Or the House I Grew Up In…
We lived in the suburbs just outside of a city in NJ. Actually, still do. After all of the moving all over the country, I wound up one whole town away from the town I grew up in. It was a very small town with a heavy Dutch influence. This means lots of churches, Blue Laws, and it was safe and quiet to run around until dark. It’s not so great anymore. Too much crime and drugs now. The city kind of spilled over into the town. But, when I was little, it was nice. The neighborhood kids all got kicked out of their houses for the day and we would travel in packs, finding things to do, games to play, ride bikes, etc. We would only come in for meals or when it got dark out.
My parents and I lived on the first floor of a two family house. I’m an only child of incredibly smothering and controlling parents. Well, mostly my father. Mom went along with it to keep the peace. As the middle child of seven kids she was a born mediator and always longed for peace at any cost. I often paid the price for that peace. I am a rebel by nature and chafe at being controlled. This, of course, caused many fights. When my father couldn’t intimidate me, he hit. When that still didn’t work, the abuse became more hidden but almost constant.
I was often told how unwanted I was. How he wished I’d never been born. Why didn’t I just kill myself? And, stupidly I suppose, I would never keep my mouth shut. I would constantly get back at him and he would hit. What started as open hand slaps eventually became balled fists. I punched back. My mother would tell me I provoked him when I told her he hit me. I knew nothing I did could justify what he had done. I hated him with all of my being and wanted nothing more than to get away.
Just upstairs lived my grandmother, my father’s twin sister, and her only son. To say my aunt was evil is an understatement. She was even worse than my father. My grandmother had a huge blind spot when it came to her children. For some reason, she never punished them growing up and refused to see that they did any wrong. My cousin was my opposite. Though he was older, I felt protective of him because he never fought back. He would just take the abuse and she would just keep heaping it on him. I hated seeing him so broken.
The only thing that worked in my favor was that I was my grandmother’s favorite. I was well behaved and charming and would socialize well with her friends at tea. They all adored me. That made my aunt hate me more. She would say and do vicious things to try to get a reaction from me in front of guests. I learned self-control at a very young age. Another way I got one over on her was that for some unexplained reason, she was never allowed to touch me. My grandmother wouldn’t allow it but, even odder, my father wouldn’t allow it. I used this to my advantage.
Whenever I would hear her start in on my cousin, I would run upstairs and drag her attention to me by being a horrible brat. I would scream at her, provoke her, whatever it took to get her to ignore him and focus on me. I could tell she desperately wanted to hit me but she couldn’t. And I’d keep her going until my grandmother or someone else came and distracted her. My father liked my cousin so he would yell at her for having her fits at him. It was the one thing he didn’t actually get mad at me for, so we were a rare strange team in that. The only problem was that I never had anyone defending me. No one even believed me, not for years.
I realize now that a lot of the denial was guilt. They felt guilty for not seeing it. They felt guilty for not stopping it. But things happened how they were meant to happen. I always said I was no damsel in distress. I’ll slay my own damn dragons. It made me who I am today and I like who that is.