My parents meant well. I really think they did. They were the black sheep, returning to their Brooklyn roots and clinging to revolutionary hippie values while my mother’s Jewish, communist ancestors settled into fur coats on the Upper West Side. My father’s Irish Catholic family migrated to Connecticut. My parents followed their political beliefs and artistic dreams, which meant we were poor. We were transient, moving from neighborhood to neighborhood, house to house, all full of families and roommates, all in Brooklyn before it was cool. A year and a half after my sister was born, when I was 9, we moved into a small, aluminum-sided, wrecked house on the “dangerous” side of the neighborhood. I was considered an oddity there, although eventually accepted. But as I began adapting my neighbors’ speech and mannerisms, my school friends, from the “nice” side, cast me out as an abnormality. So I developed an army of imaginary friends who loved me unconditionally. My home life was chaotic and unpredictable. My dad was an alcoholic and my mom a rageoholic. My journals, which I began keeping at 8, talk about constant fights with my parents. In one of my very first entries, there’s a drawing of my mom threatening to throw a plate at my head. While I don’t remember a lot of physical abuse (I still tend to be protective and in denial when it comes to my parents) there are a surprising number of accounts of threats, shaking, hitting, and feeling lonely, unwanted and disappointing.
I know there is a lot I don’t remember.There may be one big thing I don’t remember. I know that memory is fickle and becomes distorted over time. I know about the controversy over repressed memories. I don’t know if I was sexually abused as a young child. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I may never know. What I do know is that I’ve had vivid flashbacks, nightmares, body fear and behaviors associated with being sexually abused as a very young child. I finally asked my father if he remembered anything that could be connected with the idea. He told me as a young girl I was exuberant, outgoing, and friendly. Then, when I was about six or seven, he remembers watching me standing in the yard looking sad, and realizing I’d become an unhappy, withdrawn, anxious child, and having no idea what to do about it.
I started drinking early. I remember going down to the kitchen and chugging vanilla extract at 9. I had spent plenty of time in bars with my dad and, while other kids collected dolls or plastic ponies, I collected miniature liquor bottles. I raided my dad’s liquor cabinet, handed down by his grandfather, for the first time when I was 12, and continued drinking steadily for another 34 years.
My father’s drinking turned violent when I was 14, and I often hid with my sister in my bedroom. We’d push the bed in front of the door, so he couldn’t get in. But sometimes he did. I became obsessed with boys and got into a relationship that turned violent and which I couldn’t escape until my mother died when I was 20.
There’s more. So much more. But that’s enough for now. I’m talking and writing about my past in order to move past it, but I’m also trying to live in the present.