"We sense that something is wrong but can't quite put our finger on what it is. We see it in our daily dealings with one another, which in many cases have become less kind, courteous, or inclined towards generosity. We feel it in our workplaces, which are permeated with resentment, anxiety, and debilitating job-related stress. But perhaps the place where we are most affected is in those intimate relationships with friends, lovers and family that give life its richness and meaning. By its very nature, this sickness isolates us from one another and from reality, and it stands between us and all that we can hope to have and be. Its name is narcissism." (Hotchkiss, 2002)
My father lived all his life under the control of a father he said was physically abusive and never cared for him. As such he raised his children in much the same way. His family was poor and worked the land back in Italy. As children my father would tell us stories of the hardship of his childhood, the miles he had to walk to school in the freezing snow through fields filled with wolves and snakes, the lack of food, the hours he had to work in the fields, the illnesses he had contracted and the beatings he had suffered at the hands of my grandfather. It was horrifying to imagine a child could be treated that way.
His mother died when he was in his late twenties, he always talked of her as if she were special, he loved her. He told us about how hard she had worked, the struggles she had gone through with my grandfather and how much she had enjoyed riding on the back of his motorbike at break neck speed. My aunt recently recounted to me that my paternal grandfather regularly beat my grandmother. On one particular occasion the beating was severe and she had run away, abandoned her children only to return a few days later and be beaten again for daring to leave. I can only imagine the things they saw as children, I can only imagine the feelings my grandmother had. I don't understand how a man who had been fairly good to his grandchildren could have been so very bad to his own wife and children.
My aunt also told me that my father was their mothers favourite and that she had been burdened with the lions share of the work in taking care of the home and my fathers needs. I'm always skeptical of what my aunt says because she plays the victim so well (unsurprisingly). My father recounts how his sister was treated as the special one by his father, having been allowed to go to school and take exams where as he had been expected to work in the fields. He says his sister didn't have to do any housework because she was at school. I'm sure both their stories have an element of truth and are indicative of the resentment each has for the other.
My father shows his grief for the loss of his mother through his inability to celebrate my mothers birthday which is too close to the anniversary of his mother's death. Christmas also upsets him because his grandfather (whom he described as a great man) died at this time and we are all made to feel it.
His family (my grandparents, his sister and my father) came to England in the 1950's. He attended school, learnt English and held a series of jobs all of which he was great at (not that I remember talk of promotions and bonuses). He boasted he had many friends that had fond memories of him, although they never looked thrilled to see him when they met in the street. In his eyes he is the most intelligent person on the planet and if it hadn't been for the fact that English was his second language he clearly would have ruled the world.
My mother lived all her life with parents who used her as a farm hand. She helped them in the fields from an early age, worked in the home and did as she was supposed to most of the time. On the occasions when she took time out to enjoy herself, playing with the cat or spending time with her friends singing in the hills she would get in trouble for neglecting her chores. She wasn't a stranger to being smacked and once found her head connecting with a solid wooden object in the form of a garden hoe.
In her early thirties she came to England with her half brother. He was quick to marry her off to my father who had fallen in love with her immediately after seeing her walking down the street in her leather mini skirt. Two weeks after their first encounter he proposed, she said "yes" and three months later they were married. My father and grandfather now had a replacement for my grandmother, a woman to cook and clean and do as she was told.
A little over a year later I was born. Within two years I was blessed with a younger brother and another two years later my baby brother was born. My mother had three devastating miscarriages and would have liked to have had more children despite not having enough house to keep us all in.
Looking back at the family photographs I was never sure why a child who looked so happy (as shy as she was) and healthy in earlier photographs suddenly started to look so fat and miserable. I remember one photograph of my brother crying. It should have been a day of celebration but my father had told him off and saw fit to take the picture anyway, my brother was doing his best to smile.
I don't remember many good things about my childhood. I wasn't sexually abused (although I remember being sexually aware at an early age), I was well clothed and certainly well fed but my father had a terrible temper, a low opinion of his children and his wife. For all intents and purposes he was God in his home. Whatever we did it wasn't good enough to please him long term. If we tried hard enough maybe he'd be happy or proud for a few hours but ultimately he wasn't happy and it was clearly our fault for not being good enough.
