Her arms were tired. The books were heavy. It was a long walk home from the public library and the books she had chosen were kinda big. But it was OK. She had Grimm’s Fairy Tales and Hans Christian Anderson and a Child’s Garden of Verse and a couple of other really swell books, too…she would have plenty to read for the next two weeks, until she was allowed to go to the library again.
But her arms were tired and the books were heavy and she needed to take a few minutes to rest. She looked around the neighbourhood and realized that although she was walking beside the main highway, she was actually only a block or two from Norma Begay’s house. She hadn’t seen Norma in a long time…not since Norma got transferred into the other fourth grade classroom and Mommy found out she was Indian and said she couldn’t play with her any more.
The books got heavier with every step, and she decided that if she stopped to visit Norma and rested, but only stayed a few minutes, she could still make it home on time. If Mommy didn’t know, she couldn’t get in trouble for it…and she hadn’t seen Norma in a long time.
Norma lived with her grandmother in a very small, very solid little house with a flat roof and a bare dirt yard. The garish turquoise paint was peeling from the few remaining slats in the porch railing and the screen door, holes torn to preclude its original function, was missing a hinge. Is this what Mommy meant by “dirt poor”? Hoping Norma was home and straining to keep from dropping the books, she knocked loudly on the dented and splintery front door.
Norma’s grandmother, seemingly bent with the weight of an enormously long and thick silvery braid, answered the door. Grandmother’s puzzled look changed to a wreath of smiles when she asked for Norma. Within seconds she was ushered into a tiny, spare, but immaculate room, her aching arms relieved of their burden, and Norma was chattering like a dark and glossy little bird in her delight at having a visitor. She was soon swept away to Norma’s room where she was to marvel at the kachina dolls and colourful, beautifully woven blankets. So lost in her fascination with Norma’s souvenirs from her original home that she lost track of time, only to glance out a window and realize in horror that dusk was gathering. Panicked, she looked at the alarm clock beside Norma’s bed and realized she had less than fifteen minutes to get home or Mommy would come looking for her…and that was something to be avoided at all costs!
“I’m sorry, Norma,” she said in a rush, “But if I don’t leave right away, I’m going to be late and then I’ll be in big trouble.” She was already gathering up the books and rushing to the door. “Can I come back another time to play?” Norma’s smile revealed perfect, pearly teeth and her black eyes glittered as she nodded happily. Grandmother lifted the latch and let her out into the late afternoon.
She couldn’t run with the books, but she could walk briskly. What kind of shortcut could she take to cut a few minutes? She couldn’t leave the books behind, but they were slowing her down... Reaching the edge of her school yard, she realized that if she cut diagonally across the school and went through the open corridor near the offices, she would come out at the path to the creek, and she would be only a couple of block from home. Dreading the consequences of being late and the discovery of her illicit afternoon visit, she headed across the school yard, knowing that getting caught crossing the creek was, in itself, forbidden and worth a serious hiding if she was found out. But if she could just get home before dark…if she could just get there before those street lights came on…everything would be OK.
Her legs churning in a brisk walk, she came to the open corridor that led past the school offices. At the other end was a small playground and the entrance to the creek. Her hateful, ugly red oxford shoes were chafing a blister on the back of her heels…the shoes were new and not fully broken in…but she didn’t care. A blistered heel was a small price to pay to avoid Mommy’s strap. She shuddered involuntarily and tried to pick up the pace a bit and skipped up the steps to the long open hallway.
Built in the Spanish style, the corridor had doors to the offices to her left, a broad roof overhang to protect those who walked down the hallway, as it was open to the weather, breeze and sun…and there were some feeble attempts at landscaping on the right side. Glancing worriedly at the darkening sky, she found herself wishing she hadn’t stopped at Norma’s house at all. Norma was really nice and her things were endlessly fascinating, but if she hadn’t stopped, she wouldn’t be late now. Her thoughts distracted, she didn’t notice where the man came from, but suddenly he was standing in the middle of the corridor, blocking her way.
She tried to go around him, but he stepped into her path, his arms outstretched as if to catch her. “Go away!” she cried, darting the other way, but he managed to grab one of her arms and her books fell to the ground. Oh no! she went rigid with panic. Now she was sure to be late and Mommy would make sure she regretted it. She shrieked and rounded on the man and bit him on the wrist where he was gripping her arm much too tight. Surprised, he released her and she took off running, heading straight for the creek. The man caught up with her, grabbed her by her ponytail and spun her around. It was then that she registered that below his tight white cotton T-shirt his jeans were open and something was sticking out of them. It looked kind of like Brother’s peepee, but it was much bigger and…well...different somehow. He reached his free hand near his open fly and while he was momentarily distracted, she kicked his nearest shin and bit down on his wrist again. With a bellow of outrage he released her, only to grab at her again as she ran away, this time holding her ponytail.
Driven by panic and terror, she sprinted to the end of the corridor, vaulted the steps and raced down into the creek bed. Paying no heed to the makeshift bridge she and the other children had constructed from rocks and planks, she splashed through the shallow water and clawed her way up the embankment on the other side, bolting out onto the asphalt of the dead-end street at the top. It was only when she saw one of her classmates, Donny Matthews, looking at her funny that she realized that she had been shrieking like a siren throughout her entire flight. Donny’s father stepped out of the garage where he was working on something, took one look at her terrified white face and stopped her in mid-flight.
