Mom's Meddling and My Madness
edited: Monday, October 14, 2002
By Tova Gabrielle
Posted: Monday, October 14, 2002
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book excerpt. 2 sets of twins with a boy sandwiched between us. Family of geniuses and lunatics. I played both roles at different times.
Mom gave me alarmed blank looks in response to my simple questions such as "What is before the beginning? I can't go to sleep until I know.
Instead of answering she pushed back my hair from my eyes because she said I had to keep it out of my face in order to see, when all I wanted was long bangs I could hide behind.
When I pressured and asked "what if I don’t really exist" she told me not to make crumbs. And when I demanded to know what never and always really meant, to sit only at the table and pull up my chair.
My questions got tougher. " Mom what am I doing here on Earth?" is answered with do my dishes and I fight back with "what exactly is time, I mean what was it before it had a name?"
She's ready when I toss her what comes after the ending and returns the curve ball with asking suspiciously did I do my dishes all of them. Then she goes for a home run with a litany of did I use brillo and did I dry my hands and face and let me see, come here in the light and don’t frown and what were you and Celia fighting about and yes you were fighting, I heard it all and why are you so mean to her when she loves you so much?
She didn’t tell me she hadn’t the slightest clue what the hell I was talking about or suggest that maybe someone else much smarter than her did. That would have meant I'd won and you can't let a child get the upper hand or the child will grow up with no respect for authorities who don't know the answers to life's most basic questions. Instead she focused on finding the thing that was wrong in me, in my body, that made me act so incomprehensible. Aside from my attacks on her helplessness, the questions were also driving me crazy. She figured it would be better if she did the job instead with questions and quizzes, what else had I eaten, when, had I last washed my hands, had I been biting my nails and did I know there were microorganisms under them that were very bad for me, did my behind itch, wasn’t I hot, wasn’t I cold, wasn’t I tired, I needed to rest, go lie down.
One night I am thrown into crisis. I have been forced to bed early this time because they have company. I close my eyes but all of a sudden I am aware of what it looks like behind my eyelids. There are, rather than black, now spots and points of colored lights. I watch as they dance, thousands of dots of light swirling around. I open them and they go away. I close them and they are there again. Now I try to make them go away but they keep at it. White silvery specks and paisleys swim wild and random in every direction. They look like the fuzzy dots on a poorly tuned-in TV; like the dots are like French impressionistic paintings Mom likes.
I get up now, a little shaken, out to the living room and almost in tears I pull my mother aside and tell her what is happening. I demand an explanation. She looks like she doesn’t understand English or has never seen me before or like she has just learned I have Polio maybe. Then after a silence that isn’t like her at all, she says they’re just dead cells floating around on my eyelids now go to bed. I’m angry. They don’t look dead, one bit. Then I’m confused and finally I am panicking but I can’t make them go away. I lie awake it seems till dawn and from then on try to avoid going to bed. They’ll be back saying, we’re alive, we’re alive, we’re alive!
The Sheep is Dead
Sometimes she ordered me to do things that I knew would ruin my life, with orders that were issued from an insistent, obsessive state, like insisting I wear corduroy pants underneath my frilly dresses on my long walk to school in the winter. I made the noise but she was the one with the obsessive and anxious personality inherited from a mother who truly had needed some rescuing and never got it.
If necessary, Mom would drive us both mad so that I might one day awake well-adjusted. I learned to routinely reject Mom’s meddling and mollifying.
Once, when I was sick, I was going into a trance over a picture Mom had hung by my bed. A dog howling over a dead sheep on the snow. I loved that picture. When Mom came into my room to force more ginger-ale down my sore throat, she found me transfixed, as if I’d actually stepped into it. I couldn’t understand her concern.
[If Mary Poppins could walk right into chalk sidewalk drawings, why couldn’t I? Did she really think I wouldn’t return? More likely, she thought I would be traumatized at the sight of death. When I didn’t want need explanations or help she would push both at me and when I did she’d look at me with anxious worry and be at a loss for the right words. ]
Mom, who always had an agenda, knew that had she commented on anything but the picture to try to avert my attention, I would probably slink down under the covers and refuse the tiring liquids. And then it would really be war. So she resorted to a simple intrusion with an innocent white lie, "...The dog is howling because the sheep is sleeping".
"No, the sheep is dead!" I snapped out of trance to quickly correct her. It made her wince but what could she say. "Oh Leah, don’t be so real"? She could have fought dirty, with, "Don’t be rude", or, "Don’t interrupt me", but Mom always had a weakness for truth.
The Headless Horseman
Death only became an issue to me, when my kindergarten teacher, Miss Right, read the Headless Horseman to us. And it wasn’t death as much as deformity that got to me. I hid my face in my hands when she held up the picture of the headless horseman. It raises my blood pressure even now just writing about it. Miss Right sent me out into the hallway daily, after that, where she accosted me with the dreaded picture and insisted that she was not going to stop this daily procedure until I could make my eyes look right at it for a whole minute without looking away.
When Mom finally inquired if anything unusual was going on at school, because of my hysteria at home, Miss Right told Mom that she was sending me out of the room so that I wouldn’t be frightened.
As the daily ritual of Miss Right’s meeting me out in the hallway to frighten me out of my wits so that I wouldn’t be frightened, I began wetting my pants. Miss Right smelled it and demanded that whoever had done it confess immediately. When no one raised their hands she went around and felt the children’s bottoms one at a time. I was publicly chastised for not only peeing on the floor but lying about it and brusquely sent home.
Mom said nothing to me about it. The only thing she said was that no, under no circumstances might I quit school. After that incident Miss Right would not allow me to go to the bathroom without her, and stood by the toilet to supervise me and make sure I actually went so that I wouldn’t piddle on the floor. I imagine had I done so again she would have rubbed my nose in it. I was also, frequently told that I could go back to the class, only after I could produce number two. I was frozen as a rock. Miss Right and I spent a great deal of time together that year in the cubicle as if she had all the time in the world, as if this were her calling in life.
Mom, had she not been sleep-walking, could have read Miss Right the riot act for her cruelty. I fantasized that Mom, or perhaps my dead grandmother, would force Miss Right to somehow put the head back onto the headless horseman with her bare hands. Then she was to buy me my own horse. Further, I delighted in the idea that Mom or whoever this archetypal mother was, then, with the Principal ‘s full support, implemented another punishment. Miss Right was required to go to the bathroom only with my special permission from me and only with an assistant who watched her, to make sure she didn’t get pee-pee on the seat and that she wiped her bottom certifiably clean. Then, upon return, I would cross examine her upon whether she had made number one or two in front of the class. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite pan out that way.
Mom ignored my extreme distress, giving preference to teachers. She tabled the disturbing reality and worried instead that I was magically becoming disturbed for no reason except the undisciplined contents of my own thoughts. But most, if not all, of my emotional disturbances at that time, came from others compulsively smashing into my head space and then demanding I join them in the destruction of the puzzle I had worked so hard to put together.
I’m seven and the kids are playing kickball in my driveway. Mom won’t let me play because I might get hurt. I’m any age and I’m too young, the youngest and I can’t ever seem to catch up. I’m in junior high and they’re picking sides for baseball teams. I hate baseball and I space out and fumble the ball and I get to go to whatever side is the last to pick. I’m in the wrong club.