“Owww! Mommy, that hurts!” she complained, pulling her head away.
Mommy fetched her a sharp slap and yanked her back in place by the hank of hair she held in her hand. “Sit still and stop fidgeting!”
She hated having her hair curled. Mommy’s nails were as sharp as thorns as they dug into her scalp to hold the curl in place for the pins, which stabbed and scratched her scalp as Mommy secured the pincurl. She hated it. It hurt to have the curls made, and combing them out just made frizzy “rat’s nests” in her thin, fine hair, and which could not be styled without painful yanks with the comb. She hated it!
She was going to an audition and she had to look her best. She sighed…inwardly, because she couldn’t show anything less than rabid enthusiasm without risking a reprimand…and wished she was outside, playing with Nancy and Choosey. She didn’t want to spend her Saturday being dragged around to smelly rehearsal halls, singing and being artificially cute to strangers who would look at her like some kind of bug in a jar. She would rather just go outside and play.
She winced as another sharp bobby pin was shot home, scraping a furrow in her tender scalp, and thought about Merle, Mommy’s hairdresser. It was Merle who started all of this. She used to like going to Merle’s shop…it was in the back of her house, with steps leading down to a pretty garden where she was allowed to play, and Merle had the cutest little dog, Toy…a Boston Bull Terrier…who got so excited when she came out to play with him that he actually wet himself. Mommy could sit inside, filling the little room with stinky cigarette smoke and gossiping while Merle did her hair. Sometimes it was just a hair cut, other times she dyed it red, and for a while it had been bleached bright blonde and styled so that Mommy looked like Marilyn Monroe. But the gossip was always Mommy complaining about how bad she was, what awful thing she did lately, how she just couldn’t understand why she was saddled with this wilful, stubborn, bullheaded child. That being the topic of conversation, she was perfectly happy to be outside with the wriggling, squirming, slobbering, peeing Toy.
But one afternoon there was a lady waiting for her perm to set up while Merle cut Mommy’s hair, and that lady overheard her singing a nursery rhyme to the silly little dog. Merle had already told Mommy about the Little Miss Sunbeam contest, an annual contest run by a bread company to find a child who looked like the face on the bread wrapper…there were cash and prizes, and a chance at a career as a child model…maybe even movies. Mommy and Merle had been talking about the contest when she came back into the shop, called in by the perm lady.
The lady asked her to sing a couple of nursery songs, blowing on a funny little gadget to give a tone for the first note. For each song she gave her a different tone, and when she had sung five or six songs, the lady thanked her and gave her a nickel…a whole nickel! She went back outside to play with the dog some more, delighted in his delight in her company. She had no way of knowing that this was her last time…that she would not play with Toy in Merle’s back garden ever again.
The lady with the perm was a singing teacher named Bessie Gowan, and while she and Toy gambolled away their final afternoon together, Merle, Bessie, and Mommy had their heads together. The following Saturday, instead of Merle’s house, she was driven to Bessie’s flat, a great rambling thing with an upstairs, a huge upright piano, and a whole wall completely covered with pictures of famous people, every one autographed. Some of the people she even recognized. Curious, but unconcerned, she followed Mommy into the house, sat politely on the sofa when invited to do so, and cast her eyes about to find something interesting to engage her mind while Mommy and the lady talked. In a few minutes Bessie called her over, uncovered the keys to the piano, and struck a note. “Sing,” the woman commanded.
She wasn’t sure what to do. Sing what? “Laaaaaa,” she finally sang, for lack of a better idea. Bessie struck another note. “Laaaaaaa,” she sang again on the note. They went through this tedious exercise for another ten minutes as she became increasingly, desperately bored. Bessie muttered something that sounded like “perfect pitch” and continued to bang keys on the piano and make her sing. It was probably only an hour or two before they were in the car again and headed home, but it seemed like a lifetime and she was glad it was over...now maybe she could go out and play. But from this day forward, this became the sum of her Saturday mornings. Saturday afternoons she practiced at home with Mommy, first with a pitch pipe for the notes, later with the big ugly piano Mommy bought. Saturday became her most hated day of the week.
Mommy had “ambitions” for her, and those ambitions started with the Little Miss Sunbeam contest. Merle styled her hair in the cluster of Miss Sunbeam ringlets and Mommy took her to a professional photographer to have her picture taken. Surely the judges could see she looked nothing like the little girl on the bread wrapper? Surely they would not be interested in a little girl with fingernails chewed down to mere nubs? Surely her pink dress…when Miss Sunbeam wore blue gingham…would be counted against her? Maybe the judges could tell the slice of bread she was holding wasn’t even Sunbeam bread? She could only hope!
