Haunted by unlived history
A couple of weeks ago I uncovered buried treasure. I’d stashed it away in a large envelope of notes I typed and wrote out in the early 1990s. The notes were about boys and men who made an unforgettable impression on me from childhood until the early 1990s.
This wasn’t simply a list of names. It was an itemized, annotated, categorized and coded treasure trove of information and reflection under several headings. Men I hardly knew, plus the real world of men I knew all too well.
I didn’t write this out on a whim. It was part of a therapy exercise for survivors of child sexual abuse. A way of getting to know myself better—by way of reflection on men who made an impression on me.
But before getting into that, I want to tell you about something else.
Several days ago I read about the way our parents’ unlived lives make an impact on us. Especially on our internal lives. This means that even though I appear normal on the outside, I can quickly numb out, withdraw, or shut down internally when I’m uncomfortable in a relationship. In fact, I’m skilled at this, even though it’s also a source of anguish.
The next morning I woke up and almost immediately burst into tears. My mother’s unlived life included her unlived life with me. I have no memories at all of my mother hugging, cuddling or touching me affectionately. She was industrious, resourceful, creative, and an attentive caretaker when I was sick. She was not, however, spontaneously or overtly affectionate.
My body and spirit grew up craving affection. I can’t count how many times my mother bent over to kiss me goodnight and kissed the air above my cheek instead. It still gnaws at me. A gaping hole in my heart that makes me wonder whether I was really loved.
I wasn’t simply running away from my father’s unsafe touch and punishing, overbearing, demeaning ways. I was also starving for my mother’s touch, affection, guidance and wisdom. I needed a safe haven in which I didn’t have to impress anyone, or get sick so I could be comforted.
Behind my history lies my mother’s history with her mother, my Grandma Z. One of my mother’s sad mantras was “I never had a mother.” She was correct. Grandma Z ran away with another man and divorced her first husband when my mother was very young.
My mother grew up without being cuddled, hugged or celebrated by her mother. Grandma Z favored her younger son, and treated my mother more like a toy doll. A plaything to dress up and display proudly. Not a little girl to listen to, love, comfort or encourage.
So there I was years later, a young woman. Uneasy in my body and spirit. Needy and pushing away at the same time. Haunted by my mother’s inability to affirm my body and my spirit. I didn’t think anyone would want to marry me. I also thought that having a man love me would heal my heartaches and take away the pain.
To be continued….
© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 January 2018
Photo taken when I was 9 months old, 1 month before my father returned from the TB sanatorium; July 1944 in Charlotte, NC