Sunday, August 05, 2012

Growing Up Adventist

How did I end up a cat woman, without family, a captive for decades of the destructive mental health system?

Well, now that's a story.  A story as long as my life.

Two factors, primarily, sealed my fate.  My father's dysfunction and the religion I was born to--Adventism.

From my earliest memories of life, I recall fear as the primary ruler of my childhood.  I was afraid of my father.  I could not say anything that was considered controversial or against what he believed.  I was afraid when he came home from work.  He came home from work angry.  Mother worked too, not only at his office, but she did all the household chores, the cleaning, the shopping, the cooking, the running around.  If my father had reason to be tired, end of day, my mother had a million reasons.  Yet she refused to say anything ever against him and came down on us hard if we did.

Later in life, I would ask her why she would say nothing against him, when he was ruthless to her.  Every night, he made a point of insulting her until she ran off to the bathroom sobbing, where she would remain, sometimes for hours.  He would kick back rocking in his chair, after she ran off, at the dinner table, smirking and self-satisfied.  She never fought back.

The bathroom was a refuge for both my parents, an escape.  There, they kept racks of magazines they read while on the toilet.

My mother would sing this sad little song to herself, sometimes when in the bathroom, sometimes out weeding the rock garden..."Nobody loves me.  Everybody hates me.   Guess I'll go eat worms...."  My heart would ache when she sang it.  I wanted to comfort her, hold her, take her away.   "I love you, momma," I'd say sometimes, going to her, wanting to hug her.  "It's ok, honey," she'd say, and put a smile on her face again.


He also hated her parents, who lived just a quarter mile down the road from us.  He made fun of them ceaselessly and once grandpa died, made jokes about "when the old bat would die" so he could get her money.  I believe now, he was just terribly jealous.  My grandfather on my mother's side was very much loved for his generosity in town.  He went to Mexico with grandma every year and worked there at a free clinic, as a volunteer for a month with grandma.

Grandpa was jailed for months once, in Mexico, after a car he was riding in crashed and the other driver died.  He didn't let it get him down.  He learned Spanish while in that Mexican jail and remained friends with his jailer until he died.  The American consulate finally got him free.  Grandma had not been jailed.  He was a positive and upbeat and generous man.  My father was anything but positive.

He was fixated on conservative politics.  He ranted and raged over politics almost daily until I wanted to vomit to hear any of it.  He hated "liberals" and would have been in love with Rush Limbaugh.  He ranted over church members and the way they lived and what they spent money on and didn't.  To disagree, was to garner the focus of his apparently scorching hot inner fires of rage.  His anger was most often expressed in searing criticisms or sarcasm.

Outwardly though, to other people, the public, he was a mouse, unwilling to challenge authority even when in the right.  I suppose this trait made what happened at home inevitable.

At early age, I became afraid to use the bathroom, which was next to my parents bathroom and separated from theirs only by a sliding door.  This was because he started walking in on me, routinely, when I was on the toilet.  The first few times, I thought it was a mistake, as he claimed, but then I realized it wasn't a mistake at all, and became terrified to use the bathroom.  I was taken to the doctor and the doctor told my mother I suffered from chronic constipation and prescribed enemas if necessary, another tribulation I had to bear, bent over naked, with a tube up my butt, in their bathroom, but the truth was very hidden away and even had my mother told the doctor the truth the doctor would not have stuck up for me either or done anything.  In those days, in that area, child abuse was a fairly common challenge to children.  And the children had to suffer it alone.

I also learned very young that my father saw girls and boys very differently.  It was him who told me I needed to help in the kitchen more than I already did.  My brothers did not have to clear or set the table or wash dishes, but I did.    There were many "woman's work" chores added to my list. We were paid no allowance, but sometimes were given a dime or a quarter to sweep walks or clear the front bank of weeds.

Once I started school, my real nightmare began.  The school was a tiny church run school, further isolating me from potential friends.  The highest number of kids ever in my class, from grade 1 through 8, was 8, three girls and three boys.  The other two girls were a whiny fat pimple faced Myrtle Point kid and the preacher's daughter.

My father drove me relentlessly, as a child.  He became angry if I missed even one question on a quiz.  I don't think he did this to the boys--my two brothers, one older, one younger.  I don't remember, however.  He would be angry if we had a foot race across the field playground at school if I didn't come in first and lost to the lanky grasshopper quick Herb, also from Myrtle Point, a town ten or twelve miles from where I lived.

