Journal: family secrets never really are . . . secret

It took about 20 years to get the whole story, and I still feel the same way about Buel.  I don’t understand how she got on a bus and left that kid in Georgia, but I do know the story now.

She was a pretty thing at 17, and courted by two guys who were the best of friends.  She was openly dating one, his name was Toby, and secretly dating the other, Griggs.

When she turned up pregnant, she was near hysterical, and I don’t believe anyone knew why.  She drank Mercurochrome to suicide, but it didn’t work, and her mother, my grandmother, instructed the younger girls to watch her, to keep her from trying something worse.

She married the Griggs boy, but it didn’t last long.  When Phil was born with black hair and dark eyes, the Griggs knew he wasn’t theirs, he was Toby’s, and Buel’s marriage was over.

She met another man in the next year or so, and took up with him.  Married him and started having kids right away.  Her second son died very soon after childbirth and she quickly followed that with two sets of twins.

At some point they moved from Blue Ridge to Oak Ridge, Tennessee.  Phil went with them, but Beul called soon after and asked that my Grandmother come for Phil.  It wasn’t working with him and her new husband.

After raising six children, and learning more and more of Phil’s story over the years, I’ve come to believe in my heart that Phil’s pain is the reason my mother wanted Anicia to live with a family apart from us.

I was 16, and no better equipped than Buel for a baby, and Anicia’s father was not going to step up and admit to her.  I was alone, and on my own with her, and my mother was determined she would be adopted.

Sometimes I think she may have been afraid that eventally I’d leave Anicia to her like Buel left Phil to her mother, but I don’t know.  All I know is she had fears and they were of demon strength.

And because of them, she forced me to surrender Anicia.

 

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Journal: journey to my present; Summer, 1967

I’m 15; sitting in a playroom in my parents house when my mother comes downstairs crying.  I don’t think I’ve seen her cry since I was 3 or 4 and it is frightening.  She tells me that Phil is dead.  Something about a tractor accident on the side of a mountain.  I’m numb to think I won’t see him again.

He took me to my first movie, Bambi, when I was less than five.  I remember riding in his pickup truck, listening to country music, watching him shift gears and thinking he was the greatest guy in the whole world.  I can’t remember ever not being crazy about him.  I couldn’t imagine him not always being there.

At my Grandmother’s house, which is quite small, two bedrooms, there are scads of people.  Phil’s mother Buel has come in from Detroit with at least 10 of her 12 or 13 children.  She sits with my mother and my grandmother in the kitchen, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, crying.

I can’t figure out why she’s so upset.  She left Phil here when he was just five or six and took all her other kids to Detroit to live with their Dad, her new husband.  During the planning and preparation, Phil thought he was going with them until he discovered the next morning that his mother and siblings were gone.

If she’s so torn up about him dying, why’d she leave him here in the first place?

His brothers and sisters pretend a grief they don’t know.  They hardly knew him, how could they grieve him? 

There is a confusion on their part, too. Some of them didn’t know til now that he was their brother.

Journal: journey to my present; Summer, 1967 Oct13

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Journal, Summer 2008, Walking the streets of the Cherokee

My mother is writing a book about her Cherokee heritage.  It is a love story, about a Cherokee woman who was rescued from the removal by a white man and how the two of them began a family that would eventually wind its way to me and my children.

She wants to investigate every possible Cherokee thing in North Georgia and East Tennessee.  We travel to New Echota, the last place civilized Cherokees lived until they went on the Trail of Tears.  I’m surprised that they had houses, and spinning wheels, and dressed, mostly, like the whites that they’d come in contact with.

She, my mother, doesn’t want to get into the grit and pain of the removal . . . that’s not what her story is about.  She just wants to tell that her heroine escaped, narrowly, and made her way to the hills to pass as a white and pass her children as white until we, in the 21st century, want to declare our Native Americanism. 

