholics face the same confusion.

  4. My kids certainly faced ‘the same confusion’, but while I wish with all my heart they hadn’t had to, I also recognise that a lot of their strength comes from surviving it, sorting it out and reclaiming themselves. I admire them enormously (as well as loving them, obviously).

  5. This is a compelling post and surely tells a story of how someone can be deceived by a parent or anyone. At least you found out why your mother was such a B—h to you but gee to suffer through all that for years. I think you are a very wise and strong woman and maybe those experiences have helped shape you as a writer and a painter.

    • Thank you — I’ve (obviously) thought a lot about it and I realize that when I was about 10 (that’s when it all started) something inside me told me I’d need to get some OTHER parent and I found Lawrence of Arabia, of all strange things, thanks to the movie. But that was all a lesson about stoicism and humor and enduring. Some little voice inside me (or God?) was helping me out as was my Aunt Martha and my dad and some of my teachers and nature — my mom hurt me a lot, but somehow I knew she was not the only show in town. I don’t know why. It’s made me ponder the nature of people, you know? I’ve taught so many people and there is such a variety in the way we are affected by things. Animals, too. I didn’t expect my old dog Lily to make it through the move but she loved every minute of it. It’s just a big mystery.

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