She couldn’t believe she was in junior high! It was so exciting! It was a little scary, too, but exciting! She was probably the youngest student in the seventh grade, but that was OK, she’d been the youngest kid in class for more than three years now, so she was used to it and the teasing that invariably came with it.
Starting junior high was not without its problems, though. She would now be going to gym class…”Physical Education” or “PE” they called it…every day of the week and she needed a gym uniform. She knew this was not going to sit well with Mommy because if Mommy couldn’t sew it herself out of scrap material or remnants she found on sale, it wasn’t going to be in her wardrobe. And the school was pretty adamant about the gym uniform.
They were allowed to wear just any old shorts and shirts for the first two weeks of school, to give people time to get the regulation uniform, but after that the gym teachers would start deducting points from the grades of each kid who showed up in “civilian” shorts. Some of the gym teachers were a little flexible on the matter, but her teacher, Miss Pederson, was not of a flexible or agreeable persuasion. A former member of the Marine Corps, a fact proudly displayed in the Marine Corps insignia sticker that was on the back of her roll-call clip board, Miss Pederson was a rigid, by-the-book kind of teacher. And that first Monday she showed up in the roll call ranks…they were arrayed in a formation like little soldiers…wearing her turquoise and white checked shorts and matching top when every one else was wearing the regulation white cotton cap-sleeved shirt with snap front and black twill shorts with a white stripe down the left side, all hell had broken loose.
“Janssen!” Miss Pederson had bellowed in a credible imitation of Mommy. She trembled visibly as she replied in the requisite form, “Yes, Ma’am?”
“What is that you’ve got on?”
“Shorts and a shirt, Ma’am,” she replied, her voice wobbling. The other girls turned and stared at her.
“Where is your uniform?”
“I don’t have one,” she answered, her voice growing weaker, thinner.
“And you don’t have one because…?”
She felt like she was going to faint, like she couldn’t get enough air. Why did she have to be in the middle? Why couldn’t Mommy and Miss Pederson fight it out without making her the messenger? She knew this was going to be ugly and Mommy had no compunctions about killing the messenger.
“My mother said I didn’t need one, that these shorts will work fine.” She hung her head and stared at her toes.
“The uniform is required, Janssen. Not by me, but by the whole school district. City wide. Do you understand?”
She nodded her head. Oh, she understood, all right. She understood that Mommy wasn’t going to spend a cent more than she absolutely had to, and this gym uniform was not, in Mommy’s eyes, a necessity. She had shorts, she could wear them. She sighed.
“Did you have something more to say, Janssen?” Miss Pederson asked loudly. All eyes were on her and the other girls were tittering. She shook her head miserably.
It was no better the following day when she “suited up” in her turquoise checks and again stood out like a sore thumb in the roll call.
“Janssen!” Miss Pederson bellowed at her. She wanted a hole to open up in the blacktop and swallow her.
“Yes, Ma’am?” she responded.
“Where is your uniform?”
“My mother refuses to buy one, Ma’am,” she said. There. Let the two adults duke it out! Let this be the last day the other girls snickered at her.
Mommy was livid when she walked in the door from work. “What in the hell did you think you were doing, giving that woman my telephone number at work?”
She knew instantly who Mommy was talking about. “I didn’t! I didn’t!” shook her head. “She must have got it from the office!”
Mommy was not mollified. “She had some goddamned nerve calling me up at work and demanding that I go out and buy one of those prissy uniforms! For an hour a day you can wear a pair of plain shorts and a shirt, there’s no reason to spend money on such a thing! Does she think I’m made out of money? If it is so goddamned important to her, she can just go out and buy it herself!”
Mommy continued to rant and rave throughout making dinner, yelling that she had not cut the potatoes small enough, there was dust on top of the TV…although it wasn’t dusting day…and the trash can was full…even though it was Brother’s chore to take the trash out. Invective rained down upon her from the moment Mommy walked in the door until she was sent to her room to do her homework. Standing on a stool to put the dried dishes away…this was one chore he could not shirk because Mommy was home…Brother looked down at her wide-eyed as Mommy slammed out of the kitchen. “Boy,” he breathed, “What did you do to set her off?” It was all she could do to keep from crying.
“Some students cannot afford uniforms,” Miss Pederson said at the beginning of the next gym class. Since she was the only student without a uniform, all eyes were turned on her and she could hear the shushed giggles, even if she couldn’t identify the kids responsible. “…and I have been told by the principal’s office that we must take that into account. So, if any of you girls cannot afford to buy a gym uniform, you may wear civilian shorts until the end of the first quarter, by which time you must have a uniform or you will be failed for the following quarter.” She paused and looked around. “Is that understood, girls?”
