The Right to Write: a Family Cup

I’m actually producing pretty steadily, as those of you who follow my DianaRajchel blog know. I am also at a hard point. I have my first (well, technically second) book contract ever, and I am continuing the process I already had underway when I made the proposal. I have loads of planning to do. I am also experiencing emotional volatility; I confirmed that someone was essentially spying on my Facebook page for my mother (tacky) and there’s no way of explaining to that person why what she did was wrong, especially as I’m sure she’s very convinced she was doing the “right” thing based on her experiences with her mother, and her experiences with my mother. That her experiences with my mother bears no resemblance to my experience with the woman isn’t likely to register with her at all.  A “cup” about my family’s history follows. It’s ugly family stuff, and I need to write it, and I need to make it public. I have documentation of ALL of this, and it’s not pretty.

She sees a nice old lady whose mean and ungrateful daughter won’t talk to her, and she can’t imagine that the daughter she knows – my sister – might possibly have a wildly different experience than I had.

I see a woman who forced me to live in an atmosphere of fear and shame for things that were not mine to be ashamed of for my entire childhood, who has tried to continue making me afraid into my adulthood even going so far as to attempt to force me into joining her little social club that actively offends me by violating its own stated mission of honoring the Constitution in its entirety, owning the furniture and flotsam of her childhood, and raging that I didn’t go to her college – despite me paying for more than 95% of my college education myself, including the room and board. While my parents were always prompt to rescue my sister from whatever crap she got herself into, giving her free room and board well past the age of 18 (when your entire life including pregnancies are your own responsibility,)  paying her insurance until she married and letting her live in the household while doing nothing to contribute to it – all that work got dumped on me, in addition to the overload of demands and expectation  –  I got a slew of broken promises, overt lies, and at one point I think she got it into her head that she could force me to drop out of college and live with my grandmother as “eldercare.”

My experience with her is knowing her as an actress and as a pathological liar. There are accounts I’ve read about the comments and attitudes of slave owners and the comments they made about escaped slaves – her attitude is extremely similar, especially given the appalling things she says in private about people of African ancestry. The one time I tried to confront my mother about her abusive behavior was when I was staying over for a friends’ wedding; she had spent the entire visit sniping at me about my body, making rude comments about my “fictional” religion (without ever asking about what I actually believed – a shitty behavior my in-laws have also pulled) and to my father’s outright anger as well as my own, commenting on how I “never did anything around the house when I lived with them.” This was after I nearly ended up on the hospital because she insisted I essentially cook and clean up on Thanksgiving dinner AFTER SHE KNEW I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH MONO leaving me stuck looking after my grandmother and my sister and her new baby while I did all the work. There was a Christmas Eve where, after I cooked dinner for everyone, my sister and ex brother-in-law included, ironed HER clothing and did some cleanup, she essentially frog-marched me into church, because treating me like shit would make returning to Christianity SO appealing. As a child, even homework or clarinet practice was not sufficient to be spared constant demands to be waited on, and when the adults got sick, I had to take care of them. When I was sick, I was encouraged to ignore it as long as possible and called a hypochondriac (something her mother did to her) unless another adult was there to see the situation. Only the risk of embarrassment caused her to treat me as human.

So, when I confronted her about her sniping and bitching at me the entire trip, she began to cry (she is not a crier, she ONLY cries on cue, for an audience) and told me this story about how I “wouldn’t hang up my coat.” This somehow justified her denying me medical care when I needed it and treating me like a servant.

No, seriously, her response and explanation for her treatment of me was not hanging up coats. So along with being abusive, she insulted my intelligence, too. Also, the coat storage she insisted upon was shitty and created a situation where coats fell off the hanger. The problem was never in any way my fault.

She was revising history to justify her abusive behavior. While this particular wheel is for deaf abuse survivors, 6 of the 8 sections describe her relationship with me.  She told me once she admired her family’s tradition of “subtlety” – all of the traits for how she believes the world she wants is filed under passive aggressive behavior and is outright abusive.

While my sister was married, my mother had a favorite tactic of claiming my ex brother-in-law said something about a life choice I made. So yes, she actually tried to use male privilege on me. Now, my ex brother-in-law definitely had his problems, but I never gave him two thoughts, and he never gave me two. He wouldn’t give a shit about anything I did, and mostly I just sort of pitied him for joining into the zero sum game that is my family. So when I dated an African American man, suddenly she was telling me that my brother-in-law was “…very concerned about the way black men treat women.” When she took a zit on my neck for a hickey on one of the hellish holiday trips to her house, suddenly HE was “very concerned about the boys I was seeing.” Given my ex brother-in-law’s personal history and the fact that I don’t think we have ever had a complete conversation, it was quite obvious my mother was using him as a fake puppet piece for her own bullshit. She also knew what she was saying was such an invasive overstep that she shouldn’t even be saying it, so she pretended somebody else said it.

