“Oh for God’s sake, Silvy! It was just a damned joke!”
Those were the words that my mother hurled at me as I stood in the living room of my home on October 30th, 1997. I had left the house six hours before, a backpack on my back and my checkbook in my pocket, frantically pedaling my bike towards the college not far from where I lived. I had just gotten into an argument with my mother and angrily, she had thrown my checkbook at me and told me to go find somewhere else to live. Now I was out of the house, alone and terrified, completely unsure of what to do.
When I arrived at the University, the very first thing I did was call my employer and tell him that I couldn’t come in to work that night. It was the only time I ever called that doughnut shop to tell them I wouldn’t be there. Other than that night, I had a stellar attendance record.
The second thing I did was call the only person I thought might be able to help me: my then boyfriend. We’ll refer to that as mistake number one.
He was no help. But then again, I shouldn’t have been terribly surprised. He hemmed and hawed and wasn’t sure if he could come by and help me. It took several phone calls and a lot of cajoling in order to change his mind. Eventually, I convinced him to do something. He finally stopped at the University and picked me up.
I spent the next several hours trying to find a place to crash but since I didn’t think hotels took checks, I was forced to return home. When I walked in the door, my mother demanded to know why I wasn’t at work. I explained why, that she had told me to get out and not come back. What happened next stunned me.
She treated it as a bad joke. At the time, I didn’t understand why she behaved the way she did. But now that it’s been a number of years, I understand perfectly.
My mother was trying to maintain her appearance. To most everyone, she was seen as an overprotective but loving mother. My father just happened to be in the room when I spilled her dirty little secret, that she had just tried to throw me out. So she did what she did best: she silenced me.
I was too stunned to actually say anything, I just stumbled into my room and collapsed on my bed then stared at the ceiling, too numb to think. At the time–mostly due to other factors–I didn’t think much of it all. This was simply how my mother was and that was that. I didn’t know that this was verbal abuse, that this was quite possibly a type of gaslighting, that this was how she maintained her power over me. At the time, I didn’t know because to me, it was normal.
I now know that it wasn’t. It never was. It was abuse, pure and simple.
The thing about abusive people is that they want to keep the balance of power tipped in their favor. They have the mental scripts and know how to manipulate a situation in order to do so. My mother would have been a bit of expert at this; she had been abused by her father when she was a child. Her father knew how to manipulate and manipulate well, as it took the state of North Carolina over twenty years before CPS even got the first idea that something truly horrible was happening in my grandfather’s house. He covered it and he covered it well. My mother, it seems, was a quick study.
For years, I have hated the month of October, for many reasons. This was probably the biggest one.