“Your mother will be here tomorrow to pick you up,” Nana said offhandedly, her eyes carefully focussed on the dirty dishwater swirling down the drain.
The flimsy tin pie plate that she had been drying fell from her nerveless fingers, clattering noisily on the kitchen floor.
“No.” The word popped unbidden from her mouth. “No!’ This time it was more of a wail. “You can’t let her take me, Nana,” she begged, hands twisting the damp towel, knees threatening to buckle. “You can’t!”
“It’s the end of the summer, dear,” Nana said tonelessly, rescuing the towel from her torturing grasp. “Run along down to your room now and get your things packed up and ready. She won’t want to stay long.”
The cardboard boxes were nested in the cellar where she had stored them after unpacking three months ago. All of her efforts…desperate efforts…to dispose of them, as if destroying the cartons would somehow render her unable to be snatched back from her idyll and thrust again into the looking-glass chaos of her real life, had met with solemn resistance. And as much as she would pretend that this life of predictable, rational calm was her reality, her Nana knew better…the cartons had been relegated to a corner of the cellar where she did not have to endure their taunting presence daily, but they had never truly gone away.
She flung open her closet and drawers, stuffing the contents willy-nilly into the cartons until there was nothing left to fling. She couldn’t see to pack anyway, her vision obscured by the endless fall of hot tears, her head stuffed tight with silent sobs. It was not yet dark when there remained nothing to stuff into the betraying boxes, and she sat down on the pretty pink tufted chenille bedspread and buried her head in her hands. She would not give in to the sobs…if she gave voice to even one, they would swallow her whole.
“We can’t keep you, punkin,” her grandfather’s voice came from the door. “Much as we’d like to, we can’t.”
She looked up, unheeded tears cascading down her face. “I’d be good, Grandpa, I swear I would,” she pleaded, her voice choked and thick. “I wouldn’t get into any trouble, I promise! I’ll do good in school, I’ll go to church every Sunday, do my chores without reminding, help out more around the house…” His apologetic expression did not change. “Please, Grandpa,” she begged. Please don’t make me go back. You don’t know what it’s like…”
He shook his head, the few hairs combed over the top miraculously staying in place. “There is nothing we can do, honey. She’s your mother and she wants you back for the school year…”
She held his unwavering gaze a few seconds longer, then put her face back in her hands. Dread stole over her and settled on her shoulders, a dark, suffocating weight, and she suddenly felt inestimably old and incalculably tired. Raising her despairing eyes back up to the door, she saw her grandfather had gone as silently as he had arrived. She was now entirely alone, and there was nothing she could do to stave off the arrival of morning.
* * *
It was the smell of coffee that awakened her, although she was sure she had not really slept at all. Her throat was raw, her sinuses full, her eyes swollen nearly shut, her temples pounding. No…it was not the smell of coffee that had pulled her back to awareness, it was a voice. “Get out of that goddamned bed!” the sound slammed through the closed door to reverberate painfully through her aching head. Mother was here.
She considered pulling the covers over her head and pretending she didn’t hear, but experience told her that was not the wisest course of action. The presence of her own parents had only the barest mitigating influence on her mother, and once they were alone later, Mother would make her pay doubly. “Coming!” she called, her voice barely a croak. She groped for her bathrobe and trudged slowly to the deceptively sunny, plant-filled kitchen. She noticed the parakeet and his cage were missing…Mother detested birds and undoubtedly Nana had moved him on that account. She missed the cheerful distraction of his twittering.
“Well, there she is,” Mother’s voice boomed with false gaiety…there was an undertone of criticism that would be examined in excruciating detail later, when it was just the two of them, trapped in the car together for 24 hours. “Trying to sleep your life away?”
She shook her head and pressed her fingertips to her throbbing temple. “I woke up with a headache…” she began.
“What’s the matter with your face? Have you been bawling again? I don’t…”
“She had an allergy attack yesterday,” Nana interrupted quickly. “She was sneezing all day, isn’t that so, Grandpa?” He, who was constitutionally incapable of lying, gave a brief, stiff nod of consent as Nana’s penetrating look bored into him.
Mother was unconvinced, but declined to challenge her parents’ version of the tale. “Get dressed and get your things together, we’re leaving in half an hour,” she said curtly, turning back to Nana with a patently fake smile.
She silently rose to do Mother’s bidding, her last breakfast growing cold on the table as she slowly made her way back to her room. She had no appetite, no energy, no desire save to disappear. Why did it have to be this way? Why did each summer end in exactly the same way, like a recurring nightmare that could be neither avoided nor changed? A night spent sobbing into the silence, her gentle, nurturing grandparents suddenly turning into cold, unfeeling caricatures of themselves, light simply disappearing from her life as she was enveloped again in an evil miasma. What did she have to do to make it end differently?
“Let me help you with those,” Grandpa said as she dragged the boxes out to the car. It was a new car…she wondered if Mother had wrecked the last one or just got tired of it.
“It’s OK, Grandpa,” she said. “I can do it. Go on back to the kitchen where it is warm and visit with Mother. We’ll be gone soon.” Truth was, she could use the help, but she wanted some time alone with her thoughts, some time to prepare. She was resigned now to the return, but she needed time to toughen up, to don the armour of thick skin, to polish up the weapons of her perceptions so that even the most minute clue as to mood or direction would not go unheeded.
* * *
“Allergy attack, huh?” her mother finally said. They had been on the road for nearly a hour, a blessedly silent time during which she pressed her throbbing temple against the cool glass of the side window, praying for relief…and an infinite continuation of the peaceful silence. It was not to be.
She nodded her head. “Lots of sneezing,” she said, her voice still husky and thick. “Still got the headache.” Maybe Mother would have some sympathy for her pain and let her suffer in more of that blessed silence?
“What do you suppose you got a snoot full of?” Mother’s voice was deceptively smooth, almost sympathetic. Her radar went on instant alert…there was a trap in the making here, she could feel it...
“I don’t know,” she said slowly, as if being thoughtful. “We went out to Archie’s to get milk yesterday, maybe it was something out there…” she ventured.
“You sure you didn’t spend the night bawling again?” Mother asked pointedly. “I told you if you did that again, it would be a cold day in hell before you came back, remember?”
She nodded miserably. “I’m sure. I sniffled all night, though. The sneezing stopped before bedtime. So maybe it was something at Archie’s. The barn, maybe…or the cats. I played with the cats.”
Mother's face took on a deep scowl.
Success! She had given Mother something to latch onto and harangue her about, something that would distract her from the dangerous topic that could put an end to her only respite, her summers with Nana and Grandpa. “Playing with the cats!” her mother yelled. “Well, no surprise there! You know better than to play with a cat. I don’t suppose you washed your hands and changed your clothes right away afterwards, did you?” She shook her head “no” and Mother gleefully plunged on. “For a girl who is supposed to have a genius IQ, you are without a doubt the stupidest child anyone could ever be burdened with! You know you have to clean up after touching a cat or…are you listening to me, young lady, or should I pull this car over and give you a really good talking to?”
“I’m sorry, Mother,” she said softly, “My head hurts…”
“Be that as it may, you look at me when I am talking to you, do you hear me?”
She nodded slowly, so as not to jar her head too much. At least the subject had been changed…she could endure this…there was no implicit threat, only endless castigation.
“Now, what is this crap about you playing with Archie’s filthy cats? Out there on that farm, who knows what kind of disgusting shit they have been rolling around in…”
She settled her aching head against the cold relief of the window and slid her gaze to her mother’s rapidly moving lips, fuelled by strong black coffee and little white pills. It was going to be a long, long way home.
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.