I watched my childhood home movies again this weekend, for a friend of mine wants to view them and I thought I could give her an idea of what portions are likely to contain footage of me. (A lesson in futility; there is no rhyme or reason to the order of the scenes in these movies. She'll have to muddle through them as I did.)
By now I pretty much know the movies by heart. They're familiar. I may not know in what order the scenes appear, but I know the dresses I wore, and how the sun brought out the highlights in my reddening hair, and the emotional landscape evoked by the movies.
This time I watched them half-heartedly, with an air of detachment. I wasn't watching them for myself, so I didn't feel the need to view every little detail and obsess. What struck me afterwards was how each time I see these home movies my perception becomes stronger, more defined.
What I mean is this. I grew up in a household where it was okay to rape children, as long as the bills got paid and my mother didn't have to work outside of the home. Children instinctively know that incest is wrong. This is part of what makes such horrors nearly unendurable: the knowledge that what is happening is an atrocity of such massive proportions that one doesn't dare put it into words.
My mother took us to church every week and politely looked the other way when her hubby indulged his lusts. That's how I see it. I can't prove it, but in my gut it feels like the truth. It feels to me that she had to have known or suspected something. My bedroom was right next to the master bedroom, for crying out loud.
My stepfather, apart from his sexual perversions, was the misfit of the family. I think we all knew this, I think even the neighbors sensed he wasn't quite right. My mother was refined, we kids less so-- but certainly more than him lounging around in his baggy undies, greasy hair and repulsive snits. To me it seemed she never bothered cajoling him into joining us for church because she knew he was beyond redemption. He seemed to me like a carnival show freak, or at the very least someone or something you wouldn't want tagging after you into the sanctuary. He was an embarrassment.
I seemed to have a foot in both worlds: one in my mother's more refined atmosphere where one didn't say words like 'butt' and 'poop' and 'fart.' The other was planted in the polluted atmosphere of my stepdad's world, not planted willingly by any means, but there all the same. What despair I experienced every single day as I sought in the privacy of my mind to find the proper phrase to express the impossibility of living simultaneously in both worlds. I dreaded the world created by my abuser, for obvious reasons. But I equally dreaded the muted emotional environment in which my mother moved and had her being, for there was something just as off there. It wasn't obvious like it was with the other world, but there was a perpetual sense of things not being how she tried to portray them.
My abuser was his evil self, no apologies. He was immature, greedy, cruel, perverted and narcissistic. We all knew this. My mother, on the other hand, was an enigma. Soft-spoken, refined, well-mannered. She rarely raised her voice, she never swore. There was the religious thing going on, too. That alone should have elevated her above the rank of my stepdad. Did it? Looking back now through the eyes of my adult self I think not. I think church attendance was something which made her feel respectable. Perhaps made her feel smug when comparing herself with her hubby. He never bothered to darken the doorway of a church, but just look at how faithfully she took 5 kids to church week after week!
What I started to say about perspective is that all the doubts I had as a kid about the authenticity of our family are confirmed by watching these movies. One of the things destroyed by my stepdad's actions, and my mother's lack of response to them, was my sense of perspective. I knew what he did to me was wrong, but . . . but my mother wasn't outraged. She didn't take charge, kick butt, call the cops, etc. She did nothing. This was the true beginning of my doubting my own senses, my own logic, my own perceptions. If it didn't seem like such a big deal to my refined, church-going mother then maybe I was making a mountain out of a molehill.
I rather like having these movies around. I feel stronger every time I view them. I feel more myself, more that self I used to be, and you know, I rather like that little girl. I've a great admiration for her. I'm sure I've said it before on this blog, but when I grow up I want to be just like her.