We Learn from History, Not Silence!
By Virginia Carraway Stark.
How Silence Dooms the Generations. Tragedies can bring people together or tear them apart and it’s all down to the willingness of those who have been affected to share and talk and learn and love each other.
I am overwhelmed by the outpouring of support at my courage to tell my story. There have been some bizarre messages that are simply removed, people who aren’t willing to listen and at least consider the possibility that my story is true are not compassionate. They are not reasonable human beings. For example one girl told me that she knew for a fact that nothing I said was true because she played Sims with Katy and Katy was nice.
Well, I’m sure both things are true. Those limited experiences however have absolutely no bearing on my experiences. Katy didn’t invite friends over when her mother was on a bender but most of her friends did know about a lot of her struggles.
When I wrote the blog about Katy I did not intend it as an ‘attack’ on her. I didn’t write it for her or for her friends, I wrote it for me. I wrote it about my observations, my thoughts and my feelings. One friend of Katy’s sent me ten copies of the same message saying that I clearly needed mental help as I couldn’t tell fact from fiction. That one was interesting because it is true that someone isn’t being able to tell fact from fiction. That was the whole point of the article is that Katy is delusional about the fact that her mother died from being an unrepentant alcoholic. That Judy wasn’t a wonderful woman and that the world, as far as anyone who experienced her violence and malice is concerned, her being out of it makes the world a better place. In fact, that was the title of the article: Katy’s Delusions. Gosh ma’am, your psychology is showing. Turning things around on people like that (or attempting to) is called displacement and you have it in spades.
Katy’s delusions and wishes to have the perfect mom and the perfect family are understanding and sympathetic but one day those delusions rise up and bite you in the ass.
To this day my Dad is still cleaning up her many messes that she left for him. From the fact that her life insurance wasn’t honored because she lied and said she wasn’t an alcoholic to all the unpaid bills and taxes that her addictions and feckless behavior left in its wake. Even my Dad was a victim of her abuse especially as his guilt about how he had treated me ate away at him and he became more and more at the mercy of the whims of Judy’s alcoholism. Would today be a day when he had to call the police? Would she kick him out of her second hand store and tell him it was hers and he was trespassing or would she kiss him on the cheek and ask him to watch the store for her while she ran to the bank? Nobody could ever say.
My Dad is more honest about his feelings about losing Judy than Katy is by far. He admits that he misses her every day even though he knows that he was miserable with her and he’s also glad every day that he knows he won’t come home to find a horrible disaster on his hands. He told me that when he drove he would reach for the phone to call Judy and had even done so on a few occassions to tell her he would be home soon. He was with her and her abuse for so long that he doesn’t have a life of his own now that she is gone. His life hinged on Judy, keeping her sober, keeping Katy together and then one day he woke up and Judy was dead and life moved on.
He isn’t like Katy. He doesn’t tell me that Judy was a wonderful person. He tells me that she could be really good to him sometimes. He tells me that he misses her. He tells me that everyday he learns more things she did behind his back to ruin his life and he fought between his grief and his anger ever since she died. He tells me these things while wiping away an errant tear. He tells me how angry he still is at her for the things she did to me and then he tells me again that he still misses her every day. His conflict is so profound and he has so little left after she tore everything in his life into little pieces that all he can do is roam restlessly from place to place, a restless ghost himself.
The fact of the matter is that all families have things that go one behind closed doors and things can appear more or less normal to outsiders but the truth behind those doors can be very dark indeed. My mother was terribly abused by her father and years after her death I read in her diaries: ‘To everyone else we seemed like the perfect family but nobody heard me cry and nobody saw my blood stained nightgown except for my mother and she couldn’t protect me.’
My mother ran away and got married when she was only fifteen. I ran away from home when I was fifteen. My Dad ran away from home when he was fifteen. Every last one of us ran away because we were being abused. My Mom and my Dad both tried so hard to break the cycle of abuse and they did pretty good jobs of it until they divorced and new, abusive elements were brought into our lives.
When I was fifteen, I thought I was alone. I was alone for the most part in the physical sphere. Not a single aunt or uncle offered to help me. Now, when I speak out about it I had my own aunt call me a ‘vicious, back-stabbing liar’. Well, Aunt Linda, where were you when I needed your help? You’re quick to jump on the criticism but you never offered to help me. If you were really a relative with any love in your heart you would say things like: Are you okay? Do you need any help? Do you need to talk?
It was attitudes like that in my extended family that lead to me leaving the entire mess for good. They made me feel alone because that is another way to hold power over someone. I have talked to other friends of the family who have said things like: I had no idea what you were going through, I would have helped if I had known.
I didn’t tell them what I was going through because the family’s veil of silence was too profound for me to breach at that time. There were threats made. I was told that I was a bad girl for telling the school counselor that my mom didn’t buy food because she was too depressed and that I was hungry. I was punished anytime I reached out for help. Isolated like all the other victims who are taught that they can’t hurt anyone’s feelings. The past should stay in the past, all those other cliches that lead to the cycles off violence, alcoholism and neglect continuing generation after generation.
