I promised I would tell you about that chain, about the click … who pulled it.
And I will but before I do I need to tell you why I went into the basement. What drove me down those stairs, into that dark and cold place. What was it like down there? What did I hope to accomplish? Or perhaps not accomplish?
Let me tell you a little bit about my sister Vicky. She was a twin, older than me by about 5 years. She was a “child of the ’60s”. A free spirit and a free thinker. Like me, she suffered at the hands of our parents. As children we were not really very close. She was a twin after all … she had her “other half”. For most of our childhood I was little more than an inconvenience to her. Someone she had to babysit, get off to school, make breakfast for. But as we grew into adults, albeit rather confused and struggling women, we began to share memories from our dysfunctional childhood.
Vicky became my best friend, my only confidante, and I hers. We shared not only stories of our youth, but also began to share the miseries of our lives as wives and mothers. We shared with each other our continued struggle to justify our very dysfunctional ongoing relationship with our parents.
One day we were comparing memories of a particular event that had happened when she was 15 and I was 10. The reason isn’t important right now, but the event itself is. Vicky was a very beautiful teenager. She had long, soft, silky brunette hair. In a family where we were mostly “folically challenged”, my sisters and I were envious of those gorgeous tresses. So, I believe, was my mother.
On this particular day when I was 10, my mother ordered me into my bedroom and to stay behind the shut door. Suddenly much hysterical screaming could be heard. As I said, the reason isn’t important right now, partly because it was such a small thing, but it sent my mother into an uncontrollable rage. She took a pair of sewing shears and chopped and hacked her way to cutting as much of Vicky’s hair off as she could. When she was done nothing but short uneven spikes of hair remained on my sister’s head, accompanied by some cuts and scratches on her neck and hands.
And suddenly everything went quiet. Eerie almost … I opened my door enough to peer out into the hallway in time to see the look of horror on my sister’s face just before my mother pushed her down the flight of stairs to the main floor of the house.
It is important that you understand that throughout the years every member of my family pretended we were normal, that nothing was wrong, that we were not dysfunctional. Abuse was not a word that even entered our collective vocabularies until we were well into our 40’s and 50’s.
It was this “reminiscing” Vicky and I were engaged in years later when I asked her how she had managed to deal with that memory all those years. Do you know what she said to me? She told me of a conversation she’d had with our mother after her first son was born. Vicky told her that in her heart and mind, my mother had lost the right to be a mother the day she chopped off Vicky’s hair. But she also made a concession of sorts. These are her exact words, as told to me by Vicky … “You gave up the right to be my mother 8 years ago when you pushed me down the stairs. I will allow you the privilege, at most, of being a friend”.
Back to the basement …
Early evening on the 11th day my son brought me a bowl of soup, encouraging me to eat something. You see, for the entire time I lay on that mattress I consumed nothing but the bottles of water one or the other of my kids would bring to me when they got home from school each afternoon. Every day they would come down those stairs, each day slower than the one before, not sure what they would find at the bottom. I saw the despair in their eyes, the growing fear, the knowledge that they were slowly losing their mother. They were watching me slip away from them and there seemed nothing they or I could do about it.
My son brought me that bowl of soup that evening, mushroom I think. I looked into his eyes and suddenly I remembered what my sister had told my mother years before.
I thought to myself , “Damn it!!!!! You may have the legal right to be a spouse and father but you will never again have the privilege of being a husband!!”. Suddenly, the chain had been pulled and the light bulb came on! And it shone much brighter than the darkened 40 watt bulb I had been staring at all those days.
With my son at my side, supporting my weight with his arms, I slowly walked up those stairs and out of the basement. But the climb had just started and little did I know just how high or how hard the climb was going to be.