The trek to Europe, and the opening of my eyes,
Trigger warning for people who have been victims of domestic violence. The latter part of this entry might be triggering for you. I'll mark it, if you want to read up til that bit. I'm sorry.
To continue my life story. I feel like I have to get this out there. I have to pick apart and see why I'm so fucked up. But also, I have to celebrate how far I've come, and what a wonderful, awesome, amazing woman I've turned into. How much I've beaten! How much I've grown. I've never actually laid out my journey, so that's what I'm doing here.
I got a nasty case of bronchitis that winter. I was 13, sick as a dog, and we couldn't figure out why I wasn't getting better. No fever, just cough, cough, cough, hack hack hack. I remember the cough medicine would put me straight away to sleep, it had codeine in it.
We were packing, I remember; packing and coughing, coughing and packing, getting ready to join my Dad in Germany. He was stationed at Ramstein AB, and we were supposed to live in this place called Landstuhl. To my American ears it sounded like Lon-stool. Not that I could bitch, I mean, I lived less than an hour from a city called “Truth or Consequences”, at least Landstuhl had name like a real city, rather than a game show.
I had a shiny new passport, and our tickets came in the mail, from the Department of Defence. The Army doesn't send them to you any more, you pick them up at the airport; but this was before 9/11. I didn't want to leave; I had a boyfriend, (well, sorta, but you know how it is when you're 13!), I was doing well in school, and I liked New Mexico. But my mother got it into her head that we were going to Germany, and dammit all, we were going to like it. We had damned well better be smiling, too!
In case you haven't noticed, anything she decided to do, we were going to like it. Otherwise, she'd make us!
I slept the entire flight, ticket, ID card and passport tucked into my pocket; it was a red eye, and I was still sick. Thank you, mother, you turned my bronchitis into “walking pneumonia”. It wasn't fun, it was fucking horrible. Jet lagged, sleeping on the floor (our shit hadn't arrived yet) in a sleeping bag. I was miserable. She never took me to hospital, though. I don't know why. If my kid slept for two weeks, I'd take them to hospital, figuring they had mono, for crying out loud!
When I finally felt better, I'd lived in Germany almost two weeks. I came up for air, and looked around. The apartment was on the fifth floor, and was a huge, sprawling four bedroom, two bath place! The high-rise building we were in was one of three that shared a car park, and I ended up with friends living in all of them. They were twelve storeys, with four apartments each floor, (except the first couple floors, there were five or six, smaller ones). I liked the apartment, we had a balcony, and even though I'm afraid of heights, I loved the view. We were on a hill, Kaiserslautern (K-town) was down in the valley, and everything was green and verdant.
Germany is a lot like Michigan for greenery, it was a lot like being back home. I learned to love fußball! (That's be soccer for you Americans *wink* )
I have some good memories, shiny moments and days. There was a little store down the street, a gümmi store. They were 5 Pfennige each, so we'd go down there with a one mark coin and get twenty of them after school. I still love them, the sour and sweet worms, the sharks, the funny cherries that look more like a bikini top than cherries. I'd always get the strings, though, and the peach flavoured ones that were sprinkled with sugar.Those are my favourite-- the peach ones.
At the time, the exchange rate was about 5 Deutsch Marks to 1 US dollar, so dashing down to the gümmi store for some candy after school didn't cut very deeply into my baby-sitting money; the lot of us were American or British (the Brits were stationed on the US Air Bases, too) so we used US dollars primarily. [They use the Euro now, but this was the early 90's; 100 Pfennige made a Mark, and we treated them just like pennies.]
Across the street were four or five large, long buildings. They were apartment buildings, too, mostly let to Germans who worked on the bases. Down the street a little ways (just over a block) was a series of Soviet-style apartment stacks that housed “Those Turks”. They weren’t all from Turkey, most of them were Armenian, and Croatia, fleeing the troubles there. But the Germans all called them Turks. It was my first exposure to bigotry against someone's ethnicity. Before that I'd only seen it against “those people” who didn't go to our church, and it was very very subtle, in a “remember to pray for them” kind of way.
