Henry (called Hank) and Patricia met at a communication workers union gathering in the spring of 1954. He was, like so many men his age, a veteran of World War II. He served with the communications corps, stringing line across Europe ahead of General Patton's advancing army. She was seven years his junior; a woman who knew her own mind -- who liked her freedom and independence. She was a beauty, but cold as ice. In the years that followed, he'd sometimes get drunk and declare that she had "gotten married in June, but he had married in April." Officially, the date of their marriage was June 4, 1954. I was born in the early days of February, 1955. It was an event that neither of them ever intended.
I don't know what I called her when I was but a baby. I imagine that some variant of "Mama" served when I was just a little thing. I know that I have no conscious memory of her as anything but "Mother." There was nothing cuddly or sweet about the woman who bore me. She bitterly resented my coming into her otherwise perfect life, and she was never shy about letting me know that I'd ruined everything by my very existence. "I never wanted children," she would declare to me whenever some childish behavior of mine impinged on her routines. "I wish I had joined a convent!" -- the final and intentionally brutal finding on the value of my presence in her world.
She drank. So did he -- my father, although it seems that his drinking occurred late at night after we'd all been put to bed. Mother would drink as soon as he left for work in the morning. It wouldn't be long before she would be angry, raging around the house at the unfairness of everything. She would throw things and kick things and slam pans on the kitchen counter. I would cower in corners and behind furniture, trying to become invisible; trying to avoid making her more angry -- trying to keep from drawing her attention to me. If I failed to vanish; if her rage focused on me, then terrible things would happen.
There was a cellar under the house; reached by a cellar door from out back. A wooden ladder led from the trap door down to a concrete pad on the cellar floor. In my mind's eye, that pad is about six feet square and roughly finished. Beyond the concrete, the cellar floor was packed dirt. A single, bare bulb hung from the rafters, and when it was lit it showed a rank of wooden shelves built along one wall. I remember that my father stored paint cans down there, and lots of dusty cardboard boxes. A stack of tires sat on the dirt floor against the back wall, at the end of the shelves. When I committed the crime of being a noticeable child, spilling my milk, or dropping something, or fussing about whatever, her rage would boil over -- and she would drag me to the cellar. She would kick open the trap door, dangle me down the ladder, and drop me the last few feet to the concrete. The door would slam shut, plunging me into darkness, and I would sit there shivering in the darkness -- too afraid to even cry. I never knew how long I'd have to stay there in the dark with the spiders. I only knew that I'd be out and cleaned up and looking pretty for the arrival home of my daddy. Daddy became, in my baby mind, the source of safety and salvation.
My regular sojourns in the cellar came to an end once I was old enough to talk. I am sure, as I think about it, that Mother feared that I'd say something about it to my beloved daddy.
In time, there were brothers, three of them. The oldest of the three, was born three months premature, and was always a sickly and frail little guy. By the time he was big enough to play with me, I knew that it was up to me to protect him from Mother's rages. Our usual refuge was the small space between my bed and the wall. I managed to secret a box of dog biscuits there, under the bed, so that he and I would have something to eat while we hid and listened to her storming through the house.
I survived. Grew up. Learned the lessons: Be good. Be quiet. Don't cause trouble. Watch everything and everyone. Read every situation. Take care of everything and everyone. Don't let things get out of control. Soothe and appease. Manage. I went through all my years of schooling earning straight A's in every class. Never, ever had a problem at school. There was never a reason for the teacher or the principal to phone my house. I also never had any friends that I would bring home, and since I was always worried about taking care of the brothers, I made sure that I went right home each day after school -- so there was none of the usual social stuff that kids engage in outside of class. I never had a job, growing up -- not until the summer of my senior year in high school. Before that, I tended my mother's house; ironing and mopping, and watching the younger ones. I prepared most of the dinners for my family from the time I was 11 or 12. I was a solitary and self-contained child, and an isolated and awkward adolescent.
It is probably no great surprise that I "fell in love" with the first fellow who paid any attention to me. The man who became my first husband seemed "safe" compared to anything I had known. Not surprisingly, I thought that being safe was all and everything. By the time I learned that he didn't have what it would take to make my world safe, it was too late. I had babies of my own. I worked like a mad woman to make their world safer than mine had been. I didn't have much to go on; didn't know what to do; didn't really know what was needed. I did my best, and I missed plenty of gates along the way. By the time they were in my world, my pattern of isolation and suspicion was pretty well established. I worked to build distance between them and my Mother, knowing that she could hurt them in the same ways she had hurt me. In doing that, I kept them from knowing other parts of the family that might have enriched their lives. I had no good friends, and I think I worked way too hard and was too preoccupied with survival to be a very good mom for them. I have plenty of regret about the things I messed up with them.
In time, my life brought me to the turning and the choice to join my life to Tom and T. I believed he was the one who would, at last, give me safety. My life long desire to find the person who would control the things that I could not or would not, who would control the uncontrollable was over -- or so I thought. He told me He was strong, and I believed Him. He told me He was powerful, and I believed that too. He told me He knew what I needed, and He assured me that He would give me those things. I was desperate and needy. There were things I didn't look at carefully. There were questions I should have asked.
And now, after everything that has happened, I am working with the therapist using a book called "Finding Life After Trauma." The fourth chapter is called "Control Is the Problem." It is filled with spot on statements about the ways I've tried, all my life, to control my reactions, my emotions, my world. All the stategies that I learned so well as a small child, keep me in pain and turmoil as an adult. Those methods of controlling things "inside" of myself might have saved me then, but they cripple me now. But then, there is also control on the "outside." I do that too. I give up quickly when things get difficult. I let "others" make decisions for me. I worry excessively that others will disapprove of my choices. I instantly recant any suggestion if there is any opposition to it. I really hope that others will tell me what to do, directly or indirectly. All of that is part of who I am and what I truly want. I let myself be controlled via a whole range of means. Much of that, the book labels as "unhealthy."
I don't know what to do. I feel caught between what feels "right" for me, what has felt "right for me for as long as I can remember -- and the judgement of the "professionals" that says that is all wrong. I can't imagine that He and I will ever be "equals" -- just playmates and lovers without any power exchange. If I am supposed to somehow reacquire power and control, and stop letting / wanting / needing His control, then how can we be? I am scared. I can't stop; can't stay where I am; can't go back to what was; can't imagine what some other path might look like or mean. I don't want to do this. I am just terrified.