Among all this stuff, surprisingly, is a small archive of my report cards from a couple grades of elementary school, two from junior high school and one year of high school.
It was riveting and heart-wrenching to read the comments on those reports - all hand-written, dating back as far as 1966.
Our home life was, shall we say, disturbed. My parents fought - not regularly, but spectacularly - and finally separated when I was maybe five, which is the year I started kindergarten. Their relationship was acrimonious. Actually, not "their;" her relationship with him. Brutal. As it was the 60s, we, my younger sister and I, stayed with our mother. My mother has the most spectacular case of narcissism I've ever met, although I didn't know that until maybe 10 years ago. Such affected people do not great parents make....
I read those hand-written comments with a shifting mix of chagrin, anger, embarrassment, and wonder. In all those years, did not one single person - teacher, librarian, principal - ever wonder what was going on? It was the 60s/70s and people didn't meddle back then - certainly not teachers; they had enough on their plates between planning lessons, working five days a week and doing everything by hand, so probably paying attention to the more personal aspects of their students' lives was too far outside their area of attention. I understand that. But.
See, I grew up in total, daily chaos. My mother was always angry about something, angry at me, angry at what I was wearing, how my hair was, who my friends were, how I spoke and acted... you name it, she found something in it to be angry about. I was, until five years ago, her scapegoat. I think I still am, but I am out of contact now, so whatever she might say about me, I don't hear.
When I was in second grade, the bulk of the comments on my report cards were that I was distracted, occasionally confrontational, not doing well, rushed, missing fundamentals. At home? M mother would pick a fight with me every morning. For a period of a month (I was little; could have been a week, could have been three months; it was fucking terrifying, however long) and then threaten to send me to boarding school.
So yeah, I was distracted, because I was terrified of what might be happening - what my mother might be doing or calling or planning during the day, or what might happen when I came home after school. It wasn't a maybe; it was a for-sure. If the what-might-happen was relative peace, it was a rarity that was proof of the rule, and the calm before a certain storm later, or the next day, or....
By the time I was in fifth grade, her terror campaign was well founded and deeply rooted. My mother reminded me on a regular basis she had people watching me and reporting back to her about what I was up to during the day. Can you imagine what it's like to be an eleven-year-old child who is convinced she's being watched all day, every day??? Like, who do you trust?!
During all this chaos my mother remarried. He was excellent. Really. We'd known him since we were born so he wasn't a stranger at all. He married my mother (the sunday school teacher) because, despite her outwardly puritanical, judgemental views on sex and relationships, they were screwing around and she became pregnant. If you're the puritanical, once-divorced sunday school teacher in a baptist church, in the 70s, you must, at all costs, keep up the appearances....
The upside was he was a great dad and we got a little sister out of it. The downside is we got a little sister out of it and I went from being my mother's constant target to being that, and the scapegoat for ANYTHING she didn't like - my sister's teenage behaviour, and anything that our new baby sister did that my mother didn't like. Apparently, I was going around behind her back "teaching them to misbehave." That accusation continued up to about 10 years ago... the 'baby' was 45 years old by then....
When I was in junior high, I was bullied. Endlessly. One guy put his foot in my back and pushed me down a flight of stairs. Later, he took to following me home. In eighth grade, my so-called best friend decided she was furious at me because I'd made one other friend, so she chased me home... with a stick. Then she never spoke to me again. One day couple of girls, twins, waited for me outside the school, the back side, in a corner not visible to the street or windows, threatened me, pushed me off my moving bike, attempted to steal my bike. In home Ec. class, someone stole my bra while I was trying on a dress I'd made in that class. An hour later, I was horrified to see the boys kicking my bra down the hallway. A boy in several of my classes took any opportunity he could to harass me. One day he decided he hated me and, right outside our science class, he pulled a huge clump of hair out of my head - hurt so much. I wacked him with my binder - and was hauled into the office and chastised for the "friends" I kept. A few months later, he slapped me across the face in full view of an auditorium of kids.... I was ridiculed for my hair, my size, my build. You name it, it was up for target practice. At any point did any teacher or parent step in? Nope.