“Yes, Ma’am!” they cried in unison, 45 pairs of eyes slewed towards her.
The uniform debacle, however, was nothing compared to her very first day in PE. It had been a humiliation that she was afraid she would never live down…and it was repeated every single school day, twice each day, when she had to strip down to her underwear and change clothes.
She had never felt so ignorant in her life. Without access to the magazines and entertainments of her peers, isolated from the other girls and not allowed to go on sleepovers or other girlish group activities, she was mentally and socially stuck in about the fifth grade. When they began disrobing in the gym that first day they were instructed to suit up, a resounding hoot went up from the other girls when she stripped off her slip to reveal that her second set of shoulder straps were for an undershirt…every other girl in the gym class was wearing a bra. Even the girls who were as flat as she was had little white bandeaus across their undeveloped bosoms. Her face burned with embarrassment.
Linda Johnson, who had the locker next to hers and was as flat chested as a boy, jogged her with an elbow. “What gives with the baby undershirt?” Linda joked. “Forget your bra today?”
She shook her head and looked down at her own featureless chest. “I’m not big enough for one…” she began.
“That’s why they make training bras, silly,” Linda had said, stretching out the soft elastic fabric of her own bra cup. “So you can grow into them.” Linda lowered her voice conspiratorially. “You should get one so the other girls won’t laugh at you.” She nodded.
“Can I have a bra?” she asked her mother that night at dinner as she pushed the greasy, heavily peppered fried potatoes around her plate.
Her brother laughed and her mother just raised an eyebrow. “Whatever for?”
“All the girls in gym class have bras,” she said. “I’m the only one who still wears an undershirt.”
“I’m not made out of money,” Mommy said, forking up a mouthful of those awful potatoes. “Besides, you don’t need one. How would you keep it from riding up to your chin and choking you?” she laughed. Brother sniggered into his plate.
“I want a training bra,” she emphasized. “It will grow with me until I’m big enough for a regular one.”
Mommy raised an eyebrow at her again, a forkload of desiccated, leathery brown stuff that might once have been a piece of beef, lifted halfway to her mouth. “Training bra? What would you be training them for?” Mommy laughed.
“Please, Mommy,” she begged. “I’m the only girl in gym who is still wearing an undershirt and its embarrassing!”
“Then don’t wear the undershirt,” Mommy said.
“Mommmmyyy!” she pleaded. “I need a bra!”
“That’s enough!” Mommy had said loudly, slamming down her fork. “Jesus H. Kee-rist on a crutch, you would think I was made out of money or something! First a gym uniform that you don’t need, now a bra you don’t need either…you are just going to nickel-and-dime me to death!”
She opened her mouth to protest, but Mommy held up her hand. “Not one more word out of you, young lady or you’ll be sorry you brought this up and you won’t get a bra until you are 35! Now shut your mouth and eat your dinner.” There had been no further discussion. And there had been no bra.
Every day Mommy gave her a nickel and a penny…money for milk with her lunch at school. And from that day forward, she stopped drinking milk. When she had saved enough money, she took her nickels and pennies to a little shop that specialized in teen age fashions…including lingerie…and bought for herself her first bra. She washed it by hand in the girls bathroom and hung it in her gym locker on Friday afternoons so that it would be clean for Monday. The subject was not reopened until nearly the end of the school year.
Cathy Carlisle, one of the geeky kids but a kind-hearted, sweet-natured girl, had started school mid-year as a transfer student. Now in possession of a gym uniform and a bra, she felt more like she belonged, but the other girls had long, long memories…that first week of school had permanently ostracized her. Cathy, however, was a new student and, being a mid-year transfer student, was assigned a locker by availability rather than alphabetically by surname…which is how Carlisle came to have the locker beside Janssen, Cathy having taken the locker Linda Johnson vacated when she moved away.
Cathy was nice. She liked Cathy, even if she was one of the quiet, studious girls who didn’t “get” teen society. She got it, but after that first couple of weeks in gym and a few other, equally embarrassing, episodes during the school year, it didn’t matter. She was permanently and irrevocably ostracized. But Cathy didn’t seem to care.