She sings a song to me as we walk the paths of New Echota.  Her father sang it to her when she was a little girl:

All I want in this creation
is a pretty little wife and a big plantation
… away down yonder in the Cherokee Nation

I’m incensed at the the things I discover (my history classes didn’t cover the white man’s greed, the gold lottery, the stockades that families were placed in to die); I can see myself trekking through the hills to get away from the whites, perhaps long before they showed their true colors. I’m shamed somehow, that they took up the ways of the white man, gave up huge tracts of land, and it wasn’t enough.

The difference in the two us, my mother and myself, is again evident as we look at the houses, read about the plantatoins, the treaties, the lies and inhumanity of the government of the United States.  If I were to write of the Cherokees it would be with the heat and passion of my anger.  I have no inlcination to simply put the removal out of my mind; pretend it didn’t happen.  It was the largest act of genocide in the history of the US.  Cherokee Blood or no, I’m horrified that my country treated my people thusly.

She tells me, my mother, that when she was growing up, no-one would admit to being Cherokee.  There was a time when the Federal Government wanted to make right what they had done to the Indians in the Cherokee Nation and were paying large sums of money to people who were on the Dawes Rolls Census as Cherokee.  Many of them were not given reparations because they knew that the white men lied about their intentions, and they feared that if they admitted their heritage, there would be new tears. 

I wonder if I can, at 56, travel the Trail of Tears in protest.  I know it only matters to me, but I want to follow them.  To know them.  I wonder how long it will take me, and if I can afford to be away from my work that long.

I learn here on their land that I have even more Cherokee than my mother and her sisters: my father has a “full blood” in his lineage much closer to him than my mother’s.  She does however have Sequoyah in her family tree, and I like to think we (my mother, my daughters and I) write because there is a bit of him in all of us.  We don’t know if our Sequoyah was the Sequoyah who designed the Cherokee alphabet, but the idea that he may have been, that those genes are a part of mine, and my children’s is somehow encouraging.

Journal, Summer 2008, Walking the streets of the Cherokee Oct13

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Journal, March 2008

I drove Lillith down the length of Talona Road, even past the pavement and across the gravel to its end at White Rock.  She’d been born in a house on this road in 1929, and once again, we were looking for the place where it had been back then.  There had been a house across the road, where her grandmother and grandfather had lived with her uncles Loy and Cyril, and so we looked for the ruins of two houses that had given her her beginnings.
 
“There was a creek behind it, where Buel went to wash diapers every day.”  Buel was her oldest sister.  Nine years old when my mother was born, eight when their sister Leigh was born.  My mother in March, and Leigh in January, so Buel, at eight, was at the creek in the middle of winter, two years running, washing dirty diapers.  I shuddered to think of the misery of it, and I’m sure the reality was worse.
 
We didn’t find the house, it has probably been gone for years.  Why she wants to drive down that road every time we travel to North Georgia is beyond me.  But I drive her down it, and while she looks at everything that might be the remains of that house, I think about her beginnings, and mine, and wonder why it had to be so hard.
 

She was one of the five children who survived that family.  Four girls and one boy.  She was the third girl, right in the middle, and from her telling, seems to have been at odds with everyone in her family as long as she can remember.

When she married my father she was known as the prettiest girl in Blue Ridge, and his avowed goal in life was to marry the prettiest girl in Blue Ridge.  They lived off and on with his mother and her mother, and occasionally in a place of their own.

They married and divorced two times before I was four.  I remember that I loved him – in a vague ghostly sort of way.  I remember very little about being with him, but quite a lot about missing him.

When they were divorced once and for all, I stayed with my Grandmother, an Uncle, and my cousin Phil in Blue Ridge, while my mother worked in Atlanta.  She rode the bus every weekend to see all of us and eventually she had the money to buy a car, and that made our weekend hours longer.

She worked in Atlanta because she couldn’t make enough in that small North Georgia town to support all five of us, and so she sacrificed her time with me to be able to take care of everyone.

