Recovering From the Wounds
of an Abusive Childhood
Part One of this three-part series, which includes Marlene’s harrowing account
of the abuse she received as a young girl at the hands of her mother, is here.
Reaching for Blackberries
I went off to college in 1958, at the age of 18, filled with excitement and enthusiasm. Even though my mother, Leona, gave the Dean of Women a fit, and some weekends at home were the usual hell, I was finally out of there. Free at last!
Or so I thought.
My younger brother and sister, of course, still had to endure the abuse. After I left home, Mom apparently changed her scare tactics. The two kids were put into my parents’ big closet in the upstairs bedroom. There were lots of clothes and shoes in there, and it was pitch black. Mom would tell them to sit still and shut up, because once that door was locked, for hours at a time, the rats would come out.
I’m sure glad I missed that scenario!
Then on August 17th, 1959, my father died. Suddenly, hell took on a new meaning. Through my mother’s clouded eyes, it somehow became my fault that Dad ran into that tree a mile from home. Shortly thereafter, she disowned me.
In 1961, I brought Ron home for a weekend visit and proudly announced that we were engaged to be married. My mother’s reaction was swift and brutal. Her screams of venomous anger, piercing me like freshly sharpened darts, lodged somewhere deep in my soul.
“I’m telling you,” she yelled at my fiancé, “she’s not worth one god-damn red cent!”
And when she learned that our wedding was to be the following summer, on August 18th, the roof went up and off again.
“How could you? So close to Daddy’s death date!”
Disowned again. (It happened seven times over the years.)
She was there, of course, and had a ball!
I worked part-time jobs to pay my way through school. The fun and freedom of college were wonderful, and after graduation I taught high school for three years. Then I became an office secretary, doing what I had been teaching–typing, shorthand, bookkeeping, and office practice. I loved it!
In July of 1969, Ron and I flew to Virginia Beach to attend a week-long retreat at the Edgar Cayce Foundation. Each day, during our walk to and from the Foundation, I would pause to pick some blackberries. Picking raspberries and blackberries in the woods at home had been a family tradition, and I loved crushing through the deep, thorny thickets in order to get the biggest and best berries.
A week after our return to Wisconsin, I had an intense dream.
(A dream from July, 1969)
I’m home on the farm, standing in the doorway between the kitchen and the dining room. Ron is sitting in the dining room in a big chair. A couple comes onto the back porch from the woods. They’ve been picking blackberries.
Ron introduces them to me. The man tilts his pail to show us what’s in it.
“See,” he says, “that wasn’t so bad.”
“Well, where are all the berries?” I ask.
In the pail are different kinds of fruit–one red apple, one green apple, some reddish-green blackberries, and a few ripe blackberries, including one really big blackberry. I again ask where all the berries are.
“They’re just about done now,” he replies. “Pretty hard to find any more.”
Suddenly I’m in the woods, reaching into a large, thorny tangle of blackberries in order to show him.
“There’s a lot of them,” I say, “if you look deep within.”
Instantly I wake up. A deep masculine voice is reverberating in my ears, over and over, like an accordion bellows going back and forth.
“Deep within… Deep within… Deep within…”
I get out of bed and begin my day. But wherever I go over the next couple of hours — in this room or that room, down in the basement or out in the yard — the same resonant voice keeps repeating, strong and clear, “Deep within… Deep within… Deep within…”
* * *
Two months later, following our dreams and some guidance from the Edgar Cayce readings, we packed up and moved to Virginia Beach. By 1971, we had purchased a small homestead sixty miles inland. It was the ideal size: 2 1/4 acres. We had a dog, a few cats, some chickens and ducks, twelve Nubian goats, several bee hives, an orchard, and a huge organic flower and vegetable garden.
In three or four years the place would be paid for. Then Ron and I could retire from our nine-to-five jobs to enjoy a life of peace and quiet and freedom in the country.
In late November of 1972, however, a phone call changed our life’s direction once again. An acquaintance from work, knowing of my typing skills, asked if I would be willing to transcribe some tape-recorded readings that were similar to those that had been given by Cayce. Intrigued, I said yes.
One thing led to another and, to make a long story short, in the spring of 1974 we moved to the mountains of southwestern Virginia to help give birth to Light Morning community.
If you have a burning, “deep within” desire to learn more about who you really are, and you want to deal with all your issues and unresolved stuff, I would say, “Go for it! Join a community. Quick! Any community.” Believe me, you will find out tons and tons about yourself. If you are willing to look.
I wasn’t. In 1978, I left Light Morning. Yet I continued to meet “moms” all over the place! Wherever I went, there she was. Somehow I kept re-creating her in one person or another. Seven years later, I returned to Light Morning. But I was still without a clue as to why all this stuff kept happening to me, or how it tied into the deep woundings of my childhood.
My Mother’s Casket
Like mother, like daughter. For ten years, my mom did not speak to my grandma. How could that be, I wondered. I never understood, until I stopped all communication with my mother during the last six years of her life. Why? Because no matter how hard I tried, I could never meet any of her expectations. At some point I just got sick and tired of scraping up the courage to call her on the phone one more time, only to have her hang up on me.
Then in mid-October of 1990, my brother called. Mom’s liver was full of cancer.
“Soon it will be over and done with,” I thought.
It was a busy season. I had six weeks to go on the craft-fair circuit, selling the baskets that I’d been weaving for the past five years. My brother said that the family back home had everything under control.
Early in the morning of December 8th, he called again. Mom was dying. Ron and I drove the 24 hours from Virginia to Wisconsin, straight to the nursing home. Leona was semi-conscious. At first, looking down at her, I was in disbelief. The strong work-horse of my childhood now lay there, literally gasping for one more breath.
This went on for six hours. Then it was over. She was gone. Mingled with my sense of relief that her suffering was over were feelings of sadness. A sadness for her. And for me. And maybe for what could have been.
While viewing my mother in her casket before the service started, however, something happened. She seemed to have a slight smile on her face: a peaceful, calm, finally-at-rest feeling. She almost looked like a movie star.
To this day, I don’t know how to put it into words, other than to say that seeing her lying there in her coffin was the start of a L-O-N-G healing process. The healing continues at this very moment. For even as I write this, I am crying–my first “deep-within” sobbing cry since my mom’s passing eleven years ago.
* * *
The final portion of Marlene’s story, including another dream
that transformed her relationship with her mother, will be posted next week.