This is what I have to say today: You are not alone.
I obviously won’t publish the outpourings from people who have sent me their own stories of anguished childhoods, or a cryptic comment from one lady who said she would have to wait for a lot of people to die before she could share her story. This is what I have learned from working on this blog:
For every hundred people who read it only one of those might comment publicly on the ways it helped them or made them feel.
Five(ish) people will private message me and tell me that they read my story and often tell me how it affected them and how akin we are.
Most of the rest will be silent at first but later will drop a comment in passing about how good it is not to be alone.
The point is: People are listening and this is helping them with their own struggles. This is helping people to know they ARE NOT ALONE.
I write a lot of this with my own mother in mind. One of the last pieces of correspondence we exchanged before her death was a card she had made for me. Inside she had written: ‘Every day I hear of something new you write I am so happy for you. You have unlocked a power that I never had, to write about the good in life as well as the bad. I can only write out my pain and writing is pain for me. How happy I am that you have turned it into an act of joy!’
After my mother died everyone poured over her diaries. All those journals that she had written out her pain in. All her sorrows, her defeats, her angers and most of all her pain. My older brother, a preacher man, reviled her for sharing her pain, even in her secret diaries. After reading them he grew enraged. At her funeral he said: ‘She’s better off dead, now maybe she’ll finally be happy for once.’
She felt alone her whole life. She was alone. She didn’t feel safe sharing her secret feelings and abuses with anyone but what should have been the sacrosanct pages of her diary. Those diaries were later used against her in court by my Dad. They were used against her by my brother at her funeral. To this day I hear disparaging remarks about her from the outrage people had that she was in pain. I haven’t read all of her diaries. I have only read one or two and I thought that they were beautiful. Her words were in the language of pain but each one was poetry. How she struggled against the sorrows of being abandoned by her husband, how she tried to be a good mother but she couldn’t escape the darkness of her childhood. Now I can only tell her grave that after all these years I understand and that she wasn’t alone.
She was offered the chance to press charges against her father for rape years after the statute of limitations ran out and refused. She couldn’t do it, she couldn’t face that monster that had surrounded her as a little girl with a blackness that would pursue her her whole life. I wish so much that I had known about these things when I was a child. I would have been more forgiving of her lapses, I would have been able to have more empathy for her when she needed me to be a mother and she the child. She was silent and so she remained alone.
She was silent because she was afraid of being told she was a liar. She was silent because she was afraid people would say she was sick and no one had hurt her. She didn’t press charges because the monster her father was was too big of a monster for a woman who inside was still a raped eight year old girl.
Leave the past in the past. That’s what people will tell you when you tell your history. I call bullshit.
Learn from history or you will be doomed to repeat it. That is the real truth here. Those who try to silence history are no different than any other petty dictator. What I observe about my family isn’t written for them and their anger at my rending of the veil of silence implicates them all as those who held the veil in place.
I was driven from my family by the abuse of my stepmother and my father taking her side again and again. As a result I missed my mother’s funeral. I found a paper doll she had made. It was folded up in layers and on the body of the doll she had written her feelings. Each doll went a layer deeper into her feelings and how it made her body feel. On the innermost doll, written on the heart she had written, ‘Maybe Ginny will come home’.
Oh how these veils of silence hurt us all. She wasn’t there for me and I wasn’t there for her. I didn’t come home before her death, I didn’t even know about it for several years afterward.
I don’t want you to be a paper doll, I want you to be a speaking, living breathing powerful being. Every time we break the veil of silence we pull through another layer of truth and become more real and less of what the abuse we suffered made us into.
Learn from history and share it. I had no idea what my mother was going through, she was so silent, so hurt, so broken she had become a paper doll. Each layer filled with more pain. Unable to break through the two dimensionality of victim hood and find her voice.
For all the ‘family’ who have taken to stalking my every word and sending hate-filled innuendo my way, allow me to flip you the bird right now. You never helped me and I hope you read every word and you sting with its truth. Tell yourself that Judy was a wonderful human being and Katy’s inability to talk about the trauma her mother visited on her is a good and normal way of being. We all know you’re lying and the truth is driving you mad with rage.
If I were saying this out of some sort of ‘inability to tell fact from fiction’ as apparently some ‘family’ seems to think what being a writer is about, then why would it burn you so bad? Why would it bother you? The ravings of the mad don’t bother me, I feel pity for them but no anger. Enjoy the stalking and enjoy my tiny little finger flipping you off in defiance. Your attempts to bully me won’t work, they let me know I’m on the right track at clearing out all the monsters that my mother never had the courage to fight.
Stay tuned for my next blog to hear how an accidental conspiracy to become enablers of my stepmother’s drinking was made by one errant promise by Dad made to Katy when she was still a little girl.