To my Sister

Last night once again the ‘bad Susan’ spotlight was turned on me. I go along with it usually for the most part. It is fine to an extent to take their abuse for it until inaccuracies enter the conversation which they often do when alcohol is involved as we have very different stories, memories and different experiences of childhood, and possibly different reasons for even discussing it.

I wont have a conversation now about how awful I was back then without rounding out the whole picture. I was trying to express something important last night, and I didn’t feel heard at all and ended up going into more detail than was necessary about mums behaviour.  Mum has said her apologies to me and we have a peace now but its painful to her to be reminded about how abusively she behaved throughout my childhood. I felt sad for her.

‘You taught me to draw a swatika’ you exclaimed gleefully in front of everyone as if it was evidence of how evil I am. I have no memory of teaching you to draw a swastika, but even if I did and it’s possible, you and I both know that I never supported nazis, Hitler or was anti jewish in any way and by bringing it up in front of everyone at the table one of whom doesn’t know me well, there was an inference in that.

You have often done this sort of thing in company, is it to shock or embarrass me, I never really understood it. Alcohol is always involved though, you never do it sober. The same goes with some secret things I have told you in confidence which you like to reveal or jokingly threaten to reveal in company.

Maybe you like that I have done some pretty shocking things, but I prefer to decide who I share them with, and its not family usually. You asked me last night if I’d ever been approached by a lesbian, knowing fully that I had, you remembered an experience that I had forgotten about. I don’t feel comfortable discussing any part of my sex life in the company of family. And you have shared secrets to my friends a couple of times that I had decided not to share it with. Horrible. Embarrassing.

I am really enjoying the direction we have been going in recently and would like it to continue like that. I would like you to be more careful about what you say. Perhaps examine motives for what you are doing.

I was expressing last night that the angry punk persona was my way of protecting myself, and expressing the fury I felt at the long term physical and emotional abuse from mum. I feel you don’t really get my experience of childhood, yours was very different.

I feel compassion for you all and towards that angry teen I was and I have forgiven myself fully for being the rude, unfriendly character I was for a couple of years, 14-16. I know it wasn’t easy for you all, but at the time I didn’t feel much loyalty to any of you really. I had a sense of betrayal growing up in that family and didnt feel anyone was an ally really, the only person who ever took my side or stood up for me as a kid was Gaga ,who used to apologise to me for mum’s behaviour, that helped me recognise that I didn’t deserve it. That probably gave me the confidence to explode and break free.

I remember many times as quite a young kid looking at dad pleadingly to intervene when I was being screamed at for nothing, and he walked away every time even though he knew. And worse, I could see he knew that it was wrong what was happening. He supposedly had such a strong sense of right and wrong. I was angry with him that he didn’t say anything even though he knew it was unfair that I was being blasted for nothing I had done. She she was furious with him, hardly ever with anything Id done. Such aggression was abhorrent to him and he wanted away from it understandably, and fled for the sitting room. And left me to take it. Only once did he ever try and intervene and his words were ‘Sally, come on now’ in a low rather unassertive tone when she was having one of her outbursts at me. I loved that, but it didnt work and he walked away to hide as usual.

I wouldn’t have expected you to stick your neck out for me really, you were even younger and it was scary stuff and you must have been afraid of the potential of having her vicious attention turned in your direction. Totally understandable. You did try and offer me comfort when we were young kids sometimes in private though. I have many memories of you waiting for me sitting at the top of the stairs. I would run up crying with the red handprint on my face which we would both examine and you tried to offer some sympathy and care. I was too upset to really acknowledge much or receive it. You probably didn’t even witness a lot of what went on either.

I never felt safe in that house. I became hyper vigilant from a young age for sounds, listening out for signs that her temper was rising after their arguments. I’d notice how noisily or not she was putting away the cutlery, or laying the table or doing the dishes – these were clues which alerted me to potential coming danger. I was terrified of her anger. I never knew how she was going to behave, and I knew that her anger could arrive anytime with no cause for it from me. And there were the endless tearful guilty apologies after and big hugs and ‘I love you so much’. I felt stiff as a board during those hugs. And also there was a constant confusing confiding in me about what a bad guy dad was, how I would end up with someone that would hurt me like him (over and over she repeated that line) and the expectation that I would comfort her in her regular tearful hysterical states and behave like her parent or carer.

