Friday, November 12, 2010

Rescuing the Child in Me from Second Hand Hugs

written by Stephie Goldfish
I’ve always felt this yearning to be hugged by my mother; to be hugged in such a way that is reciprocal to my kind of hugs; a feeling of not wanting to let go. I know that when I was a young girl, I adored my mother. In pictures of me with her up until about the third grade, I see a young child latched on to her mother wanting her to have that much affection for me. I can remember about the time I began to feel rejection from my mother.
A memory about my mother that I’ve never forgotten is one summer day when my twin sister and I were in-between second and third grades. We all had been invited to go swimming at the pool of my mother’s latest boyfriend’s home. I remember watching my mother stand in front of the mirror getting dressed, putting on her make-up, and fixing her hair. I was right next to her, admiring her. I was in awe of her.
On this day, I sensed she was happy, and I asked her a question in all sincerity, not meaning to hurt her feelings or be nosy or judgmental. I was curious and didn’t know my question would produce the results it did and I was only about seven or eight years old. I asked, “Did you sleep with him?” I guess it took my mother off guard, and she may have taken my question wrong, and maybe it wasn’t a question an eight year old asks her mother. But she slapped me in the mouth with the back of her hand. The shock of this hurt me more than the actual physical hit, but I began to cry and more on the inside than out. I had felt betrayed by her. I had always sought out her love before this happened.
My mother was so beautiful to me. And I think from a young age I began feeling her emotional pain. When she was happy, I was happy. When she was sad, I was so sad. My mother used to work in the evenings as a bartender and waitress when we were young, and she wouldn’t be home until three or four in the morning. One night, I woke up and went to look for her. I was in about the first grade. She was lying out in the living room where the stereo was and was lying on the floor asleep with the head phones on. She was also wrapped up in her fur coat. I tried to wake her, to tell her I love her, but she was dead to the world. I slipped off the head phones and put them to my ears and an album by The Carpenters was playing a very sad song, and I laid there next to my mom and I cried. I sensed my mother’s pain and her longing to be loved.
My twin sister and I are the youngest of five children and we are from a different father than our two older brothers and older sister. There is about an 8 ½ to 11 year age gap between us. By the time my sister and I were born, my mother had been married and divorced to their dad twice. And she was in her third marriage to another man who was not our natural father and whom my twin sister and I have never met our entire lives. Our mom had fallen in love with our natural father, right after she got married, but he abandoned our mom and us.
Recently, headed on a road trip back home to West Virginia, I confided to my sister that I was longing to be embraced by my mother, longing for her attention and affection. This led us into a deep discussion, and on the way there we decided to turn around. Lately, when we’ve gotten to my mother’s home, my sister and I end up leaving once we’ve arrived. I see the futility of running to someone who isn’t there for me emotionally, as well as physically. My mother likes to smoke, and I feel I can’t put myself in harm’s way especially because of the fact that I have a serious congenital heart and lung problem. And the fact that I use oxygen and a breathing nebulizer, it’s medically advisable not to be around a smoke filled house, to say the least. So, on this past trip, we turned around eighty miles into the 350 mile trip. My sister and I got really sad, knowing how things were growing up and how it is today.
One might say, well, grow up—get over it, and forgive and get on with my life. And I’ve been told that my mother is sick herself and will never be able to respond in the way that I need her or wish her to. I accept that as a reality, and I feel I can no longer bring myself into her presence because of the emotional absence and neglect.
In a high school graduation group photo that my sister and I ran across, we both noticed how my mother is hugging my twin sister, and I am far off to the edge of the group. I look back on this and sense an emptiness that was always present, yet not fully made aware. The longing and hungering is a constant.
I know that I was not as bad off as a child in another third world country. As far as physical needs, we had food, shelter, and clothing most of the time, although our lives were extremely chaotic and we moved around a lot. My twin sister and I attended sixteen different schools from first grade through twelfth grade. And, as twins often do, we developed a close bond, but we basically became each other’s mother, because our mother was so absent emotionally and physically.
When we lived in Los Angeles, in the fifth grade, by then it was normal for us to get ourselves up on our own, go to the corner deli for candy or gum (if we had some change), and walk by ourselves about two miles to school, crossing major highways and streets. Our mother, as usual, would be passed out on the couch when we left in the morning and when we’d come home. I wonder to this day how we survived, but even as time went on, the absence became greater, and now it’s reaping the effects. My mother had been on about 100 valiums a month during that time in L.A., and I’m surprised she was even functioning at all.
It seemed, though, the closer we’d get to finding out about my heart problem, we’d leave and move again. In L.A., I would have severe nose bleeds for hours. It took hours to get an ambulance, so sometimes we’d have to take a taxi to the Emergency Room. But ER’s are known for just treating the emergency at hand. But I still don’t know how my illness went by the wayside. Once, my teacher sent a note home to my mother, after I’d passed out running less than one lap around the track field. So, even this was overlooked. And we moved again.
I was 17 years old and getting ready to graduate from high school that finally something about my heart was discovered. It was during a routine physical exam, and it was only then that my mother and I showed the doctor that my nails and lips turned a deep cyan. But I remember as early as in seventh grade—when we’d have to walk to our classes—a friend of mine noticed my nails and asked why they were so blue. I had no idea. I knew that I’d always get short of breath walking, taking the stairs, or having to run laps.
When I look back on my baby photos, feelings overwhelm me of the neglect from my mother. Didn’t she notice I was always blue, lagging behind in growth, and having trouble keeping up with the other kids? Didn’t she even notice I was a foot shorter than my twin sister at various times throughout our growing up years?  And this question really gets me down: Why wouldn’t she have tried to stop a photo shoot of me crying and somehow try to calm me down a little? But as a child, I thought that everything was normal.

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