My abusive mother scared me to death. I must’ve been around 7 or 8 years old when my butt went through the playroom window. My mother was abusive. My mother was giving my little sister a bath, and I decided that was a good time to play gymnastics. I raised my arms high above my head and prepared to perform a round-off.
I seriously miscalculated the distance between me and the wall.
We lived in a second-story apartment. The window caved in and collapsed all around me, shards of glass littering the floor, digging into my skin.
I could’ve been seriously hurt.
I didn’t run to the bathroom, though, or yell to alert my mom. Instead, I stood among the broken glass for a good half hour, sobbing silently to myself because I was afraid that she’d be so mad.
When I finally told her, she was so mad. I remember how her face paled vividly, the veins popping green on her forehead. She screamed so loud that my ears rang. She told me I’d wasted her money — we’d just gotten a new window. She told me I was inconsiderate, irresponsible and stupid.
“How dumb can you be?” she said.
She never once asked me if I was okay. She never once thanked her lucky stars that I didn’t actually fly out of a second-story window.
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Instead, she ignored me for days. It felt like weeks.
That was always her punishment for me.
Here’s the thing. My mom never beat me. She never assaulted me in any way. But she was cruel. She was emotionally abusive. Just because you don’t see the scars, it doesn’t mean that they’re not there.
Of course, no one ever suspected a thing. When she was around other people, it was like she painted on a whole new persona.
Most people think parental abuse comes in the shape and color of bruises or even rape. Sometimes it comes from the end of the father’s belt. For me, though, it came in the form of little digs here and there, explosive outbursts, and ugly words that convinced me that I’m just not good enough (fat, ugly hair, autistic — that one makes my skin boil for more reasons than one — stupid, failure, lazy, etc.). It came in the form of unpredictability — would she soothe me when I got hurt, or would she call me names instead? It came in the form of skilled manipulation — more than once, she had me convinced that I was a liar, even when I knew that I was telling the truth. Sometimes I still do a double take when I say something — am I remembering correctly or am I lying? Is my mother right about me after all?
According to the American Humane Association, I’m far from alone. In fact, over 7 percent of children in the United States are suffering from emotional abuse at the hands of their parents.
When I got a C+ in second grade math, I was stupid, lazy. She instilled so much fear of failure in me, in fact, that I cheated on my next math exam by hiding a calculator under my desk. Here I am 14 years later, confessing.
I wasn’t allowed to bake brownies because I’d be making a mess in her kitchen. “I’ll clean it right away,” I would always say, but the answer was still an angry no.
God forbid I call home sick from school. Illness was always my fault. “It’s because you didn’t wear a jacket!” she’d spit, even though there was no way in hell she would’ve ever allowed me to leave the house without one. She’d still ignore me for days, though.
Say I wanted to go play at a friend’s house. “What do you think I am, your taxi driver?” she’d say with a nasty smirk. Then she’d go back to napping or staring at her computer screen or whatever it was that she did with her day (I’m still not sure).
After our first — and last — family therapy session during my senior year of high school, she didn’t talk to me for days. Days (one of which was my birthday, by the way. I spent my 18th birthday crying in my college counselor’s office). During therapy, we all agreed we’d get better at communicating. As soon as we walked out the door, I said, “I’m sorry, Mom.” (Sorry for what, exactly?) She told me she never wanted to speak to me again.
And finally, the biggie: when my therapist told her I’d been molested at age 14 — by one of her friends, by the way! — she said, “Oh” and never brought up the subject with me.
I’m only writing this because I’ve found that it’s considered acceptable to say you don’t talk to your father because he was abusive. But when it’s your mother, and she didn’t even beat you? Forget it.
“You guys will get closer when you’re older,” people say. Or, “You know that she really loves you, right? I mean, she’s your mother. Give her a break.”
Well, guess what? Nasty words hurt. Especially when they come from your mother’s mouth. And that’s not okay. So educate yourself. Chances are, a child you know is suffering just like I did.