The Saturdays wore on and then more of her life began being sucked up by this singing obsession of Mommy's. Mommy started sewing costumes and she had to stand very, very still or get pricked all over with pins while Mommy was fitting them. There was some kind of show coming up, but she had no idea what that meant, all she wanted was to be left alone so she could play with her friends. Some nights, when they thought she was asleep, she heard Mommy and Daddy arguing about her “singing career,” Mommy saying “She loves it! I asked her and she said she did!” which, actually, was true…she was afraid to tell Mommy how she really felt so she gave Mommy the answer that she knew would keep that horrid strap on the back of the kitchen door. But Daddy didn’t like it any more than she did. It was but a small consolation that she was not chosen to be Miss Sunbeam…her life, it seemed, was being sucked up by something no less consuming.
And so one Saturday afternoon, after enduring more pinching and pricking for yet another fitting, after sitting to have her hair pincurled…an experience only marginally less painful than the strap…she was sent to bed for a nap. A nap! Babies took naps and she was almost seven years old! But her indignant protests were met by Mommy’s implacable stare. “You will be up very late tonight for the show,” Mommy said. “You have to take a nap. I don’t want you falling asleep when it’s your turn.” Her turn for what?
She had sung the same song over and over and over, so much that she could do the song…and the gestures…and count the beats for the pauses…in her sleep. She still wasn’t entirely sure what the show they were going to had to do with her, but when she got up from the nap and finished her dinner, Mommy dragged her into the bathroom and began painting her up with make up. The mascara brush was horrifying, so close to her eyeballs, but she was forbidden to blink lest she smear it before it dried and Mommy give her a whack. When Mommy was done and those horrid pincurls combed out, she didn’t recognize the face in the mirror. She thought she looked like one of those ladies hanging around the ferry dock when they went to pick up Daddy from work…the ones Mommy told her she wasn’t allowed to look at…but Mommy pronounced her “prize winning,” whatever that meant.
And so she went to the show and got to go behind the stage and meet the people who were in the show and she was having a really good time until it suddenly occurred to her that she was going to have to go out there on that stage and sing…that she was part of the show as well! She suddenly had to go to the bathroom. And she was rigid with fear when she heard her introduction.
It turned out not to be so bad, once she was out there. The stage lights were so bright she couldn’t see much of the audience, so she couldn’t see how many people were really out there, and the lights were hot enough to relieve her chill. Bessie began pounding out the familiar tune on the piano and she quickly found that if she just focussed her mind on the music itself, the words came unbidden and the looming spectre of hundreds of people watching her and judging her faded from her consciousness. She was so glad when it was over, though, that her knees literally failed her as the stepped into the wings. She pretended she had stumbled over a stray cable, earning a sarcastic “Clumsy!” from Mommy, but fortunately some anonymous stage hand caught her, mid-collapse, or she might have hurt herself.
It was over, she told herself with a sigh as she curled up in the back seat of Mommy’s car and pulled her sweater over her head to filter out the cigarette smoke that filled the air and choked her. She had learned long ago that asking Mommy to put down a window…she wouldn’t dare ask Mommy not to smoke!...earned her only enmity, so she devised her own way of coping. She breathed the warm smell of wool dampened with her breath and drifted off to sleep, looking forward to having her Saturdays back again. It was over!
It only took her two days to find out that she was wrong. She had had the rotten luck to win that talent competition and, rather than satisfy Mommy’s lust, it had only whetted her appetite. Now Mommy expected her to practice after school, although she had no idea how to accomplish that without someone to play the piano for her, a concern she knew better than to voice to Mommy. “Just do it,” Mommy would tell her. She couldn’t let a little something like lack of accompaniment keep her from practicing her singing right? One thing she had noticed recently was that she no longer sang to herself while she played or did her chores…not only was it no longer a pleasant accompaniment to her solitary hours, it was dangerous…if Mommy happened to overhear her, she would end up standing by the piano practicing the note she had not quite hit correctly when simply singing nursery songs to herself or her dolls. She didn’t much like singing any more.
But she still had to sing on Saturdays, and Mommy started taking her to nightclubs where she would get up on stage as a “guest singer,” and then Mommy got her on a local TV show very early on Saturday mornings. Her life, it seemed, was becoming engulfed by this charge to…to what? All she wanted to do was to go over to Choosey’s house and play with her new Tiny Tears! What was it Mommy wanted?
Mommy had an auntie who lived in Los Angeles and suddenly she found herself riding the two long, interminable hours in the back of the car, admonished not to mess up her clothes or her hair or her make up, to Aunt Kitty’s funny little apartment in the courtyard…the one with the Murphy bed that pulled down out of the wall and was ruled by a scolding little parakeet named “Happy.” Aunt Kitty was really nice…she was a retired teacher and really knew how to treat kids, and Mommy didn’t dare lay a hand on her around Aunt Kitty…although Mommy thought nothing of giving her a smack when Aunt Kitty wasn’t around. They drove those two, long, boring hours to go to auditions in Hollywood, using Aunt Kitty’s little cottage as a hotel. Mommy wanted to put her in the movies. She wanted to go over to Choosey’s house. Mommy, of course, prevailed.