As the school year was coming to a close, Cathy came to class one Monday with a brown paper sack in her hand. “I hope you don’t mind…aren’t offended…” she began awkwardly, then proffered the bag. “My father took me shopping for new lingerie this weekend,”…Cathy’s mother had died when she was small and her father was a devoted father who also just happened to be one of the top cardiologists in Las Brisas… “and Daddy suggested that I give these to someone who might be able to use them.” Cathy coloured a rosy pink. “I noticed yours was a little small…”
She opened the bag and saw, nestled in the bottom, several bras, all of them in excellent condition, every one high quality, expensive, and very, very pretty. She had envied Cathy her lingerie from the first moment they had suited up together. She looked up, incredulous.
“I hope…” Cathy stammered… “I mean, I didn’t intend to offend you…” The girl reached out a pale hand as if to take the bag back.
“Oh, no!” she cried. “Oh, I’m happy to have them! Thank you so much!” It was all she could do to keep from throwing her arms around the girl and hugging her.
The moment she got home she tried them on. They were a tiny bit too big, but before long they would surely fit her. She had gone from looking like a boy to more than an A cup in just this school year, so it shouldn’t be long before these would fit as well. Wouldn’t Mommy be pleased, six beautiful, expensive bras for free!
Mommy wasn’t pleased.
“You were begging, weren’t you?” Mommy sneered. “Playing on some snotty little rich girl’s sympathy. You should go on the stage, you know that? You are such a good little tear-jerking actress!”
“Noooo, Mommy,” she pleaded. “She just gave them to me. She has the locker next to me in gym and…”
“Don’t lie to me, you little bitch, or I will slap you to sleep!” Mommy face was heating up red. “This is expensive stuff…nobody just gives stuff like this away!”
“But she did!” she cried insistently. “She did!”
Mommy fetched her a stunning slap that knocked her backwards two or three steps. Before she could even raise a hand to her burning cheek, Mommy slammed her other cheek with a backhand and she staggered into a wall and slid down to the floor.
“Don’t you try to get away from me, you little bitch!” Mommy screamed. Her scalp was suddenly on fire as Mommy grabbed a huge handful of hair and yanked her up to a standing position where she was nearly spun around with the force of the next blow.
“I’ll teach you!” Mommy shrieked, dragging her towards the kitchen. “I will teach you once and for all! I have had it with you and your whining, poor-little-victim act, always trying to make people feel sorry for you, like you were some pitiful little wretch!”
Her face burned, her scalp burned but neither of them held a candle to the sudden lash of white-hot fire that curled around a bare leg. Mommy had somehow gotten hold of the strap!
“Noooo!” she cried. “Noooo…it wasn’t like that!” she screamed.
“I don’t know why I put up with you!” Mommy shrieked, snaking the thin leather strap around her other leg and leaving a long, red, angry welt. “You are the most ungrateful, disgraceful, disobedient, difficult child God ever put on this earth, and why I had to end up saddled with you I will never understand!” whoosh! crack! The strap wrapped itself around her again. “What were you thinking, humiliating me like that? Begging cast-off underwear, for God’s sake, from some rich little bitch?”
She could not answer. She could not even cry. She was numb, inside and out, with only the endlessly repeating sting of the lash penetrating her consciousness. And then, another ear-ringing slap.
“Now look what you’ve done!” Mommy was barely coherent, holding up her right hand and peering intently at the palm. “You’ve made me break a blood vessel in my hand! You bitch! You bitch! I’m gonna beat you within an inch of your life!”
“Mommy! Mommy!” she heard Brother’s voice in the background. “Mommy! Telephone!”
She shuddered as she heard Mommy pick up the phone and in the sweetest, calmest, most precious voice ever say “Why, hello, Bettie, how are things with you tonight?” How could Mommy go from being nearly hysterically, bouncing-off-the-walls crazy mad to sweet and lovey-dovey the next minute? It was terrifying, that lightning fast switch! She didn’t move, not having been given permission to do so, but crouched huddled against the kitchen cabinet awaiting Mommy’s further attention.
“Go to your room,” Mommy finally said. “And stay there!” She got up and started for her room, reaching out to take the brown sack full of lacy, expensive brassieres. “Leave it,” Mommy said tersely. “I’ll get rid of them.”
The girls in gym class whispered behind their hands as she stood at roll call the next day, the red stripes on her legs certainly the topic of their conversation. But no one mentioned her legs or the brightly coloured bruise on the side of her face…in fact, no one spoke to her at all. And in the evening, when dinner was over and the dishes were done and Mommy was getting dressed to go out “bar hopping,” as she called it, her mother strolled out into the living room for her cigarettes, dressed in her slip and bra. A familiar bra. An expensive, pretty, lacy bra.
She pretended not to see.
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.