They had been robbed!
Horrified, she stood in her bedroom, the closet door open, and surveyed the bare floor where her toys used to be. Her doll crib and cradle, the little high chair, the box of doll clothes…almost all of her dolls…gone! All gone! She ran out of the room crying.
“Mommy! Mommy!” tears streamed down her face. “Mommy, somebody robbed us!” she wept.
Mommy was in the kitchen, peeling potatoes. “What are you talking about?” Mommy said, looking down into her tear-flooded face. “And why are you bawling again?” Mommy smiled tightly. “Would you like something to cry about?”
She sniffed deeply and shook her head, stemming the tears and swallowing her sobs. “Somebody stole my toys!” she said, an indignant note creeping into her voice. “I opened my closet to get hangers to hang up my school clothes and my toys are gone!” her voice quavered, and tears pricked the back of her nose. “Somebody stole them!”
Her mother rolled her eyes and turned back to the potatoes in the sink. “Nobody stole them. What a drama queen you are! The Salvation Army came by looking for donations and I cleaned out your closet. Now go change your clothes and do your chores.”
She stood there for a heartbeat, staring at her mother incomprehensively. Mommy had given them away? She fought the urge to ask for a reason, knowing to question such things risked being branded “insolent,” the thin leather penalty for which hung, innocently, limberly, menacingly, on the back of the kitchen door. Before Mommy could question her hesitation…another dangerous situation…she turned and headed back to her room.
….*…. ….*…. ….*….
She didn’t like liver. In fact, she hated liver. It was tough and sinewy and as difficult to chew as leather, and it had a powdery, granular texture, and it left a nasty, gag-inducing aftertaste in her mouth. She could not imagine why Mommy insisted she eat it…or why Mommy ate it with such obvious relish. But Duke liked it…and if she could push the pieces around on her plate long enough, dinner would be over and she would be left at the table alone. Then, maybe, she could slip the offending bits to the dog.
He was a collie, big and blonde and hairy, like Lassie. And all the neighbourhood kids loved him. Before they got Duke, nobody ever came over to ask her to come out to play, but once they got the dog, kids came over every day. At first they came to play with her “Lassie dog,” but then, later, they came to play with her, too.
Duke was like a magic talisman. He loved her, she could tell. He was always happy to see her when she got home from school, and he came to her room and licked the tears from her face when Mommy spanked her and she cried. He comforted her when she was afraid, wrapping his hairy body around her and licking her until she relaxed in his furry embrace. She didn’t care if he made her sneeze or her throat tickle. He was her dog, even if Mommy said he was the “family dog,” and she loved him.
Mommy was saying something. “…daydreaming again. Eat your goddamned dinner!” Mommy was barking at her. She spooned up a mouthful of potatoes and shoved them in her mouth.
“I gave Duke away today,” Mommy said to Daddy just as she removed the spoon from her mouth. “The people will be coming for him in the morning.” She gagged, nearly choking on the potatoes.
“Noooo!” she wailed, swallowing quickly. “You can’t!" she cried. "He’s my dog! You can’t!”
Mommy looked at her incredulously. “What did you say to me?” she hissed, her eyes narrowing down to slits. “He is not your dog and where did you get the idea that you can tell me what I can and cannot do?”
She shook her head, tears pouring unnoticed from her eyes. “Why?” she sniffed piteously. “Why? I love Duke!”
Mommy rolled her eyes…not a good sign. “Because you are allergic to him and besides, you don’t take care of him. His coat is in a big knot and I can’t afford to pay grooming fees every time I turn around.” Mommy was right…she had tried to brush him but her seven-year-old arms just weren’t strong enough to drag that wire brush through his thick coat…and he did make her sneeze, but she didn’t care.
“Please,” she begged, choking on sobs, “Please don’t give him away! I love him!”
Mommy eyed her with a look of incredulity on her face. “Stop that blubbering this instant! He’s a dog, for Chrissakes! The way you’re carrying on, you’d think I was giving Brother away!” When the quiet sobbing continued in the form of soft hiccups, Mommy scowled at her. “Eat your supper,” she commanded, sternly eying the pieces of liver still heaped on the plate.
She followed Mommy’s gaze to the plate and immediately gagged. “I’m going to be sick!” she cried, bolting from the table towards the bathroom, barely making it in time. She retched miserably into the toilet, gasping for breath between waves of stomach contractions.