That was until I stood up to her at about 13. I took my power back in no uncertain manner and that was a time of asserting myself, in a way a celebration albeit highly traumatic too. I had the confidence at last and the physical size to stand up for myself. I wasn’t going to be a victim any more, and after that was all over with I felt a lot safer knowing that she wouldn’t dare to come near me aggressively again. I had turned the tables on her and she was afraid of me. I made sure that she knew not to dare say a single angry critical word to me, or shout at me or tell me what to do.

I maintained a very unfriendly demeanour around the house. I was retraining her to behave in a much more careful way towards me, to even tread on eggshells around me, otherwise I would bite her back and it would be very unpleasant for her. She didn’t like that at all and attempted to crush my little rebellion many times before she stopped hitting. I used to joke later on with my friends that I’d retrained my parents to behave themselves while they were still having to put up with crap from theirs, mine by then were leaving me alone mostly.

I took on an angry highly defended persona which punk was perfect for expressing. And she did learn to behave with more respect and most importantly to value harmony with me eventually. I did this by making it extremely unpleasant when she turned any anger on towards me. But eventually at a certain point the unfriendly defensive behaviour could be dropped as it wasn’t necessary any more. I didn’t need to be so aggressive to protect myself. I could relax and the anger had run its course.

So you see, it wasn’t just as simple as Susan all of a sudden arriving one day and turning nice, there’s far more behind that myth of a bad person suddenly becoming a good one overnight. I am to this day always very on edge though around her though, ready to stand up to any aggression which occasionally still comes out especially after a drink. But mostly we maintain an uneasy harmony and adult to adult interaction now.

You had a different experience of childhood in so many ways, assigned a different role to occupy and you stayed quiet, away from trouble upstairs in the quiet of your room at the furtherest part of the house reading a lot. Very wise. So you have different memories too and don’t share some of mine which is why at times you question my memories as you did last night when you said you didn’t remember me being hit. Don’t remember me being hit! This is troublesome for me, as people think your memory is generally better than mine, and it sounded like I was lying. I have diaries full of it and you were witness to it too as were many others, Una Steph too, dad.

Lesley reminded me recently of one such occasion that I had forgotten even, in the kitchen she witnessed when we were 13. Mum was hit me across the face and I shouted at her to stop hitting me and hit her back, it didn’t stop her and she hit me back, then I hit her back and this went on several times. It took maybe 5 or 6 occasions of hitting her back and full fights before she eventually stopped.

The way I rebelled was inevitable really, it was my way of protecting myself and stopping the physical and emotional abuse. It was something important I was sharing, a truth that hadn’t been told. I wasn’t planning on embarrassing mum with such detail, but when you said you didn’t remember me being hit, I felt I had to.

I have had years of therapy about this stuff. I thought for ages that I must be just a bad person, the ‘bad little bitch’ I was called so often by mum. I thought I deserved it otherwise why would I be treated like that by my own mum. And so I thought I must be unlovable and not deserving of my own or anyone else’s love. Why would anyone decent ever love someone like me, I wasn’t worthy of love. The consequences of that were played out in my life and my choices. I am clear now though that I didn’t deserve it, that I wasn’t a bad kid. I’m sad I was forced into having to assert myself in such an aggressive way, these are not happy memories, traumatic actually. I have learned now to have a much kinder relationship with myself over the last few and I wont be treated in ways I have allowed myself to be treated in the past. I like to be around those who don’t humiliate or behave in a way that isn’t respectful and loving.

I have faced mostly every bit of me positive and negative now, and more often than not, I fully embrace both. I am fine with admitting to my faults present and past but I will not tolerate any attempts at old myths about me being resurrected. It suited our family for years to have me as the black sheep, the one to blame, the bad one…and others get to feel more virtuous.

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