Eventually we moved just north of Atlanta and I was raised there, with a new step-father of exceptional means and a life that seemed at times to take on fairy tale qualities that disappeared as fast as Cinderella’s pumpkin.

I never got over losing Phil.  He was 9 years older than me, and the nearest I ever came to a big brother.  He was my cousin, though family positions were unimportant and seldom noted. I never questioned why he lived with my grandmother while his mother, Buel, lived 1,000 miles away in “Motor City”.  After all, I lived there too, and my Mother, who I called by her first name, Lillith, was only there on weekends.

All of us called my grandmother Mamma.  It was the first family I knew.

Journal, March 2008 Oct13

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Prologue

On learning that her new great-grandchild was a girl, Lilith leaned into my face and in a hoarse whisper said, “They used to sacrifice girl babies.”

That may have been the kinder thing. I think, than being your girl baby.

Folie à deux

Shared psychotic disorder, also known as folie à deux (“the folly of two”)

When you are taking care of a crazy person, it is hard not to feel that the crazy person is really you.

And at times, I’ve probably become the crazy person because it is truly maddening to attempt reason or logic with someone who speaks in a circular fashion and responds to mundane conversation with the sudden pronouncement, “My kidneys don’t work.”

As a girl I prayed nightly that I would die before my mother.  I loved her so desperately I couldn’t imagine life without her.

Now, 60 years later, I pray that she doesn’t suck the life out of me before she dies.

I have come to realize that Lilith is a psychic vampire, commonly known as someone with narcissistic personality disorder.  Which means she has a much inflated self image and a total lack of empathy.

Reading about it for the first time I felt sick to my stomach.  There, in an essay on the Mayo Clinic website was a description of my life.  How had I missed all the signs?? Especially since I had written about her so many times …
My Mother Was a Beauty Queen ♣ Born To Win ♣ A Madness Shared By Two ♣ The Summer of My Last Innocence ♣  Up in the Country ♣ UITC 3

Ironically, the wicked stepmother in Cinderella was originally her wicked mother, but Disney or someone decided that was too harsh.

cinderalla's wicked step motherLilith is the person who consistently makes everything about her. The most mundane, unimportant, or the life threatening … can always be skewed to be about her.  And her drive to have it be about her is so intense that it demands control of her children, to the extent that she can and will warp any situation to redirect the attention to herself.

Initially girl children are her target as they can’t be real people. They exist to be mirrors of her, or shadows of her, but a truly narcissistic woman can’t bear other females so they vacillate between attempted domination of their daughters, and banishment of them if the controls happen to not work.

Off and on in my life I lived with my Grandmother, was left in the care of various aunts and uncles for long periods of time, and when she got wind of summer camp, I was packed off every summer for weeks and weeks.

I would like to get past it

The worst of it is, I would like to get past it.  Have it disappear.  But her very real need for care at this point keeps me in close proximity and still vulnerable to her machinations.

Chinese Finger TrapAnd, as has been the case most of my life, like a Chinese Finger Trap, the more I struggle to extricate myself, the harder she tries to regain control.  I feel just like I did at 15: Suffocated and desperate to get as far away from her as I can.

Even when she isn’t around, the more I try to protect myself, the old stuff bubbles to the surface. I remember things long forgotten that screamed CRAZINESS then and scream it still.

  • When I was pregnant with my daughter my mother wrote and told me she had dreamed about OUR baby.  How she took care of it — she was so excited because she breastfed it. OUR baby.
  • When that same child was three or four and we fought over the junk food she insisted on feeding my child when I wasn’t around, her final words were “You think she’ll love me more than you.”  (When I laughed at her and said that had never crossed my mind she was furious for weeks.)
  • On safety pins: “Oh these will never work. You have to take them back … You need to learn to buy quality.” Of course you do, because buying good safety pins is a much better idea than buying clothes that actually fit.

