Saturday, August 21, 2010

Black Sheep and Dark Secrets

For nearly all of my life I have felt as though I were the black sheep of a family with dark secrets.

As a child I was not the pretty little girl wearing frilly dresses and playing with dolls that Mother wished me to be. I instead wore one of my older brothers' jeans with a belt, the pant legs rolled up and the dress Mother made me wear anyway was drastically shoved into the over-sized waist and hidden under a dirty navy blue sweatshirt.

It only made me look healthier than my ultra skinny frame would otherwise have looked had I not had a scratchy lace covered dress on beneath my brother’s clothes. It also made me look bumpy. I don't have a single photograph of myself dressed this way as I was always forbidden to be in any photos until I made myself "presentable". This of course meant taking off my brother’s clothes and having the knots, leaves and twigs evicted from my tangled waist-length hair.

I ran around in the woods building forts out of brush, climbing trees, bruising knees and attacking imaginary creatures with sticks that had been whittled until the end was sharp enough to kill. I took the shovel to a mud puddle one day, making it a good three feet deep and five feet wide before I went to the creek with a five gallon bucket what must have been thirty or forty times filling that puddle up so I could dress down to my skivvies and go for a nice muddy swim. It took hours and was completely worth it! Both of my brothers ended up joining me and for the life of me I can't remember if we got into trouble or if we just washed up in the creek and went back inside for supper as if nothing happened. I do know that they helped me make it bigger and get more water and I seem to recall that wasn't the only time we swam in that puddle.

I had an imaginary older sister when I was about six. She was much older than I or anyone for that matter, but her age seemed to change with each passing day. One day she might be 174 and the next she might be 5,236 years old. She was extremely intelligent because she'd lived so long but she was also only about six inches tall! I don't recall the moment she came and I don't recall how long she stayed but I know it wasn't long as I'm certain that by eight I'd stopped chatting with her. I was, and am still, the only child I've ever known who had such a developed imaginary friend. Maybe that's why I so love the movie Drop Dead Fred. If you haven't seen it, you really must give it a whirl.

I recall when I had the biggest crush ever on the girl who lived up the road a ways. She came to spend the night a few times and one night we explored each other a bit. She wasn't quite as skin and bones as I was but I could feel her hips pushing into mine a little and I remember being surprised at how salty her skin tasted and how it felt like there were a dozen arms and legs under the covers because we kept kneeing and elbowing each other. Sorry’s and oops’ were whispered and hushed giggles ensued. We'd start laughing and have to uncover our heads so we could get cool air again. It has been years since I've been able to recall her name.

By the time I was sixteen, I was living in my fourth city, working my second year at my first job, Mother had been divorced three times, I now had two little sisters, one of whom I had delivered in Mother's bedroom, and both of my brothers had moved out. It had been an interesting childhood thus far and one my brothers were wise to leave as quickly as possible as Mother's moods were as unpredictable as a flash flood and when they came, they left a disastrous trail of bruises and shame.

I became a master at applying cover-up all too thickly to my face and using eye shadow instead of lipstick as it would hide a bruised mouth better than the glossy stuff that came in a tube. My closet was filled with long-legged, high-waisted pants and shirts that covered my upper arms. Luckily, they were in style at the time. Mother's moods seemed to get better in the summer time or she would just simply disappear for days or weeks at a time and leave me to raise my sisters in peace.

One time in late summer a couple days after she'd come back from one of her mysterious trips, I'd been invited with a group of other teenagers to swim at the public pool. I put on my bathing suit and came out to jump into the pool when a strange hush followed me and I noticed that many eyes were on me. I couldn't figure out what was going on and I just jumped in and swam to some friends. Half a minute later, everyone went back to talking and swimming again.

It wasn't until I went back to the locker rooms and saw myself in a full-length mirror that I realized what they had all been staring at. I had stripes of black and blue from my waist to my knees on my back side, all the way around my left thigh and a circle of five thin lines on my upper right arm that were turning a horrible shade of green. I had forgotten about Mother's temper exploding on me a few nights prior.

That is where the shame came from. And I held it all in because I knew Mother's pattern. She only bruised the eldest child. So I kept my mouth shut, stayed and endured it to protect my sisters and to keep us from being split up should we be taken away from her. There were times though, that I spat ugly truths back at her as she was bruising me and I was the only of Mother's five children to ever do that until very recently.

I knew she hated me. Mother hated me for not being the daughter she always wanted, for being such a tomboy, for having too many friends, for not having enough. She hated me because my baby sister called me Mama, because I loved going to school, because I could play the flute beautifully, because I was thin like she used to be. The reasons go on, but it is useless to write them all down at this point. I don’t care why she hated me. I don’t care why I can never once recall her ever saying she loved me. She just never cared enough about any of her own children to love them. Nothing I can do about it and nothing I need or want to do anything about.

I did finally leave her house when I was eighteen. A few years later, my little sister came to live with me and a few years after that, I got my baby sister into a foster home. Right after getting my baby sister into foster care was the last time I spoke to Mother. We have a very large family and there are two reunions each summer to accommodate us all as there are just too many for one reunion. I haven’t been to any of the reunions since I stopped talking to Mother and it has ostracized me from my entire family save for my baby sister and very recently my eldest brother.

I have children of my own and for the longest time, my biggest fear was that I would become like Mother. I struggled for many years to be as unlike Mother as I could possibly be as I always wanted my children to know they are loved. It hasn’t been easy to ‘break the cycle’ as they say. I holler sometimes and I am stern with them. But I can be loving and discipline them at the same time.

Earlier this month, the grandfather I only remember meeting about five or six times as a child passed away. As a result of his passing, Mother’s sister contacted me to invite me to his memorial service which is the day after tomorrow. Mother is not invited as I have recently learned that the family has become aware of many of her personality traits and they are welcoming me back with open arms and loving hearts. So many of my cousins will be there and I’m so looking forward to reconnecting with them!

I sent five or six emails back and forth with my Aunt before I finally told her that I am gay. I have to say that was one of the most difficult emails I have ever written in my entire life as the last thing I wanted right after gaining back communication with my family was to lose it before I ever got to see any of them in person. Her response was absolutely amazing. She wrote that she was not here to pass judgment, only to love me.

Heaven only knows how much I have missed my family these many years! This Black Sheep can’t wait to reconnect with the flock.

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