“Oh, Jesus,” came Mommy’s voice from the bathroom door, dimly heard through the buzzing in her ears. “You sure have an inventive imagination, I’ll hand you that,” Mommy said, shaking her head. “But your tricks may fool Daddy and Nana, but they don’t fool me at all. The dog is going in the morning. Now fetch the strap and go to your room. Eventually you will learn not to try these dramatics on me!”
….*…. ….*…. ….*….
Nana had an aviary way out at the far end of her huge back yard. Nana called it “the birdhouse,” but it was big enough to walk around in. It was bigger than the shack they used to live in out on Gramma’s farm that Gramma now used as a chicken house. And the birdhouse had nearly a hundred twittering, chittering, fluttering jewel-colored parakeets flitting about in it, to her utter delight. She loved the birdhouse, with the warm smells of the little birdy bodies and the homey scent of the large burlap sacks of their feed. And Nana let her come out with her on Wednesdays to feed the birds and to band the ankles of the newest babies. She loved the birds. She loved Wednesdays. She loved summer. She loved Nana.
Nana had a nestbox open. “Look, honey,” Nana was saying. “Your little nestling is fully fledged now! Before long he’ll be out in the flight cage, stretching his wings!”
She stood up on tiptoe and peered into the nest. “Oh, Nana! He’s so pretty! He’s so green! When can we take him inside?”
“As soon as he can eat by himself, dear. It should only be a week or so…”
Nana knew her birds. In just over a week the little parakeet was ensconced in a pretty brass cage suspended from the hook in the kitchen dinette. She carried his cage up every morning where he could have bright sun, and where Nana could help her hand tame him. His little beak was sharp and her hands bore the marks of his displeasure, but she didn’t care. This was her little birdie, and she was going to tame him and train him and love him. Nine wasn’t too young to have a bird all your own, Nana said so.
Mommy wasn’t pleased. Mommy hated birds. And now Mommy was going to have to drive for 24 whole hours with a bird in the car. That the bird was in a cage didn’t matter, and Mommy was mad at her. But Nana had taken Mommy out to the back of the garden to talk before they left, and when she got in the car all Mommy said was “You are going to carry that Goddamned birdcage in your lap every inch of the way home, is that clear? Every Goddamned inch. In your lap. Understood?” She had nodded silently, settled the cage in her lap in the back seat…where she could have put it on the seat next to her if Mommy had permitted it, and settled herself for the long, silent drive home.
She enjoyed having the little green bird she had named “Pesky” in her room. Mommy refused to allow it in any other part of the house. The little brass cage stood on the upended orange crate that served as her bedside table, and every day she let him out to exercise…but only in her room…while she cleaned the cage and replenished his food and water. He had learned numerous little tricks, was beginning to learn to talk, and would flutter excitedly in his cage when she arrived home from school each day. She kept her bedroom door closed because Mommy didn’t like him…no point in “borrowing trouble,” as Grandpa liked to say.
She opened her bedroom door on a warm, sunny autumn afternoon and the first thing she noticed was the lamp standing where Pesky’s cage should be. She felt a sudden hard, shrinking coldness in the region of her heart as she looked down to find his bag of seed and her T-stick missing. Pesky was gone. And she knew…she knew…
“Mommy!” she ran to the telephone and dialled her mother’s number at work. “Mommy!” she cried when her mother picked up the phone. “Mommy! Where’s Pesky?”
“How many times have I told you not to call me except in an emergency?” her mother snarled. “Your Goddamned bird is not an emergency. Now get off this phone and get your chores done!”
“My bird!” she cried. “Where’s my bird?”
She could almost see Mommy’s eyes roll. She was gonna catch hell over this when Mommy got home, she knew it.
“He made you sneeze. He got feathers all over the room. He stunk.” Mommy said.
“Where is he?” she wailed, fearing the worst, visions of Pesky's delicate little neck unnaturally twisted, his brilliant green plumage decorating a trash heap some where. “Where is my bird?” she sobbed.
“Christ on a crutch!” Mommy swore. “It's a goddamned bird! Quit carrying on like it was something important. I gave it to Nick and Ida. Their kids aren’t allergic to the damned thing. Now get off this phone and get your chores done. I’ll deal with you when I get home!”
….*…. ….*…. ….*….
“Sit down and eat,” Mommy said, plunking down a pot of sliced wieners stirred into several kinds of beans. It smelled foul. “Sit down, I said!”
