My Mother, Myself

(work in progress)

As I looked back on my memories of my mother's relationship with her mother

I saw us all riding a carousel of trauma, unable to break free from the patterns of the past

Even though she died years ago, my grandmother still pulls the strings, her trauma and nearsightedness reaching down and ensnaring my mother, who is unable to break free from the cycle. As I let my mind wander, memories emerged of times my mother failed me.

Like the time she washed my mouth out with soap, for chanting a swear word that I had no idea what it meant at the age of four.

Or the time she forced my sister to remain at the table to finish eating the chili she had made. My sister became so upset that she vomited. 

Or the time I was working on a pencil drawing of a horse for 4H, and she came over and erased parts of it so she could fix it.

Or the feeling that I had no privacy, no space to share my thoughts without fear of them being read, which I wrote about in the diaries I kept .

Saying things like or else, rebelling, being defiant towards her rules, became a way to try to establish some sort of power in a dynamic where I felt powerless, where there were no boundaries

Hiding things from my sister so she wouldn't borrow them and then forgetting where I put them.

Like these shoes and when I became so upset that I could not remember where, despite my mother's demands that I do so,

She threatened to send me to an insane asylum if I did not produce them immediately.

When I was seven and had asked for something to eat, my mother broke my favorite plate, very much like this one, by throwing it so hard at the linoleum floor that the melamine split into three pieces.

The actions don't matter as much as the fact that I have always been made to feel that I am the cause of all problems in my family, always the first to be blamed, called a liar. I don't have a clear picture of myself, who I am, without the definitions my mother has tried to pin to me.


There were others in my life who were better role models, who told me that God is love and that I was made in his image and likeness, which meant that I was good.

Events and my mother's domineering influence over my father conspired to mute these influences, these positive voices. I was sexually assaulted at 17 while visiting my sister at her university, and my mother's response, along with my father's, was that the fault lay with me because I had been drinking. I can remember wanting to run away as early as the third grade, when I made it to the nearest street corner but then began crying and ran back home.

My mother packed a bag one afternoon when I was nine and said she was leaving. This made me fear being abandoned and I still have this fear today. The mental poison my mother served up seeped deep into my psyche, rendering me incapable of believing in myself, my self doubt always there, trying to convince me that I was good at nothing, would accomplish nothing, could be nothing.

I find it hard to forgive her. For not being there when I needed her. For not allowing me to be myself. For making me feel that who I was a broken person who was flawed and needed to be fixed. For making me feel suffocated, as though I couldn't breathe; stuck in a hot car with my face pressed to the ice-cold window just to feel a little relief. This is the baggage I carry with me and it has informed so much of my life. Someday I hope to set it down and be free of its weight. 

Copyright 2014-2021 by Jessica Paullus.  

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