It is early on a beautiful Sunday morning in Charleston, SC. The weather forecast for today is H-O-T — AGAIN! Reportedly, it is supposed to get to 85. No doubt, it will be another steamy hot day. Stepping outside in the heat of the day is like stepping into a sauna. Yesterday, we had a late storm brewing after we went to bed. I suppose I slept through it, which is something I do not normally do.
Whenever I see lightning, I jump out of my skin, almost. My husband says even when sleeping, I will hear the thunder and lightning and jump or tremble. I do not remember doing it. Just a few days ago, we had a summer storm in the afternoon. I was in route to get my doggies from the groomer. Every time I saw the lightning flash, I jumped, while driving. It isn’t a pretty sight. Just how can a grown woman be so frightened by lightning?
I suppose I should share my story here. If you follow my blog and read a bit of the “Chattahoochee Child” stories I’ve posted, you will understand. During my childhood, I was always the child with an opinion. In my dad’s diary, he wrote, and I quote since he is deceased now: “Barbara is really a child with opinions. She likes to get noticed, and even though she is only five-years-old, she does vocalize her thoughts, rather well.”
Humph! I cannot imagine what he was referring to, but after high school graduation, I have learned to ‘vocalize my thoughts and opinions…’ AND — I DO question authority. I suppose it is the journalist deep inside me. I suppose you could say, during high school I was quiet. I confess I went to six high schools during eighth grade thru graduation. What? Might you say? Most people only go to one high school. It is simple. My family and I moved a lot — like gypsies. So, just when I got comfortable in one high school, off we go to another, so no one really got a chance to get to know me until we moved to Columbus, Georgia. Finally, I was able to attend only one high school for two-and-a-half years until graduation. Figure that out, if you can! Let’s just say, during high school I was considered shy and a wallflower. Heck. I was afraid to get to know anyone and forget the high school boys. All they wanted to get to know was —! Never did I date high school boys. They always had ‘rushing hands,’ and I did not want to have a battle with them. Their libido and testosterone were quite active, so I decided I would not date them.
Since I’m free writing, it is back to my fears of thunder and lightning.
When I was a child, my mother disciplined me constantly. “You ask too many questions,” she said. “Just do what I tell you to do and stop being so opinionated… “You stupid girl. One day I hope you’re struck by lightning…just so you’ll know you shouldn’t say so much or ask so much.”
My mother loved to call me her ‘stupid girl.’ How I hate that description!
I suppose it is easy to say, as a child, I probably had too many opinions, but when lightning occurred, I remember my mother saying, “I hope you get struck by lightning soon.”
Each time I saw lightning, I cringed, sometimes rushing to hide in the closet of my bedroom so I would not see the lightning. When thunder roared, I screamed. Still, to this day, when we have storms I do my best to hide under covers, close the blinds, or stay in a room where I will not notice the roaring sounds and sights of thunder and lightning.
I still hear my mother’s cruel words. If my memory is correct, and I do believe it is when she would say, “Girl, I hope that lightning strikes you down,” I felt as if she had no love within her body for me. The other girls in the family never heard those words, only me. All of my three sisters did whatever our mother ask them to do. As for me, you guessed it. I placed my hands on my hips and I would say, “Why must I do that? Why is it only me that cooks and cleans?”
My mother’s reply: “Stupid girl. Just shut your mouth and do it before I get a switch.”
One of my sisters could not even boil water when she married. The other two, expected the men to do everything. I suppose they got a real ‘wake-up call’ in marriage, and maybe that’s why their marriages did not work out. I haven’t a clue. I do not pry into their lives. Marriage is truly a work-in-progress, every day!
I do know one of my sisters had a brutal marriage. Her husband loved to hit on her, leaving bruises and scratches she attempted to cover up with makeup. In 2002 we drove to Michigan to rescue her and her son from a safe house.
It is easy to observe I was the Cinderella of our family, or maybe I was the ugly stepchild. Regardless, I was the one who did the cleaning, cooking, and housework. My mother continued her verbal and physical abuse after my parent’s divorce. As for me, I could not wait to leave the family. Growing up where abuse is shared like daily activities, I vowed to myself I would break the mold and never behave in such a manner. My children would not grow up afraid of lightning and thunder.
Last night, I woke myself up listening to a voice speaking. Recognizing this was my ‘sleeping voice,’ I heard myself saying:
“Your mama is a whore and a drunk. Just look at that dress she wore tonight to her reunion. A long black dress with a plunging neckline and a low back. Only a whore would wear that.”
My son was seven-years-old when he heard his grandmother describing me. Just like me, he was opinionated. Reportedly, he did not appreciate what his grandmother was saying about me, so he chose to speak up and defend me.
“My mommy is not a whore and she only drinks wine. She is not a drunk. I’ve never seen my mommy drunk. Don’t say those things about her.”
My mother was caring for my son on that night. She promised him they would have a good time. I should’ve known she would pull some of her stunts, but I was hoping I could give her a second chance.
Awakening from the Nightmare, I sat up in bed, remembering the scenario like it was yesterday. I remember when we arrived to pick him up, he was sound asleep. The next morning, a bit early after a night of partying at a high school reunion, my son rushed to me. “Mommy,” he said. “Granny said you were a whore and a drunk. You’re not a whore and a drunk, are you Mommy?”