But only to a degree…Mommy could pore over Variety and locate auditions for parts for little girls, but even Mommy had no influence with the casting agents, the directors, the producers. She was just another painted precocious little dolly, hair tortured into unnatural shapes, faces painted like geisha…or cheap tarts, depending on the skill of the mother…and wearing fetching little costumes. Some of the little girls were quite talented and were clearly delighted to show off those talents…they could sing and dance, recite lines…and did so with great enthusiasm. Other little girls, however, were simply dragged there unwillingly by stage struck mothers, and any talent they might have was undermined by their lack of passion for the task at hand. She most definitely identified with the latter group of girls, but Mommy just as clearly saw her as one of the former.
But she did her best at the audition…she had to…Mommy knew what she was capable of and anything less than her best was a punishable offence. That strap was a powerful motivator. But when her turn was over and it was clear that she had not “wowed them,” as Mommy had instructed her to do, she heaved a sigh of relief, actually looking forward to that two hour ride home and her play clothes and a chance to play with Choosey’s new Ginny doll. Mommy, unfortunately, had other ideas.
“See that man over there on the folding chair,” Mommy whispered in her ear. She nodded. “He’s the producer. I want you to go over there and thank him very politely for letting you audition for him.” She nodded her head and started to step forward, but Mommy restrained her. “That’s not all. After you thank him, I want you to climb up on his lap and give him a kiss on the cheek.”
She looked over at the man and a feeling of revulsion washed over her. She had walked near him earlier, on her way to the makeshift stage, and he was repulsive. He was old and fat and half bald, he was shiny with sweat and his white shirt had stains under the arms. And he smelled bad, too… like onions and cigars and b.o. She didn’t want to go anywhere near him. She shook her head.
Mommy was as surprised as she was at her refusal. This would fetch her a serious spanking later, no question. But there was nothing Mommy could do here, in front of all these people, and they both knew it. Mommy bent down to speak quietly in her ear, this time through gritted teeth. “You are ruining this. I didn’t spend all this money and time on lessons and costumes and driving up here so you could have your big break, only to have you get balky on me. Now get over there and do what I told you before one of the other girls beats you to it.”
She hung her head down and looked at the toes of her shoes and shook her head again. The man was creepy. Revolting. Almost oily feeling. She hadn’t like him when she had to go by the first time, she didn’t like the way he looked at her, and her stomach rolled at the thought of his smell.
Mommy couldn’t yell or scream at her here, but she was still surprised when Mommy resorted to bribery. Mommy never used the carrot approach…the stick worked just fine, so why bother? “After you give him his kiss, we’ll go down to Schwab’s and you can have an ice cream!”
Schwab’s fascinated Mommy…it was rumoured to be the place a talent scout discovered Lana Turner, one of Mommy’s favourite actresses. Maybe Mommy thought one of them was going to be discovered there? She didn’t care, she didn’t want to be discovered and she didn’t want to go kiss that smelly old man. She shook her head again.
Mommy’s grip on her arm became painful. And although Mommy’s bloody red lips were curved in a smile, she was speaking through clenched teeth. “Don’t push me on this, Miss. I’ve put a lot of time and effort into getting you a break like this. Get your ass over there…”
She shook her head. She could feel her eyes and nose pinken, she was on the verge of tears, which would be a disaster of epic proportions because it would make her make up run. She just could not stomach the thought of getting within smelling distance of that man!
“What about a banana split?” Mommy was trying a coaxing tone of voice, but it sounded insincere even to her inexperienced ears. “You’ve always wanted to try a banana split and I hear Schwab’s makes great ones!”
She shook her head again, miserable. She didn’t believe Mommy would come through on the coveted banana split…if she kissed that disgusting old man, Mommy would just scream and shout at her about her defiance and tell her she didn’t really deserve a treat for doing what she should have done in the first place: obey her mother. She might only be seven, but she knew how this kind of thing played out. There was a whipping with the strap in store for her, and only Mommy’s mood at the time they got home would determine how severe it was going to be. The die was cast...she had nothing to lose...she continued to refuse.
Mommy’s voice was almost conciliatory. “Look, honey, just go up and thank him…” Mommy stopped talking for a moment. “Oh, shit,” Mommy resumed, her voice now tight with suppressed anger. “Shit, shit, shit. Well, we might as well leave now, somebody else had the same idea and her daughter isn’t too prissy to play up to the man who could hold her future in the palm of his hand!” Grabbing her by the shoulder, Mommy dragged her out of the building and fairly flung her into the backseat of the car.
“You haven’t heard the last of this, young lady!” Mommy growled as she eased the car out onto the busy Los Angeles boulevard.
Her stomach knotted up, knowing the two hour drive home would be an endless harangue about her ungratefulness and every other deficiency she had shown since she drew her first breath. And, at the end of the trip, there would be the strap waiting for her and, if the two hours of hollering at her had wound Mommy up, a really long, painful spanking.
She sighed and closed her eyes. At least she hadn’t had to kiss that awful, creepy, stinky old man.
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.