“There is a Goddamned apple missing!”
Mommy’s bellow could be heard throughout the house and out into the yard, and both she and Brother froze at the sound. A sly grin crossed Brother’s face as he went back to frying ants with his magnifying glass. She waited tensely for the inevitable summons.
“Both you kids get in here, right now!” Brother ignored the command in favour of crisping a few more ants, but she was taking no chances. Dropping her doll on the grass, heedless of its unsupervised proximity to Brother, she dashed into the house.
“What is it, Mommy?” she asked, skidding to a halt on the dreary streaked brown asphalt tile.
“ ‘What is it, Mommy?’ ” her mother mimicked in a sarcastic sing-song voice. “What, are you deaf? I said there is an apple missing! What do you know about it?”
No matter what she said, she was going to be in trouble…either for tattling on Brother or for not stopping him from eating the apple. She wondered which one would get the least punishment. Tattling, she decided. “Brother ate it,” she said simply.
“You knew this and you didn’t stop him?” Mother’s voice was eerily soft. She nodded silently.
“And you didn’t tell me?” Uh oh. Should have pleaded ignorance. She shook her head slowly from side to side.
“And why not, pray tell?” Mother asked.
Because she was afraid of being punished for tattling? Because she was afraid of being punished for not stopping him from eating the apple? Because she was afraid? None of those answers would work…they would make mother more angry, make her say something like “Afraid? Afraid? You want afraid? I’ll give you something to be afraid of!”
“Well, miss…” Mother said impatiently. “I am waiting for your answer. You are taking so long, I hope for your sake it is a really good one.”
What could she say? “I forgot. I was playing dolls and I…”
“Get me the strap,” Mother interrupted her.
“Nooooo, Mommy!” she wailed, her knees losing their integrity and putting her into a half crouch. “Noooo! I didn’t do anything!”
“Exactly,” Mommy said. “You didn’t stop him, you didn’t tell me, you just let it happen. Now get me that strap.” Mommy stood silently, hands on hips, unmoved by her sobbing pleas and promises to never again transgress. “If I have to get that strap myself,” Mommy interrupted, “You’ll get more for defying me.”
She took the two steps to the kitchen door and removed the thin length of leather…formerly a dog leash now devoid of its metal clip…and handed it reluctantly to her mother. “I didn’t do anything,” she sobbed. “It’s not fair. Brother did it, not me!”
“You didn’t tell me,” Mommy said. “Lay across that chair and take your pants down…all the way down…down to your ankles.” She complied, clenching her buttocks and her bladder muscles against the anticipated blows. “You are the oldest,” Mommy grunted with the first swing. A streak of liquid fire wrapped itself around her lower body as the thin lash curled around a pale, thin thigh. She clenched her teeth to contain the scream. “I can’t be everywhere,” her mother yelled, swinging again, raising a thin angry line across her upraised buttocks. “It’s your job to keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble.” Swish! Crack! “I don’t know why you have to defy me at every turn! He doesn’t know any better but you do!”
Mommy’s invective continued unabated, accompanied by the raining blows until exhaustion set in. Her arm tired, Mommy threw the strap on the floor and looked at the pale little body quivering in front of her, raised red lash marks criss-crossing it like a dilapidated lattice. Mommy sighed. “Stop that blubbering,” she commanded, her voice tired. “Clean up.”
“I didn’t do anything,” came a thin, weak sob. “I didn’t do anything,” the sound repeated.
Mommy’s lips thinned. “Unless you want more where that came from, I suggest you shut your Goddamned mouth and get your ass out of this kitchen.” Mommy paused as she scrambled to obey. “And send your brother in to me.”
Leaving Dolly in the front yard with Brother had been a mistake, she saw upon entering the front yard. There were several small, black-rimmed pinholes in her pink rubber arms and legs and Brother was busily trying to burn a hole through Dolly’s belly button with his magnifying glass. She could just kill Uncle Pete for giving him that thing…one day he was going to set the house on fire, like he tried to set the school on fire with purloined matches when he was five. Brother had a fascination with fire that she thought was creepy, although nobody else seemed to think so. She ran to rescue her doll.
Experience told her that grabbing the doll and engaging in a tug-of-war with him would culminate only in a dismembered doll. He was bigger, heavier, stronger than she was, for all that he was two years younger, and in a physical contest with him, she invariably lost…sometimes quite painfully. Her backside still smarting, she called out to him “Brother! Mommy wants to see you in the kitchen, right now!”
He continued to concentrate on burning a hole in the doll’s belly. “Mommy says if she has to come get you, she’s bringing the strap!”