My brothers were mostly unaware until they took wives and then the trouble trebled as there were three women in Lilith’s orbit to be wary of and two of them had, after all, diverted her sons’ love away from her.  For more than 20 years she predicted they would divorce (her sons would never put up with what those women were doing to her, which was nothing, but who is counting?)

Or worse, they’re surely sleeping with other women – how else could they stay with their wives?

Knowing my brothers as I do, I’d manage to get into a fight every time she brought up the daughters-in-law because my brothers love their wives. They aren’t and have never contemplated divorce and I’d bet my life they’ve never cheated.

SDr Evil and Mini Mehe doesn’t want anyone to disagree with her, especially non-person me, so she’d switch back to bullying me for my lack of sympathy to her plight with the in laws.

At one time I had what was probably the largest personal collection of self help literature on the planet. I spent years in therapy because not only could I not get along with my mother, I also couldn’t get along with any of my husbands and I was scared to death that I was screwing up my kids.

Now my self help library overflows with texts on the narcissistic mother … Imagine my surprise to learn it isn’t that she doesn’t like me – what I have felt for my entire life – She doesn’t even think of me as a person.  

In her mind I’m her Mini Me.

A Madness Shared by Two

Folie à deux

The doctor has given Lilith so much medication for her headache she’s almost comatose. He prescribes Valium for anxiety and when I try to dissuade him he assures me she is just overly anxious.

“Happens all the time in geriatrics. We can’t explain it.”

She is in the beginning stages of a stroke and he’s missed it. It will manifest strongly in the next few days.

He sends her home in an ambulance as I can’t manage her alone when she is this heavily drugged.  The ambulance driver rouses her putting her in bed and she wants to talk.  It is well past midnight and I’m exhausted, but I drag a chair into her room and sit by her bed while she drifts in and out of sleep.  She says her head still hurts even after all the drugs and I wonder again at her diagnosis.

She brings up old wounds, my wounding of her, never the other way around, and I try to soothe her, but I realize I’m noncommittal when she talks about my treatment of her.  She speaks of letters I wrote her that described my hurt and asked her to stop.  She said she didn’t like her parents very much but she never sent them ‘hate mail’. I laugh to myself and think, maybe you should have.

I don’t have regrets about the way I defended myself from her, only regrets that sometimes I didn’t fight hard enough.  I realize I have no absolution for her and I feel that is her goal tonight.

As she quiets and, I hope, sleeps, I try to offer her light and healing – a mental/emotional prayer for her relief. I don’t like her, I’ll admit, but she has suffered for months and I’d like for it to stop. 

In the past I’ve tried looking at auras and in low light I’ve been successful if I ‘let’ it happen. I’m curious if her aura will reflect her illness in colors. I relax the focus of my eyes and let them drift over her form. As my focus fades I’m aware of hundreds of things crawling over her.  I look at the bed covers that do not touch her and they are still. But beneath the covers, the length of her body is covered with crawling, writhing things.

I flash back to an image of a dead rat I came upon suddenly. I’d been mesmerized by the movements caused by the maggots that had taken it over from the inside. Horrified, I concentrate on her face.

This is where I’ve had the most success with full auras.  An aura isn’t a haze around one’s edges, but a field that envelopes the entire body so that if you view it, it can be seen from the front or rear, or side. The aura of someone in deep meditation is a glory to behold, rich and full of color, it can hide one’s face so that all the observer sees is the beauty of the colors, no features at all.

Looking at my mother’s face, I’m not surprised the colors are grey and black, lusterless colors. She has been very ill. Vibrancy would be shocking unless she had the soul of a saint and I imagine that might still shine. Her face, which seems to break thru the aura every now and then, is monstrous.  It stretches and contorts into something so hideous I find it hard to describe.

Her body still appears to be crawling with something equally horrible and I watch only a few moments until I just can’t anymore.

If I’m hallucinating – placing my impression of her on her visage – I’m seeing something that I’ve hidden even from myself.

Months later I’m still unsettled by that night.  

 

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