My mother encouraged us to be good for him, quick to defend him when he told us off and backed up his view that we were bad and messing up our lives. She liked to have us close to her. She nurtured us well, sometimes to the point of suffocation, often making us feel guilty when we spent time away from home. Sometimes she would threaten to throw herself under a train if we left or did as we pleased. As children we were always quick to defend her against our father's temper although we didn't always treat her very well either. Added to which she never appreciated our attempts at protection.
My father had certain ideas about what women should and shouldn't do. It wasn't his role to clean the house or make the dinner. He had a daughter and a wife to do that. Children should do whatever their parents asked and they should do it without complaining. I didn't like it; I knew it was wrong (I'd watched enough Highway to Heaven to know that). So I did what I could with resentment and guilt and when I'd had enough I rebelled against it arguing with my parents and telling them how crap I thought they were. I made a silent oath to myself that if I ever had children they would never have to go through this - that I would let them know they were special, encouraged, loved and had options. There was nothing I wouldn't give them or do for them.
I grew up in constant fear and shame of all the fights we had and often cried alone in my room. The insults no child should receive from someone who is charged with their care and the smacking that was disproportionate to the offence. I kept my feelings away from my parents because I knew they couldn't be trusted with them, that they would never be able to do what was necessary to take the pain away. I felt that I had to be strong for my parents and my brothers, that their future lay in my hands. At every turn I found myself defending them, helping them and later on providing for them where I felt my father was failing.
I wasn't the perfect child, far from it I had my own temper tantrums and I didn't do everything they asked of me. I wasn't always a good sister. Despite loving my brothers very much and often looking at them as if they were my own children I sometimes said and did hurtful things that I shouldn't have. I felt guilty about all these things, was made to feel guilty.
Shortly after I started senior school my mums father died, her mother came from Italy to live with us. She was hard as nails that woman. I always wanted to engage her in fun activities but she didn't entertain me for long. She was quite sickly too, in and out of hospital with Asthma. I never understood why my mother didn't kiss her or show her any affection. She would get very upset if I asked her about it and angry with me if I told her to give her a kiss now and again but then my Nan didn't really seem to show her affection either.
I had very little self esteem. My father constantly embarrassed me in front of my friends either raging at them or insulting me. They hated phoning the house and quickly made their way up the stairs to my room if they came round.
Money was always an issue at home. My father made it clear we didn't have enough to afford things like holidays, toys, lighting and heating. But somehow he never went without a packet of cigarettes, his luxury food items or a night out to play cards with his friends. This was until he was forced to give them up as a result of ill health. He owned several dubious clapped out old bangers which he drove fast and faster still when he was in a mood regardless of who was in the car.
I didn't have a boyfriend at school. In those years I fell in love with two people who did not love me back and I wasn't interested in others who were interested in me. I got into the habit of reading romance novels to reinforce the feelings I hoped that one day someone I cared for would feel for me. Every day I thought only of the person I was in love with at the time, the next time I would see them and the next opportunity I would have to speak to them.
In torture and silence I loved from afar hoping that they would love me back, that one day it would all just happen magically the way it worked out in the books and the films. At sixteen I wanted nothing more than to be barefoot and pregnant, living in a nice home surrounded by a white picket fence, with a loving husband and bunch of children I could love and care for. I constantly cried myself to sleep at night, I was frustrated and moody and at least once a month I exploded in anger followed by a week of physical pain related to my menstrual cycle. There was nobody at home to tell, nobody at home who could help.
There were a few moments of genuine euphoria for my own abilities at school. One teacher saw fit to point out a particularly good piece of homework to the class and later praised my strength for standing up to a teacher who had openly tried to humiliate me and my fellow students. Other teachers saw I was capable of standing up for what I believed in, that I took on more responsibility than I needed to at home, that I would do that little bit extra when I was able. There seemed to be so many teachers who had seen something good about me and pointed it out but I didn't recognise what they were telling me at the time.
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