When I was a little thing with pigtails, raspberry-covered knees and a milk moustache, I remember wanting to be just like her. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen: she was the most beautiful woman a lot of people had ever seen. She was a juxtaposition: she had a petite frame and delicate features, but anyone who spoke to her would see the explosive mix that some Irish and French could make. It was her strength that made her beautiful. It was her past that killed her.
My grandfather was part German, part Irish; and all drunk. He married an unsuspecting French lady and together they had 5 children. They lived in the small-town in the Okanagan Valley, and the seven of them lived poor. If they were lucky, they would get ketchup sandwiches to eat for lunch. Maybe he was overwhelmed by his life or maybe he just liked the taste: whatever the case, Marvin found escape in the bottom of a liquor bottle. Unfortunately, that same liquor bottle led to the vicious, drunken assaults on his children with an unforgiving two-by-four.
“When John got old enough he used to hit the old man back, but then he moved out as soon as he could. But Jimmy, he would never fight back: he would just curl up in a ball, and cry while he tried to cover his head.”
It was that same liquor bottle that ordered my mother to stand against the wall with her arms and legs spread out: staggering and armed with knives, my grandfather would take aim and hurl knives at her from across the room- over and over again. Somehow, the wayward knives never found her. The need for that bottle of liquor also drove my penniless Grandfather to yell out from his bar stool:
“Ten cents. You can have my daughter for ten cents.”
My mother suffered through it all, the mental and physical abuse from her father; the sexual abuse from him and others- not just once or twice, but constantly.
HOUSE OF CARDS
Our early childhood was the stuff television shows were made of: a happy couple with a beautiful home, successful careers running a medical practice, a busy social life, three healthy children, and a dog. There was even a picket fence (though it wasn’t white). There were vacations to the Caribbean, ice-skating birthday parties, and an absolutely obscene amount of presents at Christmas time- it looked like the North Pole had exploded in my living room. In a sort of typical fashion, my father was more the disciplinarian and my mother was the “softy”. They had the balancing act almost perfect: where my dad was more reserved with his affection, my mother showered us with attention, constantly telling us she loved us. We had everything we wanted, but then the seams started to split.
“I used to wake up in the night because she was screaming and I mean screaming. She would yell at the top of her lungs,” No”, and “Help me, someone help me”. I would rush out of my bed to her room and she would be thrashing wildly in the bed, with daddy trying to wake her up.”
Looking back on it, the progression was so subtle that no one could have predicted it. It started with the night terrors, but then it permeated into everyday life. I was about 6 or 7 years old when things really started to go awry. Party, party, party: my parents were social butterflies, hosting and attending parties and dinners several nights a week. Amongst all the costume parties and fancy dinners a glass of wine became two, then three: that’s when the fighting started. Belligerent and intoxicated, my mother became another person: when some people drink they get quiet, other people laugh and act silly, and still there are others that become obnoxious. Then there are those that are mean- mean drunks. My mother was a mean drunk. Late night fights that were the aftermath of too much partying strained my parent’s marriage. Catalytically, my mother fell apart. Haunted by her past, depression took her and soon she did nothing but lay in bed. She began to remember things that she forced her mind to forget; only they were worse now because she was an adult and understood what had been done to her. A ping-pong match ensued as my parents went into their first separation. The first battle lasted about a year, and then one day, it was over. Out of nowhere, my mother moved back home; end of the separation. From then on life was a teeter-totter. Mom’s depression continued, then worsened with substance abuse.
“ I walked in the door to find her wild-eyed and rabid. She was in the kitchen arguing with my brother when she wrenched open the nearest drawer and pulled out a butcher’s knife. Swinging it incoherently, she chased him until he locked himself in the laundry room. I came up behind her and grabbed her small wrists, with her writhing and screaming at me to let her go. I took the knife, put it on the counter and backed away, giving her space. She swore at me. She yelled at me: according to her I didn’t understand. She rummaged through her purse and found a black eyeliner pencil. “I’ll show you,” she muttered. In her lunacy, she drew the outline of a person with the arms and legs spread apart right on the wallpaper. She grabbed the knife and began throwing it at the figure on the wall.”