She stopped using him as a voice-piece after she tried to use him to create trouble during my first wedding. “Well, his feelings are hurt that you didn’t go to his wedding.” If he had given a flying fuck where I was during his wedding, he would have said something. If my sister was unhappy about it, perhaps she should have said “I want you there,” instead of telling me she expected to drop my plans for college because she had a baby. Someone could build my sister the Taj Mahal and she’d complain they didn’t give her enough attention. That’s how Alice raised her.

So one day, when I called my sister, I asked him about it. I believe he was honest that he had to work, that it was no big deal, and honestly, I was thoroughly annoyed at the way my own ex mother-in-law and ex father-in-law were inviting people to the wedding when my ex husband and I were paying for all of it.

The truth was, Alice wanted me to feel like shit before my second wedding, too. I’ve told the story before about how Alice and Kris went out of their way to ruin my first wedding, and many of you know about how poorly they behaved during my second wedding, including multiple lies to my face (like why my niece couldn’t be there, why my sister insisted on wearing a really shitty dress and total bullshit regarding a visit to my mother’s friend)  and one demand from my sister that I reschedule because she was the selfish bitch who went on a vacation earlier in the year AFTER I told her  the date.

Even while Dad was dying, Alice tried to make it about her. While my Dad was dying, she actually staged a big crying scene and wanted to know “Why were you so mad at me?” as though she were the innocent party and I was being so unjust. I managed to control my complete disgust with her in that moment, but it wasn’t easy. She was bullying me right there and then, while my father was dying, BY MAKING HERSELF OUT TO BE THE VICTIM. That is by and far the slimiest abuser tactic of them all.

A group of assholes pulled something similar with me when I was about to board a plain from the UK to Minneapolis. I don’t talk to any of them, anymore, either.

I noticed that right after that she started making a big show of “correcting” how I acted about Dad in front of other people – “See? Look at my insensitive daughter!” I found that interesting, since Dad and I were always honest with each other, and I did something to him that he’d done to me for years – had a conversation, and then commented to someone else about it because it was funny.

The excuses she makes now include:

Diana lives so far away.

She has maintained friendships with people who live across the country and she used to say quite unsympathetic things to me about stamps and envelopes when I had a long distance boyfriend. Also, these days there are multiple ways to “keep track of me” as I’m an author and I have a somewhat public life. Yes, I unfriended her on Facebook because reading her posts was like reading really boring  and self-righteous nails on a chalkboard. Also, because half the time she’s lying about something. She’s still on my husband’s Facebook, so if she whines about not going on or ignores my latest accomplishment, it’s because she thinks I owe it to her to come to her with it.

Also, I am exactly the same distance in the opposite direction as she lives from Dayton, Ohio. She can whine all she wants about the traffic, but there are buses, planes, and multiple routes around Chicago. I have visited her multiple times, even when I ended up nearly running into collection-debt; she has been to Minnesota twice and I’ve lived here for well over a decade.

When she was still welcome to visit, I pointed out that I could get cheap airline tickets.

“I don’t like airports.”

I find this strange, and likely bullshit, but OK.

So I mentioned that we now have the SuperBus – luxury accomodations in a bus, less than $100 round trip.

“I don’t like buses.”

Of course, a week after she said that, she hopped on a bus and went with her boyfriend to Vermont.

I remember in college, she promised to help research scholarships so I could pay for the following years. She also said she’d help pay for my books. When my sister started college, she got a part-time job and did everything she could to ensure Kris had books and insurance. When I started college she quit any part-time job, never offered a dime for my books (I blackmailed her into a small part she later claimed she’d actually set aside for me, less than 10% of what I paid myself for school.)  She made no effort to keep her promises to me, but wow was she quick to submit me for DAR membership that I had stated explicitly I wanted nothing to do with, because I have profound moral objections to the way DAR runs. She got very insulted when I wouldn’t let her sew my first wedding dress; there’s a picture of me in clothing she sewed, at the Chicago Institute of the Arts. The Japanese person who took the picture assumed I wasn’t a member of the family, and kept gesturing me out of the frame, while Kris is up and behind my parents, smirking, their favored child. My current husband looked at it and asked “Why the hell are you dressed in rags?” This was clothing my mother sewed for me that she had forced me to wear that day. That’s her level of contempt for me as a person.

I’m as sad the boyfriend died as I can be about someone I never knew. But she was really obnoxious while she was dating him, telling me in that “I’m teaching you,” tone about her progress in a relationship I did not give a shit about. Also, whenever she uses that tone, it’s always information that is sixty years out of date and likely to get you killed for being a racist asshole.

After Dad died, I tried to keep my promise to him to check in on her and my sister. I learned quickly that he was asking me to commit to remaining in an abusive relationship for the rest of my life, and since he wanted to be a good father, I had to break that promise. (My sister bitches about how “absentee” he was, but the truth is he was there. She just never has enough.)  When I called Alice, she was outright rude most of the time. So was my sister, even doing that thing she’s done for years where she starts aggressively talking at someone else in the room while I’m on the line – she does it deliberately, to make me feel unwelcome. Also, my niece is not a fucking monkey, and if there was a real problem, the stupid bitch would put the phone down.

