I’ve had to sort of reinterpret parts of my childhood. I realized a bit back that there were some things I believed about my childhood that weren’t objectively true. There are many things I remember happening explicitly; I have very strong memories of my childhood.
(It’s a little ironic that I can remember several days from each year as far back as kindergarten just as well or better than I can remember days in my recent past.)
I’ve basically come to the decision that if I can’t remember a specific instance of something happening, it was probably a generalized belief from something else.
For example, I reevaluated my junior high years and realized that, while I was bullied, it wasn’t nearly as severe as I remember feeling like it was. Most of that feeling came from a specific, admittedly severely traumatic, instance.
I’m also working on remembering the positive aspects of my childhood. For a long while, I fixated on the pain and forgot there was any pleasantness. While I wasn’t a happy kid, there were moments––vacations at the beach, theater, art…
Sometimes I struggle with reconciling the good parts of my parents with the bad.
My father made up bedtime stories for my brother and I when I was little. I was given the largest bedroom when I was a preteen because I managed to persuade my parents that I needed my own bathroom. My mother encouraged me to write. My mother would come get me in the middle of the night from a sleepover if I called her and asked.
My parents starved me. My parents beat my brothers and me, even if only a few times. My mother forced me to parent her half the time. Boundaries and punishments were inconsistent.
I feel like I’m being dramatic with those first two sentences: my parents starved me, my parents beat me. I feel like I’m exaggerating, like anyone I tried to explain this to would tell me to get over it, to stop accusing my parents of abuse when they did their best.
I mean, they did do their best. I don’t think they were malicious.
Maybe all parents traumatize their kids in little ways and I need to just accept that life happens.
Maybe the time my mother dragged my brother down the hall after he wet the bed, and spanked him for it, was just a parent losing control from frustration. He doesn’t remember it, how dare I hold it against her?
Maybe the time my father held another brother by the ankles, while my brother braced his tiny little hands against the mattress, and spanked him with a belt for who knows what reason was just a parent disciplining their child as they saw fit.
Maybe the time my mother flew at me and beat me upon the chest with her fists while I stood firm and detached was my own fault for calling her emotionally abusive.
I don’t think any of those times were acceptable, but the thing I’m most perplexed by at the moment is the time I was fourteen and suicidal.
Well, I was always suicidal as a kid and teen, but mostly just passively.
I was actively suicidal that night and tried to aspirate a cup of water.
It was stupid and a lot of people would think it was just attention-seeking impulsivity, because what sort of immature dramatic brat thinks they can actually die by inhaling instead of swallowing? If I’d really wanted to die, I wouldn’t have done it in front of everyone, right?
I remember the desperate feeling, though, the miserable fear.
And I remember my father holding me down while my mother hit the front of my thighs with a belt.
I remember writhing in their grasp and screaming and trying to lash out and sobbing that I wanted to die.
I remember dissociating and meekly following my mother to the truck while she drove me to the psychiatric hospital for the second time in several months.
By the time we got there I was that giddy sort of detached. Everything was curious and interesting and fuzzily sharp.
The nurse was talking to me and I noticed a bruise on the front of my thighs and I pointed it out, knowing in some distant part of my mind that that wasn’t right, and she didn’t care.
I enjoyed my week at the hospital. I loved going to the hospital. The structure was part of it. It’s funny, though, I slept so much better at the hospital. The nurses treated me so much better than my parents did. It felt like a vacation, rather than a cage.
My parents were abusive, even if not severely abusive like some peoples’ parents. I know how to manage them these days, though: if I don’t contradict them and let them believe they’re always right and support their views of the world things are mostly okay.
It’s better than not having parents, I guess.