What Doesn't Kill Us...

by aka Kath on Flickr
by aka Kath on Flickr


Mother’s name, the medical form asked.  Marie I wrote.  If deceased, cause of death it asked.  I felt awkward as I put the pen to the paper.  I thought about the spelling then printed suicide.  List siblings, it said.  I wondered if I should include my step sisters or just write down my blood brothers.  I decided on the latter.  Having finished the form, I handed it to the doctor.  She read it quickly and frowned.  “We have counseling here at the health center if you need some,” she said.

I saw the concern in her eyes and smiled.  I told her I hadn’t had the smoothest childhood but thought I had turned out just fine.  My mind raced back to a sunny day when I was about four.  My mom had recently died and my brother and I were staying with the family that lived around the corner, only three houses away.  It was like a vacation as I remember.  There were twins about our age and their mother was as nice as grown-ups come.  She tried to keep us busy playing games and eating cookies, but I remember always nagging her about seeing my Dad.  On this particular afternoon, I asked if I could go around the corner and see if he was home.  I remember Mrs. Alves acting like it was a big secret between her and me.  It was agreed that if the other kids aked me where I was going, I wouldn’t be able to tell them without letting our big secret out.  It weighed heavily on me as I started on my journey up to our old house.  As it turned out Dad was not home, but I was so worried about keeping my travels a secret that I didn’t seem to care.  Upon retuning to the Alves’ I spilled out my mission to my brother, who to my surprise did not find it all that interesting.

I had another secret back then, one I shared with my brother.  We had been told that our mother died.  They didn’t tell us she shot herself in the head.  They didn’t tell us it was the third and final time she tried.  They didn’t tell us they blamed my father or that they blamed my grandmother.  They didn’t say much more to us than, “she is gone.”  So, my brother and I made up our own story.  Our little secret was that she wasn’t dead at all.  We decided she was on a trip and that eventually she’d come back to us.  We kept our secret alive for years, until a grown-up made us give it up.  Made us finally cry for the loss of her.

by kalurah on Flickr
by kalurah on Flickr

“So this other name Anne was your second mom then,” the doctor broke into my thoughts.

“No, Sally was my second mom, Dad married her when I was four.”

I suppose most people only get the one mom.  So I can see why my laundry list of mother names was confusing her.  My dad had three wives: my “real” mom, the schizophrenic; my second mom, the wicked stepmother; and my third mom, the one who stayed till the end.  There had been an assortment of other motherly figures as well.  The different ladies I lived with between mothers, and the one who hid me from the wicked stepmother, and the sweet old “Nanna” that wanted to steal me away.  Perhaps mother was a better title for the women who loved me rather than the parade of figures who married my father. 

Sally, the wicked stepmother, wasn’t very old, barely 20 I think.  Looking back now, her age explains a lot about her inadequacies as a mother.  They were married  for three years most of which time I was sick to my stomach due to nerves.  Those years were a collection of bad and painful memories for me.

She used to put a little clock in front of me at the dinner table.  I was allowed ten minutes to eat.  I would watch the minute hand wishing I could slow it down.  If I took too long, I was immediately sent to bed.  During dinner, Sally would sit with a wooden spoon in one hand and eat with the other.  If we chewed with our mouths open, she’d hit us either across the hand or upside the head.  She had long sharp fingernails that she’d nearly pierce our ears with.  One of her favorite punishments was washing our mouth out with soap.  She’d use scented rose soap when we had it.  She’d tell me to bite off a piece and then chew it.  It would burn the sides of my tongue and make my throat constrict.  “If you throw it up, I’ll make you do it again,” she told me.  I learned to concentrate on the water I’d be allowed after my mouth had been “washed” to her satisfaction.

It was during those three years with Sally I learned not to cry.  My tears were the only thing I had control of.  So, when she put my dinner plate on the floor next to the dog’s dish, for chewing with my mouth open, I did not cry.  And when she pushed me to the floor and told me to lick up the vomit that didn’t make it in the toilet, I did not cry.  And when she flung me into the bathroom counter and blackened my eye, I did not cry.