That got his attention and he looked up at her, paling when he saw her swollen, tear-stained face. “You better hurry,” she said, “Or you’re gonna get it too!”
She could see him weigh his options, then put down the doll and magnifying glass and head for the house with uncharacteristic slowness. Brother never did anything except at a frenzied rush. The moment he was out of sight she snatched up the magnifying lens and went into the flowerbed beneath the living room window and dug a small hole with her hands beneath the flowering maple. She shoved the offending piece of glass into the earth and covered it over, scattering leaf litter over it to disguise the little grave. Quickly, she darted out onto the lawn, snatched up Dolly, and hurried to her room, making soothing apologetic sounds to the abused doll. She should never have left Dolly out in the grass with Brother, she thought guiltily, and the doll’s injuries were her own fault.
She could hear Mommy hollering at Brother. “I am not made out of money!” Mommy yelled. “I buy exactly enough apples for each of you to have one in your school lunch every day. And now there’s one missing!” She waited for the tell-tale “thwack” of the strap, but no sound emerged from the kitchen save Mommy’s scolding voice, and soon enough, that ended. No spanking. She sighed and cuddled her battered doll closer. “He ate the apple but I got the spanking,” she said softly, looking into the blue glass eyes. “That’s not fair. That’s not fair at all!”
From outside an indignant bellow went up and she hugged the doll closely, smiling tightly with delight. Brother had discovered his evil glass was missing, she was sure. The front door banged as he re-entered the house, crying for Mommy. “Uncle Pete gave me that!” he wailed. “She took it, I know she did!”
Ah, her room was about to be tossed. She sometimes wondered if she was some kind of witch, with her uncanny ability to tell the future and, sure enough, her bedroom door slammed open and Mommy filled the portal like an avenging angel. “Where is it?” Mommy demanded, that dangerous “don’t you dare give me any crap!” look on her face. “What did you do with Brother’s magnifying glass?”
She shook her head and hugged the doll closer. “I don’t have it,” she said quite truthfully. "The last time I saw it, it was in the front yard.” Again, a true statement.
Mommy looked unconvinced and did not stay Brother’s hand as he pulled the contents of her closet floor out into the room and strewed them about, then ransacked her chest of drawers. It wasn’t until he started pulling the bed apart that Mommy stayed his hand. “Did you leave it in the front yard?” she queried. He nodded his head affirmatively. “Then maybe some kid picked it up while you were in the house,” she said. “If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a hundred times, don’t leave your toys outside!” Mommy shook her head and turned to leave, muttering “You kids never appreciate anything,” as she walked away, but then stopped and turned back momentarily. “Clean up this Goddamned mess.”
Brother followed Mommy down the hall, complaining bitterly about his missing instrument of destruction, leaving the carnage of her room behind. With a sigh she set about putting things to right, the labour of restoring the order of her room a small price to pay for the satisfaction of saving her little bit of the world from further predation. The telephone rang and she heard Mommy snap at Brother’s whining complaints, telling him if he couldn’t take care of his toys, it was not her problem.
“Hello?” she heard Mommy’s instantly cheerful voice. How did Mommy do that, she wondered? How did Mommy go from screaming and cursing at them to being sweet and cheerful to someone else in an instant? A shudder wracked her thin frame. It was scary, knowing that Mommy could go from a spitting rage to absolute calm and good humour in a single breath…because Mommy could take it the other direction, too…and often did.
“Bettie!” Mommy’s voice sounded delighted. “Oh, fine, fine. Settling a little problem with the kids, that’s all. You’d think I was made out of money, the way they eat me out of house and home!” There was a pause while Mommy listened to her friend’s chatter.
“Friday night? I’m sure I can make it. Eddie has to work, but I’ll tell him I’m going to your place for something. Can Nancy babysit? Eddie will get pissed if I leave the kids alone and he’ll get home before I do.” There was another pause.
“Oh, I just got this gorgeous silk cocktail dress that will be perfect!” Mommy almost giggled. “It’s peacock blue, embroidered all over, and looks Chinese, with that Mandarin collar…it should be a man-magnet!” Another pause, then the sound of Mommy’s voice became muffled, and then the conversation was over.
She continued sorting the jumbled piles of clothes and toys that had been her room when Mommy appeared suddenly in the doorway. “Don’t you say a word to your father,” Mommy warned. “Not one word, do you understand?”
She looked up, an uncomprehending expression carefully in place. “What?” she asked. Mommy stood there for a moment, examining her face minutely for signs of deception, and finally turned and walked away. She picked up a pajama top that Mommy had made, yellow flannel with fluffy little lambs on it, and resisted the urge to bite into it and tear it in half.
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.