Then the email forwards started. I got one labeled “Detroit prom” that prompted me to put her on a permanent filter. It was one of the most nakedly racist things she’s ever sent, and it was sent deliberately to offend me – it was an overt act of psychological abuse meant for me. My one regret is that I did not respond to her with everyone on the forward list tearing her a new asshole.

There’s one day where I tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, and I called her. I wrote down 8 things going on in my life that I wanted to tell her about.

I got through two. Then, she immediately began talking about herself, her boyfriend, my sister – AND WOULD NOT STOP. There are huge swathes of my life Alice never knew about because she won’t stop fucking talking about herself as though squirrels, people I never want to see again, her church and her stupid DAR meetings are supposed to be the most important thing in my universe. The only reason she paused to ask me how I am is that I once commented that she hadn’t asked “how are you?” in 15 years on Twitter – I’m pretty sure my sister repeated that one to her. Of course, she would ask after that, but she didn’t pause to actually listen.

I remember my sister having a full-on tantrum when I was a teenager because I’d had a boyfriend for over a month and didn’t tell her. It didn’t occur to her that I didn’t tell her because at dinner, she would not stop talking about herself long enough to hear anything about my life or anyone else’s. Seriously, I actually played a game where she chatted about a boyfriend once – 75 mentions in the twenty minute living hell that was life at the family dinner table.  When she did find out – from Alice – Alice insisted I owed her an apology. Alice was always insisting I apologize to my sister. Notably I have never in my life received an apology from either of them, and I am owed. I am SO owed. After ruining one wedding and attempting to ruin the second, after not telling me about my father’s interment, after acting like I’m the one to be ashamed of when I’m the one who actually finished college and had a career… After pressuring me to get pregnant when I was STILL IN COLLEGE, thus insulting every single struggle I made in my life to date – I’m owed. But it’s too late for that now, anyway.

Yes, I was bullied in high school and junior high. Even my senior year I could not walk up one hallways and down another without someone trying something while the faculty looked on, either doing nothing or participating in the bullying. I went through that every day, and then I want home to bullying from Alice and Kris. I prayed a lot, and it helped. I prayed enough that when I converted religions, the conversation continued and I do not have doubts or fear of some fictional hell. I’ve already lived through mine. People who know me well now find this hard to imagine, but you have to understand – it’s hard to imagine because who I am now learned skills for handling it. People like Alice and Kris can’t even get their hands on me because I make it clear all the shame is theirs, so they can’t manipulate me with it. I’m no longer constructed of inner demons, fear, shame, and need for approval.

When I was diagnosed with mono in college, I insisted on going back to the school because I knew my chances for recovery were better – and I knew she’d make it an excuse to force me to drop out and go where she wanted me to go, live the life that she had wanted to live herself instead of the life that was right for me.

When I broke my ankle and my opposite arm right before my divorce, Alice’s version of “helping” was to send me instructions for building a deck. On a rental property. While I had a broken ankle.

She never made a single inquiry as to my recovery.

I saw the way she tried to make out Kris as an unfit mother when Kris went through her divorce. I had good reason not to tell her about my own pending split; she was fond of verbal dress-downs that told you every fault you had, and she liked to throw in how I was a  “fat, lazy slob,” for good measure. Of course when I lost weight she liked adding “Now that you have a waistline, you don’t have a brain!” and she and Kris got so concerned about me being a clothes horse. It didn’t even occur to them that what I was doing a)wasn’t harmful like say, Kris’s smoking and stealing and b)was not about any harm, but about them having control over me as though they had any right to say who I became.

When I got sick after my divorce, I called my father crying. I wasn’t going to ask for anything, I was just scared and wanted someone to hear me. The first thing he said was “We can’t help you.”

I wasn’t even going to ask.

Massive amounts of money have been poured out on my sister, along with care, along with excuses for her appalling behavior. I’m the one who got yelled at for objecting to Kris being  just as abusive as Alice, especially as I was a favorite target for both of them. Dad only started doing something when he realized he really was going to lose me if he kept excusing it as “just a dust-up between the girls.” But it was too late.

Even as a teenager, I was paying for my own clothing, sneaking money into my parents’ purse, wallet, that stupid penguin bank, and trying to help. I would pay for my own food at restaurants. In college when Alice did come to visit, I paid for her room when I could, and when Dad died, Mike and I also dipped into our savings and actually burned through them dealing with family crap for a family that has never, EVER treated me like family. Oh, I’m family when they feel entitled to something – and boy, do Alice and Kris feel entitled – but when I’m in actual need – well, I can always rely on Alice and Kris do the petty thing. It’s what abusers do when they cross their escaped victims.