Not until the day Dad came to school and told me he was divorcing Sally, did I finally cry. He couldn't understand my tears.  He didn't understand that I loved her. She was my mommy.  She bought me pretty dresses and taught me how to polish my shoes.  She gave me little pie tins and taught me to bake. I didn't know that other children's moms kissed their boo boos and held them when they had nightmares.  I didn’t know that other kids ran home eager to see their mothers, while I drug my feet up the driveway hoping she had forgotten the beating she promised me that morning.  Despite the way she treated me, she was the only mother I could remember.   My little six year old brain believed that she was better than having no mommy at all.

by kalurah on flickr
by kalurah on flickr

It wasn’t too long after that Dad married Anne, my third mom, the one who stayed until the end. Anne brought with her three daughters. The youngest was a little older than I and we shared first names. We became best of friends and worst of enemies. We competed for attention from our parents, our brothers and eventually boys. My older brother was always bringing friends home and my sister liked a few of them and let them know it. I liked a couple too, but kept it to myself. There was this one boy named Brent who would work on cars with my brother. He was about as good looking as a boy covered in dirt and oil can get. My sister liked him and made sure he’d find out. I liked him but wrote down my feelings to myself, hoping no one would know. My sister found the paper and in her fat, round script wrote mean, poking-fun things across the page: “you don’t stand a chance.” and “You’re just dreaming.” When I found the note, I was mortified. I couldn’t look her or Brent in the face for fear they would laugh at me. It wasn’t until years later I found out it was me he had liked all along, but didn’t know I felt the same way.

I never did learn how to tell a guy I was interested or worse, no longer interested. That’s the hard part. After a two year long relationship, I was faced with the ugly task of breaking things off. How do you tell someone who wants to marry you that you’ve become bored. It was a tough week all the way around. I couldn’t tell him I had met someone who makes my stomach do flip flops. I could only tell him I felt too young for such a serious relationship and that I needed to date. “Just tell me you’re unhappy and I’ll leave,” he said. I told him I wasn’t as happy as I had been in the past, and then he cried. I told him I’d always love him, but that made him mad. He left, head bent and shoulders slumped. My chest felt like it was caving in. From my bedroom window I could see his red Z speed down the driveway spewing gravel in all directions. I didn’t eat for three days. And I would never learn this lesson. Over and over I would stay too long because I could not bear to break a man’s heart.

My next relationship lasted even longer and followed me to college. So here I was, my first semester in college experiencing life as an adult, which included paying bills, buying groceries and taking myself to the doctor when I got a cold.

“Get this prescription filled out in the lobby and you should be just fine,” the doctor said.

As per the doctor’s order I took my medicine. Thinking back now, my whole life I’ve always taken my medicine. Abandonment, beatings, broken hearts, I took it dose after dose. And in spite of it all, “I was... I am just fine.”

Comments 47 comments

Pam Roberson profile image

Pam Roberson 7 years ago from Virginia

RB, this is a profound look into your childhood, and from the way it's written, it appears to come from a heart that has found some sense of peace. Sometimes I think it's impossible to write things like this until we've made some kind of peace with the experience, although that might just be me. Those types of scars stay forever, but it appears you've found a way to keep them from hurting quite as much. I still sense pain here, but how can one expect otherwise?

Thank you for sharing. {{{{RB}}}}


goldentoad profile image

goldentoad 7 years ago from Free and running....

that was heavy duty. damn.


Gerg profile image

Gerg 7 years ago from California

Thank you for sharing - I hope doing so was cathartic for you. The Sun magazine has a themed section titled "Readers Write" where, every month people write in about their experiences and memories for similar reasons. I've also found Postsecret (see http://postsecret.blogspot.com/) to be another very heart-wrenching way many have found to expunge many of the the thoughts and feelings that sometimes seem to slap us silly throughout this life experience.


Christoph Reilly profile image

Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

This is really a powerful piece, Randy.  And I loved the pics you selected.  Gosh, how horrible that all must have been for you.  This is wonderfully told and obviously heartfelt.  I have a tear in my eye as I write these words.  Really good work.  I'm so happy that you have met the challenges of you life so strongly.  I hope you feel - and recognize - that you have.

Very well done!


Teresa McGurk profile image

Teresa McGurk 7 years ago from The Other Bangor

Please accept a warm hug -- and my sincere admiration for your graceful telling of this very unpleasant childhood. Children find comfort where they can, but no one should have to endure such abuse. I am very glad that you seem composed and at peace with the cruelty you were made to undergo: bless ya. And I hope someone reading this will find a comparison or a similarity that will help her come to terms with her own past. Thank you.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Pam, I have come to terms with all of this.  And I have forgiven the different characters of my drama, much to the irritation of my spouse who thinks I need to remain wounded and pissed.  But really I'm ok now with all of it.

Thanks for reading GT

Gerg, thanks for the ideas and link. I appreciate your thoughtful comments. When does the slapping stop?


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Chris, a tear really?  Thanks for your compliments they sustain me. I believe we are only dealt hands we can handle, and so it has been with me.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Teresa, Thanks for reading, and I'll take that hug. I love the idea that this story could help someone else come to grips with theirs!


