What do you do when you’re involved in a whistleblower case that has taken four years to reach court? And during the interim you’ve lost whatever financial foothold you had in the world? Savings account ~ gone. Both you and your spouse’s pension funds ~ cashed in with a hefty penalty. It seems as if overnight you went from being comfortable to having no safety net what so ever. It’s a horrible feeling. You beloved pet becomes suddenly ill and you have to beg and borrow to get the money to provide for her. Upkeep becomes expensive on your car so you take it off the road, leave it parked in your driveway and change the insurance status to “in storage” which lowers your premium considerably. You try to consolidate errands to town (a 32 mile round trip) to save on gas and wear & tear on the only vehicle you haven’t taken off the road. And in the middle of all this penny-pinching and stress your brain is on fire because your former employer accused you of theft, the one thing that can reduce you to a rubble of nothing. Your’e emotionally stuck, unable to move forward yet your mind has no difficulty taking you back at any given moment, back to when you were a child, back to when you lived in a house with an alcoholic father and a psychotic mother, who in time you learned weren’t even your parents; they adopted you or rather, they purchased you from an unwed mother who became pregnant when she cheated on her boyfriend. Ever the prince, her boyfriend forgave her, said they would get married and raise the baby together. Sounds like a dream come true but dreams are often like houses made from popsicle sticks, ~ they fall apart. He still wanted to marry her but he didn’t want another man’s child so when I was two he made her choose. Guess I don’t have to tell you who she chose. Somehow she learned about an older couple who wanted a child and for the right price, a private adoption was arranged with a local attorney working out the details. I was turned over to my “new parents” at a diner in NJ. I can’t even fathom something like that happening today.
The one constant through everything is that in previous generations, children did not have rights. Historically, children were considered the property of parents, they were merely chattel. Child abuse? It had to practically happen in public before anything was done and even then, most of the time the family stayed intact. It was completely acceptable for a father to backhand his child. How society has changed since my childhood in the 60’s. Now we read of situations where a child will threaten a parent by saying, “I’ll report you”. They sue for emancipation, sue to have tuition for an ultra-expensive school paid, or go to live with a friend or relative but take their parents to court for full financial support. As a survivor of horrific child abuse I think it’s wonderful that society has evolved to the point where they recognize the rights of a child as a human, a sentient being. I am extremely glad that schools, courts, and healthcare professionals understand that children are people, not merely possessions; that social service agencies were created to protect children. In the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s (and long before) many children were mistreated and abused physically, emotionally and sexually yet it was allowed to continue because society either chose not to or refused to acknowledge it. We were our parents property, we were a disposable commodity. Teachers turned a blind eye to bruising and fractures, which today would be investigated as potential signs of abuse. We usually passed through school without one single adult questioning cuts, bruises or frequent fractures. Looking back, I think that teachers believed if our grades were good, surely our lives were.
Many children who experienced abuse at home performed extremely well at school because it was our sanctuary, a place where we were safe, if only for the day. I became a professional clock watcher, silently counting down to the dismissal bell. I dreaded spring because I knew it led to summer, a time filled with fear and countless hours on a bar stool while my father drank and played pool. I was always excited to see summer end because the change in seasons signaled a return to my beloved school where I became a sponge, trying to soak up every lesson, no matter how difficult (math comes to mind). Because I was never praised at home, I strived to do well because earning an “A” validated me ~ if only in my own mind. I remained socially awkward in that I wasn’t able to talk to my classmates about extracurricular activities, television shows, toys or my family. So I remained painfully shy and an introvert, the latter trait still holding true. Looking back, I can’t remember if it bothered me that I was one of the last picked during group activities but I’m going out on a limb by saying it didn’t. From my earliest memories of home, I inherently knew it was best to stay “invisible” and I think that carried over to school. I was a bit of an oxymoron in that I loved getting good grades, winning a spelling bee or composition contest yet hated hearing my name announced as the winner. Even now, decades later, I still don’t like calling attention to myself or entering a room late where all heads turn and look. Yet strangely enough I enjoy public speaking, an area I first delved into during high school. Why would an awkward introvert enjoy speaking before a room full of strangers? Because as one of my favorite authors, Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse-Five “Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”