This behavior in my father, blowing in anger if I missed even one question, would continue even through my short college career.  His nickname for me at home was "Dumby".  I would object to my mother, over him calling me this, and my mother would say, "It's a term of endearment, don't worry."  I would say, starting to heave inside in sobs I invariably controlled before they came out, or until I could bury my face privately in my pillow, "No, it's not a term of endearment.  He's insulting me like he does you."

I grew  up thinking I was stupid.  Why would I not think that, when constantly told I was.

He also made fun of my mother's weight.  She was not that much overweight.  In fact, she was often thinner than my father.  He also made fun of my weight, as a kid, until I was very uncomfortable to be seen in a swimming suit, especially around him.  I loved to swim.  My mother took us to the community pool summers.   We took swimming lessons and all of us excelled as swimmers.

It was at the swimming pool where I incurred my first traumatic injury.  Later, I felt it was gift from god, but no one else saw it that way.  After all, I had the same last name as our church's prophet, before she was married.  And she became ill after she was hit in the face with a rock, after which she began having visions.  I was coming out of the small swimming pool dressing room, behind the pool.  There is an alley you would continue down, if you didn't make a left and join your parent and head back to the parking lot. Standing at the edge of that alley was a little girl I did not know.  The moment I stepped out of the dressing room, she hurled a rock at me.  It struck me in the face.  I dropped like a brick.  The other girl ran.  She had been waiting to attack some other girl, only I had come out first.

I don't remember if I was taken to the doctor or not.  Most likely I was not.  I was not able to swim most of the rest of that summer, I remember, while my face and nose recovered.  I think it was probably there that I acquired the deviated septum in my nose.  And it's slightly crooked.

I incurred another injury when I was in the first grade at the church grade school.  We all played dodge ball or volleyball at recess, although grades one through four were usually out in the gym at a different time than grades four through eight.  For some reason, on that day, all eight grades, maybe 20 to 30 students altogether, were playing dodge ball at the same time.  I got backed into, by an eighth grader, and slammed backwards against the cement floor.  I remember waking up on the backseat of someones car.  I was not taken to the doctor, just home.  I'd hit my head hard enough to knock me out for quite some time.  But back then, people didn't go to the doctor or hospital for every little thing.

I had my first surgery when I was just four years old.  I'd gone deaf, from swollen tonsils.  I also had a terrible sore throat.  My father didn't like it if we had to go to the doctor, due to the expense, so I'd said nothing about my fiery throat.  When my parents noticed I could no longer hear, however, I was taken to the doctor, who pronounced I would need my tonsils removed.  It was done in his office.  A rag doused in ether was placed over my mouth and nose and I was told to count backwards from 100 and pretend I was on a rocket ship in space.  So I did count. I got down to about 94 maybe.  I was supposed to get ice cream afterwards.  Everyone told me I would.  But I didn't.  I could hear again though afterwards.

We went to church every Saturday, as Adventists.  As Adventists, who believe the holy day begins at sundown on Friday night and ends at sundown on Saturday, we could not watch TV or engage in any secular activity the second the clock struck the appointed hour of sundown on Friday.  Likewise, there was much clock watching for the moment of sundown on Saturday, so the TV or radio could be turned on again.

Adventists kids, once they grow up and try to find jobs, have a terrible time of it dealing with the sundown issue.  You can't find work.  Adventists are "allowed" to work medical jobs during the holy day including after sundown on Friday.  Even being a janitor if you are a janitor at a hospital or nursing home, say, would be considered ok.  But, you can't work jobs like electrician or fast food worker or so many other jobs, kids get or college graduates get, unless you can somehow find an Adventist boss.

This makes life very hard on Adventist youths trying to exit the womb, so to speak, thrive on their own.

Adventist youth often grow up feeling their bodies are dirty and nasty.  We were not allowed to wear jewelry, not allowed to listen to most music, and certainly not allowed to dance.  I grew up completely illiterate of my own body and had to ask a neighbor girl why I was bleeding, when I got my first period.  She explained nothing, just tossed me a box of pads and told me to read the inserts.

This is a first installment.  I grew up dysfunctional.  As I get older, however, I find out almost everyone grows up in dysfunctional families, to some degree.

Early in my life, the weight of my entire world fell directly on my shoulders.  I wanted to create peace and love in a family where there was never to be either.  The church compounded my imposed responsibility.  I believed what was preached, at least up until I was eleven.  But nothing preached was practised at home, or, as far as I could tell, by any of the other church members.  This bothered my young soul and kept me up wrestling with this contradiction, late into sleepless nights.

Avoidance of my father's wrath, comfort of my mother, these things became my life.




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