Elena. profile image

Elena. 7 years ago from Madrid

Hello, Randy -- I was wincing when I read that your mom died where you were around four, and I actually cringed when I read that she shot herself in the head. That was gutsy to share and I admire you for it. Here's to hoping it helps someone else accept the shit cards they are dealt. Not sure it's any consolation, but hats off to you for giving voice to a painful past that may put other people's ghosts into perspective. And the photos you chose, superb.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Elena, thanks for reading. I've rewritten this piece several times, each time putting in more details. I don't always know how much of my reality people can stomach. If the telling of it could help anyone in any way that would be outstanding.


Tom Rubenoff profile image

Tom Rubenoff 7 years ago from United States

All the best. The past is past, yet remains with us in some ways, too.

You can write hauntingly well, and your poetry shows depth and understanding. I agree with you that you are, indeed, 'just fine.'


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Tom, I'm a big believer of leaving the past in the past and to look at in the third person when we do, not to relive the bad stuff over and over. Thanks for "hauntingly" I like that.


Gerg profile image

Gerg 7 years ago from California

Randy, - re the slapping, I'll let you know if I ever find an answer to that one! ;-)


Florida Keys profile image

Florida Keys 7 years ago from Jewfish Key Florida

You're one of my faves you know. I think you've overstayed again if I'm reading you right...the fear of change keeps us where we are many times. I'm sure you'd be "just fine" if you were dropped in the middle of the desert. I've learned the art of wall building to insulate me from things I don't want to deal with....and I really don't want anyone tearing them down. You have found a way to tear your walls down and deal with it...


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

I like being one of your faves Randy! Ya staying too long again, but so many other's feelings to consider than just mine. I still have walls, but they are not ancient ones. Those I manged to disassemble.


Silver Freak profile image

Silver Freak 7 years ago from The state of confusion

The past is the foundation our present and future are built on. I think we can change the foundation by coming to terms with and accepting our pasts. You've obviously made a great start on that. Big huge kudos to you for dealing with what you need to help yourself heal. It takes some of a lot longer to do that.

I'm childless by choice, mostly because I didn't want any child to go through what I did growing up. I figured that having children would probably drive me to make the same (or worse) mistakes my parents did.

Don't get me wrong, they did the best they could, but my dad's background wasn't anything that a child should have to endure and he didn't have a good example of how to be a parent. I didn't want to perpetuate the cycle.

Your brave and honest post really has touched me. I wish you continued growth and increasing harmony.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Silver Freak thank you for the heart felt comment! I didn't have my first child till I was 37 and my second at 40. Fear probably had something to do with my stalling. I had completely forgiven my first stepmom by then and chose to be a "no spanking" kind of mom. I still yell more than I should, but I try to take it out to the garage and yell in private when I'm at my wits end. I believe we have children so they can teach us, not vice versa.


MellasViews profile image

MellasViews 7 years ago from Earth

I have to agree with tom when he says you write hauntingly well. This was such a powerful piece, with such a powerful ending. Thank you for sharing this.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Thanks Mella! I'm glad you find in powerful. But, mostly I'm glad you found the ending powerful. I have trouble with endings. I have unfinished hubs just hanging out there because I struggle with endings. So that gives me hope. :)


kea profile image

kea 7 years ago

Hi RB...great hub. Heart felt...but, some hearts are meant to be broken, although very difficult. Sometimes better to cut losses and move on. Much easier said than done though! :) Stay hip. Nice Pat Benatar Vid...she totally rocks.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Pat Benatar has given me strength when I've needed it.  I had coffee with a girlfriend this morning.  We were talking about my separation. She laughed at my analogy, as she often does. "When you realize the goldfish is dead," I said, " you gotta be strong enough to flush it down."


ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

As one who grew up in a remarkably "normal" family, in the white-bread fifties, when middle america was at its zenith, it's sometimes hard for me to comprehend how life can also be so harsh.

This is not how it's supposed to work.

I'm sorry you had to endure it yet glad you endured it so well.

Nietzsche got it part way right. What doesn't kill us sometimes makes us stronger. At other times it scars us for life. 


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Thank you for your comments ColdWarBaby. I came out unscarred; I think. It molded me though.

I'm glad your childhood was "normal" I hope life continues to be that way. I think mines about to be.


R. Blue profile image

R. Blue 7 years ago from Right here

Well Well....there's the lovely Randy Behavior...how you been??


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Hi R.Blue, Ups and Downs. Giggles and Tears. More smiles than frowns.


R. Blue profile image

R. Blue 7 years ago from Right here

Time heals all wounds....keep the chin up!


ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

Oh believe me Randy, the normalcy ended as soon as I started asking too many questions about society and life in general? Children should be seen and not heard.