Things went pretty well, considering. I liked where we lived, I liked the Germans we met, and I made friends fairly easily. I wasn't nearly as shy then as I am now. Military kids tend to stick together, though, so I always felt welcome. It was harder for me to meet people, than it was for my sister, but I didn't get the gut-wrenchingly sick feeling that I get now. However, take a kid away from everything they know, over and over and over; throw that kid, already shy, into the deep end of the pool again and again and again, and you have the perfect recipe for creating an anti-social loner with a social anxiety disorder. Ta da?
The one thing I hated was that we were back to home-schooling. We finished that year, schooling ourselves, my sister and I; and schooling our brother. My mother, well, I can't tell you what the fuck she was doing then. I can't remember her being around much, but I know damned well she wasn't working. She complained all the time about being lonely (when Dad was in the field-- that'd be war games and training for those of you who aren’t familiar), or how sick she was. She was on the pill the whole time, for a “cyst”-- made a huge deal out of it--, but I know what sex sounds like, and I know my Dad had vasectomy when my brother was a baby... I also know that you can't be in the field and be fucking your wife fifty miles away. I never said anything to Dad until years later when he asked me, pointedly. I never did know what to say.
Let me add, if they had an open marriage, it wasn't my business. I know they didn't, because Dad told me so. Either way, she should have been quiet. No kid wants to hear their parents fucking each other-- let alone fucking someone else. I mean, damn!
I turned 14, and was mother to my little brother while starting high school. Not fun. Not fun at all. I finished seventh and completed the 8th grades schooling myself, but she put us into another church school for my ninth grade. I'm surprised I learned anything at all, to be honest with you. I credit my innate curiosity.
We went castle-hopping, we called it. Sight seeing, and did enjoy the countryside. I still have some gorgeous photographs from that time, and I treasure them.
Landstuhl and Ramstein were part of the draw-down, so Dad was moved to a base called Baumholder--- yes, “bomb-holder”. Talk about a terrible name, right?
I don't know if you remember the draw-down. I can't explain it very well, in a complete way; only in the way we military kids experienced it. Then President Clinton was being blamed for a bill that removed armed forces from some places, closing bases, and shuffling people around. In the long run, it was supposed to make the military leaner, meaner and able to mobilise more quickly. He is a Democrat, and the military, even then, is primarily republicans. Whether it was good or not, Clinton was spoken of pretty shabbily by the soldiers. He could have come out totally against it, raising pay and everything the military wanted him to do, and the soldiers would still have been negative. It's their way. So my memories would still be negative from that time.
For those of us, the hundreds of kids who watched our parents be given the military equivalent of a pink slip, we thought it was the end of the world! Some service members were told, “move here, or get out” others were told, “retraining starts that day, you ship out for it immediately”, and some, like my Dad were just moved to an armpit of a post. Baumholder the town is amazing, and I loved it; it's on the side of a mountain! There are terraced farms all over, and it looks like it meanders in circles. The post, the military housing, that bit, fuck it was the first ghetto I've ever lived in! It was horrible, ugly...
So, away we went, away from everyone we'd met, and in the way of the military, no one was able to write for long. Military kids either get really good at writing ten thousand people every week, or really good at making temporary friends.Most of us got good at making temporary friends. It was easier that way. Not emotionally healthier, just easier.
The day we moved, I fell on the wet cobblestones, and broke my finger. I remember it swelled up, all black and purple, and I tried to faint! I cracked my hand pretty good, but my finger was crushed. It looks odd today, but it works, so I won't complain. All I could do was apologise: I was so sorry, I didn't mean it, It'll mess up the whole day!
To my surprise, my mother took me straight away to emergency, and never yelled once. I think nearly fainting on her scared her. Usually she'd have berated me the entire time for getting hurt. Why wasn't I paying closer attention, what was wrong with me! When my sister broke her hand the year before I thought the cops would get called she yelled so loud and long about it. She seemed to think my sister broke her hand to spite my mother, rather than just being a kid and falling down. Shit never just happened at our house. It was always us being disrespectful toward our mother.
Within a week of moving in, Dad was back out in the field, and mother was working at the little exchange-- that's military speak for mini-mart, 7-11 style. She ended up being one of the shift managers, and so was never home-- again.
