After I wrote about why I was participating in the women’s march, the why question continued to hum in my head. Or maybe the question had changed somewhat to why certain things bother me so much and why do I believe the way that I do.
Everyone thinks they’re right, of course. How does it feel to be wrong? The exact same as it feels to be right. At his very moment we’re all wrong about something and we have no idea. Eventually the truth will come to light (or maybe not) and you’ll feel that terrible feeling of discovering your wrongness. But at this moment, you feel just fine because you don’t know any better yet.
Wrongness gets us all, though some of us have a harder time admitting it than others.
But that’s not exactly what I want to write about.
When I was a kid my father married his second wife. I was nervous and excited about this. I was 9 and had images of family in my head. You know, a mom-type person would be in the house and I’d have a sister just about my age, and we’d be like people thought we should be. People were often telling me how we should be, that a dad and daughter living on their own just wasn’t right, a near tragedy, and the only good thing to do was for my father to remarry. “You need a woman in the house!” they’d say. As it turned out, the quality of that woman didn’t matter very much.
I saw my own actual mother every other weekend. She was smart and creative and fascinating. She loved me, though people made sure they didn’t believe this because she wasn’t in my father’s house, and we all know a woman isn’t a good mother if she isn’t in a man’s house. Or so teachers and parents of friends made clear. “What’s wrong with your mother?” they’d ask. “Is she sick?” “Doesn’t she love you?”
Thank goodness my dad married again! A woman in the house was going to make everything better. Everyone said so. I expected it to be true. I was nine and still believed in adults.
This is a blog post and not a book, so we can skip a lot here. But a lesson I learned in the years my dad remained married to that woman was that while I was supposed to believe in adults, adults were in no way obligated to believe in me.
I didn’t bother telling teachers when my dad’s wife threw away my homework. Even my naive self knew no one was going to believe that. That woman did a lot of things that resulted in me having constant stomach and chest pains. The doctor said the pain was caused by stressed, but he didn’t ask me what I was stressed about. I don’t know why and I don’t know if I would have said anyway.
My dad’s second wife would sometimes ask to wash my hair and then hold my head under the hot running water until I struggled to breathe. I’d have to kick and hit my hands on the counter before she’d let me up for breath. After a few times I cam to believe she liked scaring me, like waiting until I couldn’t breathe.
She often told me that my own mother didn’t love me. She told me I was a terrible daughter to my father for going to visit my mother every other weekend. So ungrateful! So selfish! How did my father put up with me?
But all these things were long ago. What really stays with me though isn’t the trouble she unleashed in our house, it’s that no one listened. I was told I was lying because I was jealous or wanted attention. I was an only child after all. All I wanted was attention, they said and said. This is why I seethe when I hear people say only children are spoiled and lonely. This myth was used to dismiss everything I said. You know how only children are.
Well-meaning, smart, good-hearted adults told me I was mistaken. I just misunderstood. That I just needed to try harder, be nicer, be more understanding. Didn’t I know my dad’s wife had had a hard life? Be nicer!
“You just don’t understand.”
“You must be exaggerating.”
“It’s not as bad as you think.”
“You have an over active imagination.”
“You shouldn’t talk like that about someone who’s trying to take care of you.”
“Don’t you care about your dad?”
So? Well, it still feels like this. I suspect (believe) many people who aren’t whatever society would like them to be, who don’t fit in nice neat explainable boxes, feel as if they’re explaining their experiences, speaking their reality, and being dismissed for their honesty by the people who could and should help.
A number of adults were quick to put the burden of my father’s marriage on me. We do this though, don’t we?
“It’s not that bad.”
“Just behave better.”
“You just misunderstood.”
“Don’t you appreciate what you’ve been given?”
“Why are you so ungrateful?”
Indeed. How nice does someone have to be before you believe them?
When people tell you of their suffering listen. Help if you can. Care. Believe.