Not to say that I was abused physically. I just soon found myself on the wrong side of most discussions which ultimately lead to a rather inward looking, "loner" sort of mentality.

It never led to the sort of duress you experienced. Just made me a little anti-social.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

You say loner, but you strike me as a "thinker." I believe our childhoods are chosen by us (before we're born) to be a platform for what we want to become and achieve.


ColdWarBaby 7 years ago

That's an interesting concept. It will give me something else to...think about.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Your plate was probably already full enough.  But this is how I believe it is.  I'm much less a victim this way, and perpetrators only become protagonists in my play.


JamaGenee profile image

JamaGenee 7 years ago from Central Oklahoma

Randy, I'm a lot older than you and intellectually I know my abusive childhood had much to do with the strong person I am today.  But there's still a little girl inside missing having a Mommy who kissed her boo boos.  I too didn't know most kids couldn't wait to get home to see their mothers.  At least your dad divorced Sally after 3 years.  My dad didn't find out until I was 12 that my mother was beating me and my younger brother with whatever was handy *every single day* unless relatives were coming to visit or we were going to visit them.   My dad told her to stop "or else".  Never did know what the "or else" was, but it worked.  Well, except at first she tried to get him to whip us for her, which he wouldn't.  Also the beatings started so early that I don't remember making myself not cry. I just didn't. 

Thank you for having the courage to share your story.  


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Jama I'm sorry you had to endure yours for so long. The only blessing is as children we don't know any different, we just endure. That was 40 years ago, but some days I can remember it like yesterday. The pain is gone but I can remember what I felt like. Love and Light to you Jama.


badcompany99 7 years ago

Hmm ok so I guess I didn't read them all and what a one to miss. Knowing you as I do that actually made me sad at your childhood but not sad at knowing the wonderful butterfly that grew from that little catterpillar to become the true lady you are now !


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Thank you BC. I guess I got wings didn't I?


badcompany99 7 years ago

You sure did my friend, you surely did !


Lgali profile image

Lgali 7 years ago

very interesting hub


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Thanks Lgali.


Gypsy Lyric profile image

Gypsy Lyric 7 years ago from California

what is your secret? why do i hold on to my trauma, how can i let it go. i see your beauty and your smile and am envious. my past sits on my shoulders and i cant seem to shrug it off....advice please....


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Gypsy we all have our own paths to walk, but for me it was all about forgiveness. Forgiveness for others and eventually for myself. I also have to take responsibility for all that has happened and hurt me, because I believe I wrote my own life plan. Can't really blame the actors of your play for playing their parts. Can you?

Love and Light to you.


Gypsy Lyric profile image

Gypsy Lyric 7 years ago from California

thank you for your sincerity, honesty and clarity.....


Doug Turner Jr. 5 years ago

It's weird to think that this was around two years ago. I wonder if your avatar was the same...

Your e-mail attempt to shift my attention to a different hub didn't work. I smelled a trick and came right here first off. You sent this for a reason; it's a candid look at yourself. I appreciate that, and I like the way this is written. For the most part, I want to know absolutely nothing about artists whom I admire. But on the hub I'm directly interacting with artists whom I admire, so I'm also interested to know about them as people. You seem to have quite a story and I'm sure this only a sliver of the tale. I'm glad the road led you to your kick-ass poetry. Keep on rocking in the (semi) free world. Peace and war.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 5 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

I merely thought it would shed light on my most recent piece that had you so perplexed. That's is all.


Marina Lester 5 years ago

Hello Randy, it is amazing what we can endure... And though you perhaps don't need the world's hugs and "sorry's" with all their sincerity we will offer them all the same, because it should not have happened. You offer us your heart and take us along the traces of scars, in exploration of what you are, and we embrace you.


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 5 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Marina what a deep and touching comment. I find that when I write from my biggest emotions I get the best results. The thing is I never want to be one of those people who lead with their wounds. Its hard to find balance between those two ideas.


Marina Lester 5 years ago

Randy you are so beautiful, as you stand a survivor indeed for us, for even as cruel and hard it becomes, we can still heal, we can still be what was meant. Your writing is powerful because it is the truth. Balance is important in everything, but sometimes you must embrace and accept your wounds before you can let them go. And you are made stronger, and if you can lead with love well then you are a hero. :)


shiningirisheyes profile image

shiningirisheyes 4 years ago from Upstate, New York

Thank you for sharing this. I am all too aware of how hard it had to be to write this. I am also well aware of how cathartic this was to write. I thank you and send my sincerest of blessings


Randy Behavior profile image

Randy Behavior 4 years ago from Near the Ocean Author

Hi Irish Eyes! Thank you for the sweet comment. Love and light to you.

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