“No,” I said, scooping him up in my arms. “Mommy is not a whore or a drunk. Please don’t say the word whore.”
“It’s a bad word?” He asked.
“Yes. Whore is a bad word. A very bad word.”
He looked into my eyes.
“Whore is a woman who sleeps with lots of men, and that is not your mommy. I sleep with your daddy only. And I am not a drunk.”
Later, we drove to my mother’s house to confront her and say goodbye. When we arrived, my mother was still in bed. I knocked on her door, then I opened it and let the words fly. I warned my husband to let me handle the situation.
“How could you call me a whore and a drunk?” I asked. “Especially in front of my son. Your grandchild. Just what kind of grandmother are you?”
My mother opened her eyes and struggled to sit up. “I did no such of a thing.”
My son burst into the room. “Yes, you did,” he said, tears falling down his face. “You called my mommy a whore and a drunk. Sorry for saying that word, Mommy, but she did say it!”
I rushed him out of the room. I knew this scenario was getting ugly.
After a verbal battle, I knew I was defeated. My mother would never admit she said those words, nor would she apologize. My husband knocked on the door.
“We’re leaving,” I said. “I cannot tolerate this abuse anymore. It’s bad enough I tolerated her abuse all of my childhood, but to say those things in front of my child is something I will never tolerate. How could you, Mom? How could you be so cruel to him?”
On that morning, as we drove home to Charleston, I decided I would not see my mother again. Arriving home, I had several messages on the answering machine from my mother. I erased them all, not wanting to listen to her cruelties anymore. There comes a time in life when we must cut the cords of abuse. My time was now. I had to protect my child.
Motherhood is never easy. We all have regrets of things we would change, if only we could. We would be more patient and kind. We would not shout, nor would we lose our temper. One rule I kept is the rule of if I am angry, I will walk away. I certainly had times when I saw my mother inside me, and when that occurred, I would go to a window and pray. Just like my maternal grandmother taught me.
As for my mother and I? Rarely did I go back to Columbus, Georgia. I attempted another reunion, stopping by to see my mother. A surprise visit. We stayed for a few minutes and left. We had hotel reservations and another reunion to attend. Neither of us felt welcomed. My mother did not rush to hug me, like other mothers do, nor did she show any affections. Her health was deteriorating and she limped when she walked. Four years later, I phoned her telling her I was coming to Columbus to attempt to ‘bury the hatchet.’
On that visit, we had another shouting match, so I left, in tears. My mother always had a way of getting to me, bringing me down. Making me feel worthless and unlovable. Was I really such a horrible person? After a bit of soul-searching while driving, I recognized I was a good person. My mother refusing to love me was her problem, but as a child and a grown woman, I still craved a mother’s love.
How I wanted and prayed my mother would change, but she did not. In 2000, she suffered a stroke. Her left side was virtually paralyzed. I drove to see her on Mother’s Day, bringing her a gift wrapped box of pearl earrings. She attempted to speak, but only slurred her words. When I opened the box of pearl earrings, she gasped and touched her right ear. I placed the earrings in her ears, and she attempted to smile, her face wrinkling with a scrunched lip and new wrinkles I did not remember.
I never saw her again. She lived in a nursing home for the remainder of her days. I sent letters to her, gifts and when her dentures got broken, I paid for a new set of dentures. On September 11, 2002, she died. A questionable death, to say the least. When my sister phoned in the late afternoon of September 12, her question to me was: “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?”
Dreadfully ill with bronchial asthma, I did not attend the funeral. The question of “Do you think they’ll do an autopsy?” played in my mind. I made a few phone calls, including a phone call to the coroner’s office, and the nursing home. Never were those calls returned. I suspect the reason for my question was a simple my mother died under questionable circumstances.
Did I want to stir the pot and get these answers? Since I was so ill and weak, I chose to take care of myself since my husband was away on business in Italy. I needed to rest and get well.
Those years and those nightmares of my mother still play in my mind as the dreams did last night. Although my mother was a difficult woman and not exactly mother of the year, she was my mother. I did not hate her. I lost respect for her over the years, and I worked diligently to improve our relationship, but it wasn’t meant to be; nevertheless, the way she died is questionable and I suspect my sister knows the real story. She will not share it. I’ve done enough research to complete my story, “Chattahoochee Child.” I pray my mother is at peace.
I pray I will not have any more nightmares about my mother. They always leave me shaken and heartbroken but today is a new day. Maybe last night’s nightmare was a result of the lightning and thunder? The sun is shining today. Clouds are overcast, but it is another beautiful day and I am certain it will be another steamy day of perspiration (or is it glitter that women release in the heat) while I attempt another day of yard work.
My husband and I plan to work in the back yard of our home today, moving the debris of weeds, tree branches and dead limbs he worked on yesterday. I must say, I’m not looking forward to being in the heat, but once I am outside, I will work hard to get everything thrown away, and if a storm brews, or if I hear lightning, just watch me run to the back door to get to safety. I cannot get over my fear of lightning, regardless what I do or tell myself. After all, it is only lightning. It hasn’t struck me down — YET!