She'd talk about how hard she worked, and then tell me all about the lives of the people she worked with. One of them, who I'll call Amanda, was young, maybe twenty. I think she was a dual-citizen, American and German, because her Dad was in the service, but her Mum was a German. She lived across town, in a cute little place. But my mother hated her. Hated that she would go out at night; hated that her boyfriend would bring her lunch or flowers; hated that she wasn't stuck at home with a passel of kids, I guess! The venom she'd spit about that girl surprised me, but at the same time, it didn't. I'd been on the receiving end of that before.
I think what surprised me, what still does, is that she hated everything about that girl, that she did. My mother hated that she smoked, and I can't remember seeing Amanda smoke at all. She was a “social smoker” if I remember right, so when she had her beer. My mother, shit, she's a chimney, still, in her 50's. She smokes almost constantly as long as she's awake. She hated that Amanda liked to dance at the disco; but there were times taxi's dropped my mother off, reeking of sweat and beer from these same places.
I think she hated that Amanda was unapologetic about living her life. She just was herself. My mother can't stand that. Cannot stand that thought at all. The moment you stop debasing yourself before her; the moment you decide “I am a decent person and OK in and of myself” is the moment you're worthless to her. The moment she starts abusing you.
And abuse me, she did.
Potential Triggering story below:
One time, and I'll only talk about this one time, there may come a day I'll discuss other times. I don't know. There are a handful of these memories that sit clear, like crystalline shards in my head. Things I'll never forget, moments that are more like photographs or films, than memories, in their clarity.
We were in Germany. I was 15, and had been taller than her for years by this point. (She's a very short woman.) I was on the phone with someone, they had just called, someone from the church I think. I remember the phone had been acting up, and I told them so. It was a “I can't talk but a moment, I have to let Mum know the phones are back up, let me get a pen so Mu will know to ring you back”.
She was at work, see, and it had rained cats and dogs for almost a week. The ground was all squelchy, and several trees had come down, breaking the phone lines. We'd been told to expect the lines back up that day, or maybe the next. I was shocked when she burst in the door, slamming it against the foyer's coat closet, shouting like a banshee, “Get off the damned phone! I'm not paying for you to talk to everyone in the world! I've been trying to call you all morning!”
Somewhere between that and her taking the phone away from me, and smacking me in the face with it, I stammered that it was just back on, and So-and-so rang up, else I never would have known it was working; the thought to check it had not occurred to me. She took a look at the phone timer (yes, the German phones had these neat timers on them) and saw I was telling the truth.
I thought it was over, she'd deflate like she always did, and things would be fine.
I was wrong. So very wrong.
I saw this intimately when I picked myself up off the floor: she had punched me in the mouth. I don't know why. I swallowed the blood, there wasn't much, I'd nipped my tongue in my teeth. I sat up, shaking my head and she towered over me, swinging a belt like a whip.
By the time she was done, I was beyond numb. She hefted me up to my feet and shoved me down the hall to my room. I was bruised from my shoulders to my knees. She pushed me into my room, just about shoving my face into the door.
Have you ever seen a welt? Ever smacked yourself good and hard, and got that hard ugly bruise? The ones that are almost black?
They were all over my arms and back where the belt had wrapped around.
I was never told what I had done that was so bad, that I deserved to be beaten. There was never a reason for them, really. I know that now, and I will unpack the why of never calling the police later. But then, well, she called it a spanking, and if you were spanked you'd done something wrong!
What did I do? I cried as I thought furiously. My mind worked at light speed, trying to figure it out, what had I done. I mean, she'd been set off before, beat me before, but usually I could figure out what little thing she got mad about. This time, well, I didn't know.
Then it dawned on me:
I made her feel stupid. That's what I did. I was right, I was trying to tell her! And when she realised it, she felt foolish.
My eyes opened, and for the first time in my memory I can see her clearly. She was, and is, a petty, nasty, cruel woman. She is a narcissist, someone who is never wrong, never apologises, and if you don't do it exactly her way, you're wrong. Beyond wrong, you're bad, evil, terrible, Satanic, even.
I made her feel stupid, because I was being correct, not being “bad”. I was trying to do exactly what she wanted me to do, and she caught me being good, as it were; not sneaking around, doing whatever things she thought I was doing. She caught me, thinking of her, and trying to make her happy.
So she beat me.