She looked around the kitchen. “Daddy’s not here yet,” she said, looking at his place at the table where there was, curiously, no plate.
“And he’s not going to be here,” Mommy snapped, fixing her with that “or else” look. “Now sit down and eat.”
Did this have something to do with the bloody handkerchief she had found in the kitchen this morning? It was Daddy’s and it was folded neatly next to Mommy’s purse, that fashionable basket-weave purse made of chrome spindles and stiff strips of coloured aluminium woven through them…she thought she saw blood on one edge of the purse, but she needed to go to the bathroom. And when she came back to the kitchen, the purse and hankie were gone, as if they were figments of her overactive imagination. She had dismissed it until now.
“Where’s Daddy?” she asked, knowing she was treading on thin ice and edging slightly away, out of arm’s reach.
“I threw the bastard out,” Mommy said through a mouthful of beans. “Now sit down and eat and, so help me God, if you start blubbering, I’ll knock you ass over teakettle all around the room!”
She sat. She ate. She tasted nothing.
….*…. ….*…. ….*….
The kitten was sleek, black, and had the greenest eyes she had ever seen. And her sister was the most precious calico, with the sweetest, deceptively soft little white paws. Pussywillow, their mother, was an ordinary grey striped tabby, but somehow she had produced two absolutely gorgeous little kittens. “Aphrodite,” she named the sinuous black one, for they had been studying Greek and Roman mythology in her seventh grade Social Studies classroom, and surely this classically beautiful creature deserved such an evocative name, “Calico Boots” she called the other, a fluffy little minx that loved nothing more than to frolic with a bit of string or even a blade of grass. She adored them.
School was out and it was time to go to Nana’s for the summer. She stepped out of her last class of the day and heard a car horn blaring almost as soon as she stepped onto the pavement outside. Mother had come to pick her up from school! What was wrong?
She ran to the car and jumped in, noticing the back seat full of boxes. Were they moving again? “Where are we going?” she asked, glancing towards the boxes.
“To Nana’s,” her mother answered, putting the car into gear and bulling her way into the congested road. Another car honked at her, but Mother ignored it and accelerated into the opening she had created. “School’s out, time to go to Nana’s.” Mother turned on her with that trademark narrowed glare. “Or would you rather spend the summer here with me?” she asked, her mouth forming into a parody of a smile.
She looked away, shaking her head briefly. “I didn’t think so,” Mother said with a more genuine smile, aiming the car at the main highway and wrenching the wheel sharply to put them on the road. She could swear Mother smiled at the jostling she took, but focussed her eyes out the window.
Two hours into the drive she suddenly thought of her sweet little cats. Mother liked cats, though…maybe she would take care of them? “What about the cats?” she finally said, after pondering the wisdom of inquiring.
“What about them?” Mommy asked.
“Will you take care of them for me while I’m gone?”
“Sure,” Mommy said. “They don’t eat much.”
At summer’s end, after enduring another 24-hours trapped in the car with Mother’s endless opinions and vicious criticisms...even of those people she called her friends, they arrived home. She dragged the first of the boxes out of the car and to her room…why Mommy packed everything she owned for just a summer at Nana’s---toys, books, school clothes and junk drawer included---she would never understand…and ran to the back door to greet the kitties. She hoped they remembered her… She flung open the back door to be greeted with only the bare cement of the back yard. She looked around for a moment before noticing the food and water dishes were missing.
She didn’t even bother to ask.
….*…. ….*…. ….*….
“Mama! Mama! Somebody’s at the door!” her four-year-old daughter called loudly. Hoping it wasn’t Mother again, who had an unnerving propensity for showing up at her door unannounced and then heaping her with unwanted…and ultimately ignored… “advice,” she put down her book and made her way to the front of the little house. Looking through the window she was surprised to see a stout, stern-looking, tweed suit-clad woman peering boldly in at her. The woman flashed what looked like a badge and jerked her thumb towards the door, mouthing the words “Open up!”
Puzzled, she opened the door, only to be roughly shouldered aside by the woman just as a police car pulled up abruptly in front of the house. What on earth?
“I am Mrs. Delacourt,” the woman announced loudly as a uniformed police officer took a position blocking her front door. “I am from Child Protective Services,” she proffered a business card, “...and we have had a complaint about the condition of your house and the welfare of your children…”
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.