My mother, of course, was carrying on as "normal" which meant I was never sure what would be on the other side of the front door when I came home after school, but it was never good. Once, when I was 13, it was really, really bad: she was in a fury over how I was doing the dishes - criticizing absolutely everything to the point I began screaming at her to leave alone (this kind of harassment was the usual - almost any time she screamed us into cleaning up, she'd also spend the entire time screaming it wasn't good enough).
That's when she picked up a knife - a 12-inch long, bone-handled, serrated knife she had beside the stove (which, by the way, she still uses, 40 years later). She was terrifying anyway, but armed? Holy shit ... so I raced out of the kitchen, up the stairs into the bathroom and locked the door. She kicked the door in and held that knife to my face - in our second-floor bathroom with one of those 60s-style wide, narrow windows high up in the wall. You don't know terror until you're pinned against a wall with your crazy-ass mother shaking a knife to your face and threatening you and there's no escape.
So yeah, my schooling suffered. I was angry. I was scared. I daydreamed. I escaped into a book or up into my head. I looked for any possible means of escape - which, for the record, did not include drugs or alcohol.
Not a single teacher ever asked if I was ok. Not one. In twelve years of school, how many teachers does one have? 60? I know some of this had to do with the era - people didn't meddle and given divorce was such a horrifying event still - common enough but still considered a morally-contentious choice.
Hilariously/sadly/confusingly, my mother used to write comments back to the teachers on those report cards - it was always their fault I wasn't doing well, and true to her character, she was an exemplary parent, and had expectations for everyone's behaviour. As she'd been a teacher herself, she was bizarrely judgmental, and her imperiousness was more pronounced.
In fifth and sixth grades, I volunteered as a library page in my school. I LOVED that job. The school was always quiet - mornings, 7:30 to 8:30 or so and sometimes after school. It was safe, and provided a legit means of being out of the house. And I really liked the librarian, Mrs. Woods. Like, a LOT. She always had a smile on. She was nice.
Even that bubble was burst, though. When I was 28 years old, I was out for groceries with my two babies - I think I was probably pregnant with my third at the time - and ran into Mrs. Woods. I was really happy to see her. During the conversation, I made the fatal mistake (being a stay-at-home mom at the time and it being the late 80s and being that mothering wasn't necessarily considered a job), of replying "not much" to her question of "What are you doing these days." Her reply was, "Well, you always were a bit lazy." I was DEVASTATED. I wasn't, and I'm not now, lazy; I was an eleven-year-old child with a chaotic, scary home life turning up almost every morning for two school years to shelve books, to get some peace and stability.
I till struggle day-to-day with feeling like I belong, like I have the right to belong, with feeling like I'm not contributing to anything, like I'm failing, like random shit that happens is my fault, like with bad things wouldn't happen if I weren't around, with living.
There was an "into traffic" incident about two years ago - the second, the first being the result of agreeing to go to counselling with my sister, who spent an hour of a two-hour session with her finger in my face, screaming at me. The first "into traffic" indicent scared me a LOT and took two weeks to come down from. The second was even worse. I was driving alone on the highway and struggled for the entire 90 minutes to not drive across the centre line. Semi-trucks are big. The driver is up high. It would be a bump for them. That's where I was in my head for and hour and a half....
My family members don't think I hear their whispers of "well, you know how she is." They don't know how devastating their petty little comments are. They don't acknowledge their actions and they don't understand they scapegoat me, or, if they do, they're somehow justifying such lifelong abuse.
My sister continues to scapegoat me - this month of moving my mother gave her the opportunity to unload her resentment on me - and to be fair, this time she copped to it; she called me to tell me how resentful she is (except she ignores she chose the situation she's in, and that I had zero input into it), so at least there's that - but yet again, after her having unleashed on me, demanding money from me, but refusing to let me understand what she, or my mother actually need, we're back to radio silence and, "Well, you know how she is."
No, you don't know how "she" is, because you don't give a real fuck.
It took me years and years and years, not a little therapy, and total non-contact to get to a place of reasonably good functioning, but there are still moments or interactions that throw me into chaos.