Whenever my mind is in turmoil, so is my body. I woke just recently to the fact that I will never be able to undo my toxic past.
It takes courage and determination to search for answers at this late date. No matter how attractive, old or smart a person is, they carry within them the hurt and invalidation of toxic parents.
Our eyes tear readily; our heart cries out with swollen limbs and aching spine. Because my parents were neglectful, I distrusted they valued me. It took my whole life to realize a satisfactory ego and healthy welcoming genes. Following are stories of my childhood, I recall as Winged Memoirs…
When Winged was a toddler, her pop’s first luxury for his family was one of the new black and white televisions that had just come on the market. He quickly learned he had to protect it from her glass bottles-turned-missiles when a toddler.
“If you throw your bottle at the TV one more time, Toots, I’ll take all your bottles away.” He’d growled. He eventually kept his word. He threw her bottles out the door that last time she threw her bottle – clipping his ear and hitting the television at the same time.
She’ll never forget how mad he often was and how sad she always was. She wasn’t a bottle baby for long, the small Coke bottle years later took its place. Winged didn’t even consider throwing it at the TV or Pop.
She liked it so much better. It didn’t take long before she began recognizing each Coke machine as they passed by. She learned to pull Pop’s shirtsleeve and scream every time she saw a big red box strewn along the roadside, calling her name. She usually got it because pops couldn’t stand her screaming when he was trying to drive. She was a coke addict from the first drink. Still is.
Her pops was an artist, welder, a barber, inventor and an excellent mechanic. Her mom made extra money making clothes and doing alterations for others. Winged’s job was to make them happy after their long arduous days. Later, she always wondered if her parents were ever in romantic love. She thinks they probably came together in need like so many did after the war.
She was first jealous of the fast-talking, loud, invasive first TV in her life. That intruder, however, became her only source of entertainment, companionship and education. The greatest discovery of her youth was that she could change her life for the better just by altering her attitude. So what if Winged didn’t have her baby bottle, anymore. She wasn’t a baby. She was a big girl and had a brand new addiction. Pop got Coke that fit her hands and slid down her belly so smoothly tickling her taste buds.
Later, she grew into a chubby somewhat needy little girl with a big head and a neck so short her mom worried she had none at all. She began questioning things like all little kids do, “Mommy, do you love me all the time or just when I’m good? Do you love pops? Do you love our house on wheels? Are you and pops always fighting because of me?”
“You ask too many questions, go sit down and watch the new television.”
“But mama, do you love me?”
“Yes, we love you all the time! We love each other. We fight because we are all too close together living in a little RV with no money for fun things. Of course, Pops loves you too. The problem is, he loves this little car box, and we hate it, don’t we, Winged?”
Her mom was wrong. Winged loved the little rattle box on wheels her mom hated so. Why it was just perfect. She had her own kitchen drawer to sleep in, and she could get a drink all by herself without too much trouble. Her only problem was her legs were beginning to bruise from flinging them outside the drawers at night when she was sleeping. She was always being told how cute she was, with her long banana curls like the little TV star Shirley Temple. She had huge blue eyes and was called “peachy cheeks.” What’s better than that?
“Is peachy cheeks a good thing mom? Did that mean I’m pretty?”
“Calling you peachy cheeks was a very good thing indeed. That means you have a pretty face just like your mom.”
“I look like you,” she exclaimed softly. Her nest-like head fell to the table, hiding the tiny tears making their way down her face. Of course, she always thought her mom was beautiful, too. However, she hated it when everyone laughed at the funny looking family with their big heads. They had a weird way of talking to others. Fortunately, she didn’t need good self-esteem to survive just a bit of cowardice.
It was a good thing noise kept her little mind busy during the day. At night when it was quiet, she began a lifetime routine of dreaming of another place and time when she had friends to play with and a home that was built to stay in one spot. She also starting biting her nails and pulling at her hair when she turned three.
She spent a lot of time outside sitting on the doorstep watching the world go by that last summer in the desert. One night, in particular, it took her just a short time to realize the night skies were different somehow. It was an unusually clear night even though the stars seemed to be marching towards the sun that wasn’t shining. As always, she wished upon the first star she saw, just like her mom had taught her.
Then the stars sort of joined each other in a kind of dance while she sang, “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star…How I wonder where you are, Up above the world so high, Like a diamond in the sky…”
Like magic, one tiny star fell into her anxious little hands. It broke her heart when it immediately slipped through her fingers like a green glob of jelly gagging her. Then as she bent to pick it up, it disappeared right before her eyes. She knocked on the trailer door and called out, “Mommy, Mommy, the stars are falling, so close by, so quickly, and so quietly.” Mom never came outside, so she figured this was a secret between her and God alone. She must be special since God let her catch a falling star. Sometimes she wondered if all her unanswered wishes ended up like a glob of jelly.