“Hey! Hey! What the matter, honey? What happened?” he asked gently, taking her into his arms where she clung, trembling and hiccupping with fear. Gasping for breath she choked out her story, not sure how to explain what she had seen, but telling enough to see Mr. Matthew’s face change from one of gentle concern to one of anger. He took her in the kitchen for Mrs. Matthews to tend and began making telephone calls. Before her wet shoes and socks were off, men with flashlights started showing up in the Matthews’ garage and she realized with a sinking feeling that the street lights had come on. Oh, she was in serious, serious trouble now!
“I have to go home,” she said, sliding down from the stool where Mrs. Matthews had put her while she made some hot chocolate. “My mother will be very upset because I am late.”
“It’s OK,” Mr. Matthews said, lifting her back onto the stool. “Your parents are on the way over here right now.” Her heart sank sickeningly. Her life was over and she was only eight.
People gathered in the garage for a few more minutes until she heard the familiar sound of Mommy’s car. She began to tremble. Mommy rushed into the kitchen, looking stressed and worried and rushed to her side. “My poor baby!” Mommy exclaimed in a too-loud voice, hugging her close. “Are you OK?” She nodded silently, suspiciously. Mommy was hugging her…something was definitely wrong here.
Suddenly, the garage was empty, the men armed with flashlights, baseball bats, garden implements, and whatever else was close at hand, trooped across the creek and fanned out through the dark, deserted school. After a time they returned, one of them carrying her library books. There was, of course, no sign of a scuffle…only her word that there had been a man who had accosted her, but it was enough. Still unnerved, she at least felt validated, and the instant coalescence of a troupe of avenging fathers gave her a sense of security heretofore unfelt. Daddy picked her up in one arm, her books in the other, and carried her to the car. Mommy followed along with her wet shoes and socks, her face shuttered.
Mommy finished cooking supper and they ate in silence, and when she had finished washing the dishes and Daddy had gone off to his nighttime job, Mommy called her into the living room. Brother was not in his accustomed place, fidgeting on his stomach in front of the TV. An unexpected chill ran up her spine at his absence.
“Stand here in front of me,” Mommy said, lighting up a cigarette…she fought the urge to wave her hand in front of her nose to disperse the smoke…Mommy didn’t like it when she did that. Mommy put the bejewelled Zippo down on the coffee table beside her wet shoes and socks, her hand lingering near one ugly oxblood red wingtip oxford. “Tell me how your shoes got wet,” Mommy said in that soft voice that conveyed more menace that the most shrill of her shrieks.
“I was running away from that man and they got wet when I ran across the creek…”
“Why weren’t you on the bridge?” Mommy interrupted.
“I was late…I was taking a short cut through the school so I would be home on time…”
“And why were you late?” Mommy asked.
She hesitated. How much did Mommy know? Could she get through this without revealing her visit to Norma’s house? She put her head down in the best semblance of shame and guilt she could muster and said “I was dawdling…” One Mommy’s favourite indictments, surely this would ring true.
“That I can believe,” Mommy said, a sneer in her voice. “But what about the shoes?”
She looked up, puzzled. “What about she shoes?” she echoed.
She screamed in unexpected pain. When had Mommy taken the strap off the back of the kitchen door? When had she wrapped the handle end around her hand? Why had she hit her with it?
“Don’t you think to mock me, you little bitch,” Mommy hissed at her, drawing back her hand for another strike.
The thin leather strap curled itself around her thigh, burning like a brand. “Owwww!” she wailed, leaping on one leg. “What did I do?” she cried out.
“Like you didn’t know,” Mommy yelled, standing up. “Take down your panties and lay across the sofa and don’t you move or you’ll get twice as much!” She hurried to obey, knowing that when Mommy was in this mood, even the slightest perception of defiance would add stripes.
“I knew you didn’t like those shoes,” Mommy snarled, laying a lash across her bare buttocks. She flinched but lay rigid and silent across the sofa. “But I never thought you would be stupid enough to ruin them,” Whoosh! CRACK! Another welt began to rise up on the back of her thighs.
“And if you think this little stunt is going to get you a new pair,” Whoosh! CRACK! “Then you just think again, little missy, because you are going to wear these,” Whoosh! CRACK! “until your toes poke holes in the ends!” Whoosh! CRACK! “Do you understand me?”
She nodded silently, her teeth buried in her lower lip.
Whoosh! CRACK! “I said, do you understand me?”
“Yes, Mommy,” she cried out, hoping forestall another blow. “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again!”
Whoosh! CRACK! “You bet your sweet ass you won’t!” Mommy snarled. “Now get your oh-so-clever little butt to bed before I give you the rest of what you deserve!”
She was in her bed, sobbing silently in the dark, when the door snatched suddenly open. “And if you say one word about this to your father, I will beat you within an inch of your life, do you hear?”
“Yes, Mommy,” she said to the figure silhouetted in the doorway. Mommy paused there, as if pondering something else to say, but she must have thought better of it for she silently stepped back and shut the door.
And when the door was closed and the room was dark and quiet again reigned, she put the palms of her small, pale, nail-bitten hands together and began to whisper her nightly prayer:
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to keep,
Please let me die before I wake,
I pray thee, Lord, my soul to take.
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.