Trigger Warning: the Cave (emotional abuse)

I would like to clear this cave memory from my path before I write more about my Spring Green trip. I apologize to myself for using any term that sounds even vaguely like it has roots in Scientology.

I think the only other cave I’ve been in was Wind Cave in South Dakota when I was 10 or 11. My family was on a vacation with my mother’s former college roommate and family; their presence invariably signaled I was in for a highly unpleasant time. Being a kid, and one of those that actively tried to be a good kid having been fooled into thinking there was a reward in actively being good, I always tried to make the best of the living hell. We vacationed with them every other year or so, and every other year or so my sister’s disingenuous approval seeking from anyone outside the family would combine weirdly with my mother’s own hypocritical and jealous bitching about her friend. The end result for me was that a)the adults would treat me like a houseservant (my mother did anyway) and b)my mother’s friends kids and my sister would treat me like shit. They have, apparently, very fond memories of each other from this. My memories are of my sister leading them in verbal harassment, and like every family camping trip, of getting stuck doing any of the camp grunt work that my mother did not while my sister got to go off canoeing or biking or whatever. I can’t think of a single trip where I wasn’t basically kept on a leash by my mother, let alone one that I actually enjoyed.

The mom’s ex-roomie’s kids are puzzled to this day that the person they treated like shit does not look fondly upon those persons or the time with them. This is also why I fucking hate camping. The tornadoes that follow me around are secondary.

As was usual on these vacations, I was somehow charged with explaining my own exclusion and made responsible for it while being given no choices in the matter whatsoever. My “aunt Lucy” wanted to know why I wasn’t out playing with her children and my sister, and of course they lied and said that I said I didn’t want to go. ((My sister tried the trick of attempting to convince me that this is indeed what I said. She still does this, although now I usually have a romantic partner that, with no prompting from me, catches this shit and refers to her and my mother as “the Satan Twins.” Both my ex husband and my current spouse do this, and no, it is not ANY phrase I came up with on my own.)) Which leads us to the cave.

Apparently my mother had a)been reading or hearing all sorts of things about “manipulative children.” She was eager to apply this label. While the obvious choice would be my sister, the obvious choice would also make her responsible for allowing the behavior. She also b)did not handle cave climbing, even the tourist path kind, well, which I did not have any way of knowing. We had a few minutes, and I told her honestly how I felt about being left out and the “rock and a hard place” that I was being left in by Lucy demanding to know why I wasn’t out playing with her kids (they wouldn’t let me) and Alice knowing the real problem and saying/doing nothing on my behalf. At first, Alice seemed receptive, actually listened to what I said, and acknowledged my feelings. Then, upon hitting daylight, she told me I had taken advantage of her emotional state in the cave and had “manipulated” her, and that it was my own damn problem to deal with. She then grounded me – so gee, I was stuck where I always was as a maidservant to everyone else on that damn vacation.

I was 10. I knew nothing about manipulating people, or how to get them to like me, or how to maintain friendships. I was the least popular girl in my class until I got into college. I actually have to read stuff about human behavior to deal with people today, and I didn’t realize that I grew up in an abusive atmosphere until I got into college and my peers would respond to my “back home” stories with looks of shock and horror. I still feel wildly unequipped, and I am as much at a loss to explain why men stick around so much more for me than they do for other women.

In the case of the incident, my emotional honesty was rewarded by being labeled “manipulative.” I didn’t even really know what the word meant, I just wanted my mother to stop putting me in socially awkward positions that 10-year-olds are not equipped to handle. My mother’s friend may very well have planted the idea in her mind, after putting me in the horrible situation of explaining why her brats were leaving me out of the play. Message received: my mother would always be no help whatsoever. Actually, most of the lines she used on me throughout my childhood are verbatim from the list of what not to do/say to your child in the book Queen Bee/Wannabe. She did in that moment what she has done every since: bullied me by making herself out to be the victim.

I’m surprised I’ve never written about this incident before. The memory crops up a lot, enough that I use it as a reminder key to set down the phone when I pick it up to call my mother. I didn’t like how I was treated by my mother in childhood, but I put all my faith in the future, bit my tongue, watched my sister’s tantrums, tolerated her stealing from me (that my mother knew about), said nothing when my mother openly spoke ill of me, my body, and anything I did to anyone who would listen, and pushed aside all thoughts that the people I lived with were not only appallingly selfish but completely fucking stupid, so dumb that they were incapable of genuine empathy. I believed that her refusal to see me as fully human was just because I was a kid, and when I became an adult, she would recognize that I deserve the same consideration as my sister, even if I never did receive the same level of care. It didn’t happen. Right before my father died, in an overtly manipulative move on her part, she broke down crying and wanted to know “Why were you so mad at me?” Setting aside that I was there for the man dying in the bedroom ten feet away, not for her sorry ass, 1)she knew damn well why…and she supposedly apologized to my SISTER for how she treated me. Not me, nope, to my sister. “Sorry we lost your maid, it was a disagreement with management.” The last time the woman displayed any remorse toward me, I was three and I think my father was ready to call child protection on her.

After I turned 18, I finally recognized that there was a real problem with the woman… and when I commented about my complete lack of a rebellious phase as a teenager after a Thanksgiving where she tried to intimidate me and then chased me into the room where my ex-husband was sleeping while screaming at the top of her lungs, she actually blamed me for her behavior. “We were waiting for you to rebel, and you just never did.” This was her excuse – and my father’s complicity – for treating me like shit as an adult.

I’m sure the attitude toward me didn’t start in that cave. My mother places much more value on what people think of her, than on her actual actions in private, choosing to ignore that it’s what you do in private that says the most about who you really are. What Jeffrey Dahmer did in private was certainly a social problem, after all. If you ask Alice, I’ve imagined it all and I’m being unreasonable. She sure wishes I wouldn’t re-read my old journals (that document her behavior, and my sister’s, quite unimagined.) Alice sure wishes I just wouldn’t hold her responsible for her actions.

And I don’t. I can’t. But I am responsible to myself – which is why I am breaking my promise to my father and ousting her from my life. My father wanted me not to “abandon” my sister and mother. This makes him an abuser, too. By asking me to consign myself to an abusive relationship for the rest of my life – and I will outlive both of them, so it would be the rest of my life, barring a convenient asteroid or alien kidnapping – he is complicit in trying to keep me as a victim. He regretted that he never dealt with the men that harmed my sister, but me… he never gave a damn that I was consistently being harmed while under his roof. That’s on him.


  1. Pax / Geoffrey Stewart

    Dear D.R.,

    IF you haven’t already encountered it, T. Thorn Coyles Kissing the Limitless has a lot of useful excercises and writings and such… I know it’s helped me work through some of my own personal issues…

  2. Post

    I actually have a copy on my shelf, and I’m starting a new round of therapy tomorrow. I am choosing not to hide behind needing help and having problems as though they’re shameful, and so being open and blogging about it is part of that work.

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