Winged was Pop’s girl right in the beginning. Pops was always the playful one. Her mom was the serious one. He always told her stories like when she was a toddler he’d bounced her up and down on his stomach like a trampoline. Her Mom usually screamed for the two to stop. However, it wasn’t Winged she was worried about. She was worried Pops would stretch his already pot belly that much bigger. Her mom told her that she was concerned how their clothes fit; how trim they should all be; and if they didn’t look good, they needed to go on a diet. Dieting was a lifelong passion for both her and her mom; and now Winged’s grand-daughters.
Mom hated pop’s lack of hygiene. He wore his clothes till they fell off him and then he’d go and buy some new ones at Salvation Army. Sometimes both her and her mom would pull at the holes in his greasy disintegrating shirts until they fell off him. He always got mad but later started laughing himself. Mom even laughed once in a while. She had such a pretty face when she wasn’t all primed and ready to fight. Her mom often said, pop’s belly entered a room long before he did that was because it was a food trap inside and out. Winged always laughed cause pops laughed so hard.
Mom wailed “It’s not funny, you’re a pig! Take a look at yourself, why don’t you?”
Winged thought her pops was perfect just the way he was. He was big and boisterous and always making her laugh. The trailer rocked with fun whenever he was around. Of course, she was a little afraid of him when she made him mad which wasn’t often. When Pops was tired. He got up and turned his earphone off and headed outside to work on a car. The not hearing was a good thing for him. It was a wall that ran interference between him and his family.
One minute Mom and Pops were kind and loving. The next moment, they were angry and mean. To a little girl, it seemed as though her mom hated pops, and her pops hated her mom. She can remember when her mom once told Winged, men were like smelly toes, not necessary – just there for balance. Winged laughed at this analogy but later realized her mom was right. Her mom was the homemaker. Pops was the disciplinarian. She was the goalie.
Winged remembers only being real bad once when her mom screamed at her, “Just wait till your pops gets home. He’ll be so mad because you stole that deck of cards from our neighbor lady. What could have possessed you to do such a thing?”
“They were so pretty and cool in my hands. And, there were so many of them. I just wanted to look at them and play with them for a while. I didn’t mean to steal them.” Her mom felt sorry for the pitiful child who wanted so little. Winged never had toys or a radio. She had no dollies to comfort her. Her tears tore at her parent’s heart, and both was much kinder to her the rest of that day. They would have bought me toys if they had the money. Even way back then Toots knew poverty.
Winged hated her mom’s face when she was yelling. It became grotesquely disfigured even ugly. She worried she was ugly herself maybe when she was angry or bad. She promised her mom she would never steal again. She promised to get her own beautiful black and red cards someday. She’d ask pops a little later. She hoped her mom didn’t tell him what she did. It wouldn’t be too smart to ask him for cards right-a-way. After every bout of anger, her mom usually went to bed for hours. It made her mom really tired to yell at her, she thought. When she was older, she realized her mom always had a bottle of Vodka near her bed table to gladden her feelings for Toots and the World around them.
Over and over, Winged spout, “I’m sorry, mommy. I won’t be bad again.” Winged knew she could not keep that promise. Those words became her life’s journey. She hated not having pretty things like everyone else and began to speak up. She had no pets, no dollies, and no security. Her mom slept or worked. Her pop worked or slept. She hated being the one others made fun of. Her parents made money for food and the tools they needed to make more money for more food and more tools.
Winged was always skipped over. Winged needed what other children had. She needed breakfast, lunch and dinner. She needed a safe nurturing home, and a loving family around her. She needed friends but spent each minute alone with the television. She also needed clothes and shoes for school that weren’t worn by someone else first. Most of all, she needed “affirmation.”
Her pops worked years after as a welder burying his hard earned money in the back yard in a tin can or even sometimes in the walls. Winged helped him sometimes dig up the yard or helped him tear holes in their plaster walls with hammers or sticks. Once they found one hundred silver dollars in the wall. She was so excited her pops let her roll around on the bed with them for a while, and then he disappeared for a couple of days. She loved him as much as he loved money.
My grown-up-self has through decades searched for joy and identity through creative self-expression. I remember Pop’s silver coins, and I remember him disappearing with his loot. I remember the lonely child searching for her identity. After all these years, I believe that being happily engaged in writing and art making is better than not; and secondly, living without depression, pain and anger is better than living with them. Every word written by myself is a victory against the dysfunction that comes from a toxic childhood. There is no plastic surgery that can put our smiles back. Recovery involves as much unlearning as learning.
For many of us recovery takes a lot of years. Many of us do not even know we are sick. I spent most of my prime looking for Mr. Right by roaming empty, unlighted streets in the dead of night; slipping in and out of dark, sleazy bars; past whispering souls with luminescent faces and unkempt hair.
I danced under disco lights and made secret rendezvous with anonymous souls. I even marched into places and predicaments even angels feared to treat. The writer, MacLaren says, God sends us many love tokens, and among them are the great and little annoyances and pains that beset our lives, and on each of them, if we would look, we should see written in His own hand, this inscription: it’s for your own good.”