Tuesday, December 23, 2014

A Mother's Hands .....


After my second adoption, I stopped referring to my uncle and his wife by those names and started calling them "dad" and "mom."  For the purposes of keeping this blog as uncomplicated as possible, I'll continue with the original terms.

A while back, I accompanied a friend and her mother as they browsed the stacks in a used book store.  At one point, my friend knelt down to look at the title on the bottom shelf and, as she did so, her mother reached out her hand to gently touch the top of my friend's head.  It was a sweet, loving, totally un-selfconscious gesture and, seeing it, I felt a deep pang of regret.

The stereotypical view of a mother's hands -- gentle, kind and caring.

In all the time I lived with my uncle and his wife, I can remember only two instances of obvious kindness:  the morning of my first day at my school, when she stood with me at the bus stop; and about three years later when I was home sick and she, without me asking, fixed me something special for lunch.

Two kindnesses in somewhat more than 2,200 days of living in that house.

On the other hand (no pun intended), the cruelties were numerous.

Unlike the kind, loving touch given to my friend, when the hands of my uncle's wife touched me, it was always with the intention to inflict pain.  She swatted my bottom and my upper thighs, sometimes with her hands, other times with a wooden spoon or "switch" from a tree in the yard.  She occasionally cuffed my ears, including the one on which I'd had plastic surgery and which had remained tender to the touch.  Usually, though, her target was what she perceived to be the source of all our family's problems -- my disrespectful mouth -- and I was back-handed across the face more times than I can remember.  More than once, the slap was so hard that my nose bled.

The reality in our family.

My uncle was usually the fall-back disciplinarian (as in "Just wait until your father gets home!"), and his method of choice was a leather belt to the back of my legs.

But most of the discipline fell to his wife who, as I've mentioned before, was a very angry person.  When angered, she exploded verbally and physically, but in other ways as well.  One time we were in the front seat of the car and I was being my usual rude, disrespectful (i.e., teenage girl) self.  Her response to one of my comments was to slam on the brakes.

Seatbelts became mandatory in 1968, but I wasn't wearing one -- either because I hadn't thought to put it on, or because our car was built before the law went into effect -- and I hit the dashboard.  Fortunately, we weren't travelling at highway speed, because I surely would have smashed into the windshield.

Had that happened, of course, it would have been my own fault and -- if I was unfortunate enough to have survived -- it would have been my financial responsibility to pay to replace the windshield.  Such was logic in that house.

When I was 14 or so, I finally fought back and when my uncle's wife slapped me in my room one day, I slapped her back.  Hard.

Her first reaction was stunned silence, but she quickly became furious, and she struck back.  Harder than ever.

At least once before I had, to her face, called her a "bitch" and I might have done so again that day.  Whether or not I did, she turned on her heel and stormed out.  I felt as though I'd won.

My victory was short-lived, though, as I believe that was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.  They would soon start making plans to remove me from the house.