When I was little, my mother read fairy tales to me. She never read stories about fainting princesses who languished until a handsome prince rescued them. She read Little Red Riding Hood to me, and Hansel and Gretel, and Babes in the Wood. When I learned to read, I read them every night before bed. In a way, these fairy tales and others were harbingers of what lay ahead for me, although I didn’t consciously connect any of the stories to my life, not even later, when life events mirrored parts of the stories. I had zero sense of impending doom. In retrospect, though, it seems it was all spelled out to me in the stories, and later, in the books that I loved.
Of all the stories, Babes in the Wood is the one that has resonated most strongly in me. It is a story of abandonment with no rescue, which reminds me of something my mother wrote me when I was in foster care and I had just learned that the father I’d never known existed lived in Oregon: Stay away from Twinkies so you don’t end up fluffy, and remember: no Prince will ride in to save the day. Not even your daddy.
I wonder if messages about my family’s history were unconsciously transmitted via folktales. The children in Babes in the Wood were left to die in the forest. Five of the six children of my generation on my mother’s side were put into foster care by their mothers. I’m not sure why my little brother made the cut, and I’m not sure he fared better than the rest of us, after all.
Mama’s nonchalance–hell, her outright silence– about the story’s ending baffled me for many years. Now I think that it was like a bad smell you get used to after you’re exposed to it for a while. It was her own reality, after all: her parents put her and her two older sisters in an orphanage when they hit adolescence. Other families sent their children to boarding school, or to summer camp. Ours sent the kids into the wilderness. (Fortunately for the parents of both generations, none of us followed the path of Oedipus.)
Yeah, I did therapy. Started with group therapy–safety in numbers. Grew brave after a year–and by that point, desperate–and started seeing a therapist by myself. The prevailing sentiment then was that people who went through therapy came out psycho. My Nana, for example, was very worried for my mental health because I was hashing up things that were better left buried. I should mention here that it was her son who molested me.
When I entered therapy, I was aware only on a superficial level that my perspective was shaped by my childhood. It seems obvious now, like how we marvel that the Columbine parents and teachers didn’t see the massacre coming. I didn’t know, for example, why I was indiscriminate in my sexual relationships before I got married. Conversely, I didn’t know why I felt guilty when I didn’t want to have sex with my husband. I didn’t know why I felt so ugly, even though people told me I had beautiful children who looked just like me. And I thought there was something wrong with me that I felt so crazy around my family.
My take on the new person who emerged: Yup. She was psycho. She went in psycho, and came out a new and improved psycho. She was missing some of her cogs for functioning in her family machine. She forgot her role. The cliche is scapegoat; I reject that. I like black sheep, and not for the obvious reason. Farmers put one black sheep in their flocks for every 100 white sheep. That way they only have to count the black ones to know how many sheep they’ve got. I think the black sheep is the one who carries the story of the flock. A friend told me once that families will often send one of their own out (by way of shunning) in unconscious hope that that one will bring back the elixir and heal the family.
I don’t know if I care enough to bring back an elixir. This may change with time. Or not.
The best I can do now is carry the tale.
to be continued