Alone is the wrong way to travel

pinwheels in Crown Point. pic by Diana Rajchel

I grew up in a house smaller than my modest two bedroom apartment that housed four people and a dog. I went from sharing a bedroom with my sister to a bedroom with no walls, and no protection when my sister came thumping up the stairs after carousing at 3 am as 21 year olds are wont to do, and why 21 year olds should make every effort to have their own place. I kept no secrets in the place – my mother even got into my stash of menstrual pads more than once, despite me paying for them myself after my sister actively refused to ever put them on a grocery list (but then would scream at me if I returned the favor. Her screaming would get my mother screaming at how “inconsiderate” I was, but when my sister behaved like a selfish twat, that was just the way it was.)

Privacy came at a premium. My mother eavesdropped on phone calls regularly, requiring me to have all my conversations within earshot of her. When I turned 18, the summer before I left, she even made disapproving noises when I meant to hang out with a male coworker my own age. She said she was kidding, but she wasn’t. She even stomped up into my bedroom to wake me up for all the crap she needed done on a Saturday – something she never did to my sister – in part to see if she might catch me masturbating. This got especially bad when she decided to invade my dorm room to “help pack” and found my vibrator. On the rare occasions I returned for visits as an adult, she often behaved as though I were under house arrest. I wanted to go for a walk, she would be concerned about the “dangers” of the neighborhood because someone caught a pedophile in a tree house six months prior. I met a former friend for breakfast, she had an outright tantrum because we went to our breakfast place instead of hers.

If I were a troubled child some of this might make sense. But I wasn’t, at all. In fact the only reason I did become sexually active at the age that I did is because I needed some kind of release before my “loving” (or abusive) household was going to kill me. I didn’t steal, or drink, or do any drugs. I was never invited to the parties out in cornfields. I was a nerd, doomed to be home on a Saturday night anyway, and nothing I did merited my parents’ behaviors as prison wardens.

I had no privacy. Even my creative writing sat out, in open baskets, so my mother might rifle through it while I was at school. While she did refrain from reading my journals (because she couldn’t find them and supposedly because her mother read hers) any confidence offered was within days always betrayed. It would get thrown in my face when the socks weren’t sorted to perfection, or when I didn’t read her mind about a laundry basket she wanted taken downstairs. She would bring up my interests and crushes in a dismissive way to her friends, because she wanted me to know how very unimportant my feelings were to the entire world. Certainly they were unimportant to my family.

Between the siege on my privacy at home and the siege on my character at school, my default was one of defensiveness. I wasn’t mean and didn’t lash out like some of the other girls. Most of the other kids had some fantasy about my mother as the “perfect mother” because she was so nice to them and listened to their feelings. I, however, got to see how the woman really was with me at the very least. Some of the hell I caught from other kids was jealousy because they wished they had my mother, and I didn’t feel safe to tell anyone what life was really like at home, living between two monsters with nothing for an anchor beyond an inert father.

I don’t like going over these memories, these conditions, but I do because I realized something: one of the reasons I resist networking events is because I am still so very protective of my privacy. Once I finally got it, I refused to let go. Unfortunately this prevents me from making the allies I need to advance my career as a creative. I don’t know the right people. I haven’t shaken the right hand. Instead of reaching out and exchanging business cards, I often draw myself in, waiting for the inevitable betrayal, and often enough, that betrayal still comes. But the less other people know about me, the less easily I might be betrayed.

“My family sucks” is a recurring theme, but I know I’m not the only one with that problem.

The other is that I need to overcome this, and understand my privacy is not at stake when I attempt to form allies in my creative path. There are people out there who want to help, that I can also help, that can be trusted. I just need to shake the right hand.