It Never Happened – A True Story of Sibling Abuse (Part 6)

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Okay. We’re coming to an end of my story. I promise.

By the age of 16 I’d gathered enough courage from my friends and a feisty principal who dared tell my sister no that I started quietly rebelling. Not too much. Just a hairstyle here or a bit of makeup there. This resulted in my sister trying to ground me for an entire year. Which resulted in me trying to kill myself the first time. Thank god I’m a coward when it comes to pain or I wouldn’t be here.

I did start harming myself, though, and I was creative about it. I didn’t like the idea of cutting as knives made me feel squidgy. However, I kept my nails long and would rake them down parts of my body that I currently hated. Arms, tummy, legs, butt… nothing was spared. The other self-harm thing I did relied a lot on fate. I would walk out into traffic and not bother even looking to see if a car was coming. I heard the squeal of tires on pavement and drivers swearing many times, much to my disappointment. Not that I wanted to die. I just wanted to get injured. If I were injured then my sister would have to at least pretend to love me. It wasn’t much but it was something.

See, I was in a conundrum. I knew that how my sister treated me was wrong but I couldn’t stop myself trying to please her. When I did stop, I felt an insane amount of guilt. It was my job to make her happy and I failed at my reason for existing. My sister knew this and used my guilt to her advantage. To this day I’m a sucker for a guilt trip.

However, 16 saw lots of changes in my life. A few years earlier my sister married our first cousin. It was just another family secret to keep and then they had a son. Now that she had a family, I wasn’t needed. So, she bought a two bedroom home and my things were put in the basement where I was allowed to sleep once in a while. My parents got a two bedroom apartment that they shared with my brother.

Me? I was homeless and didn’t even know it.

It was two weeks before Christmas that year when a good friend was murdered in an arson fire. My world tilted and for the first time my self-harm was getting out of hand. When my sister moved into her house and my parents moved into their apartment, I had nowhere to go. My mother even took this opportunity to tell me that she didn’t want to be bothered being my mother any longer and I could do as I pleased. My sister was a real mom now. I had no one.

Several predators tried to prey on me but I was well protected. Remember when I said that John used to ride with a motorcycle gang? Well, he pulled in a favor and they spread the word that I was to be left alone. It wasn’t much but I didn’t realize how important that protection was until I was much older.

The problem with my situation was I was open to less obvious predators and got into many abusive relationships as a result. Only one tried to hit me but that stopped when I hit him back and nearly knocked him out. However, gaslighting is an insidious form of abuse.

I couch surfed for the most part. Slept in parks when it was warm and retreated to either my sister’s basement or a storage closet in my parent’s apartment. At least I had regular showers and no one denied me the opportunity to raid their fridge. I had a job offer to become a stripper but since I wasn’t yet 18, I turned it down.

In my 20s I realized there was something wrong with me but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. When you’re scrambling for a place to live, anxiety and depression become comfortable bed buddies to keep you warm at night. The psychiatrist I first saw suggested I confront my sister.

That went over well.

My sister denied everything. Going so far as to say it never happened. I was confused. I knew these things happened but she kept saying the same line, “it never happened.” My sister has a great orator’s skill. She can bestow such grace upon her listeners that they would swear angels just landed on the front lawn. Her talents are wasted as a social worker. She should have become a cult leader.

After a year of this I began to believe her. This was the 90s when false memories were a very real concern. I began to fervently believe I’d made it all up. In this new memory, my sister was a sweet and doting sibling who gave me everything to make my home loving and warm. Holidays were a joy and birthdays never went unnoticed. This new memory took away my guilt of not being able to fulfill my role as her joy bringer. Yet, the anxiety and depression never went away. My sister had an answer for that, too; I was defective.

A few years later I was in the University of Alberta in my third year on my Bachelor of Arts degree when I met up with a childhood friend. Michelle and I reminisced about our childhood together when she started bringing up the instances of abuse. Confused and alarmed, I told her that these things never happened. I’d made it all up.

Michelle had a core of iron and was as strong a person as anyone I knew. She looked at me and assured me it all had happened. She’d been there. Still alarmed, I took Michelle to see my sister where she repeated everything she said to me. My sister never even missed a beat. Instead, she looked at Michelle and said, “it never happened.”

It was then I understood. I would never get an apology or confession. She would never admit the horrific things she’d done to me. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s when I realize how deep her need to abuse me went.

My brother James succumbed to colon cancer and finally passed away. It was I who had been caring for both him and our aging parents for the past year or so. At the funeral I was pretty numb and hadn’t yet started grieving. My sister sought me out and said, “I wish it had been you that died rather than James. James would have taken care of Mom and Dad.”

Those words still haunt me but I wouldn’t find the strength to end our relationship for another dozen years or so. Two weeks before Christmas, always a difficult time for me, and I dared ask her for a favor. She started screaming at me and my entire childhood flooded back. I was a two year old girl who had just piddled at her feet like a bad puppy again. The spanking was coming.

However, I was no longer the same person I was. I had a new friend in my life and I learned from his quiet and steady strength. He was the first person to accept me as a whole being, broken bits and all. He taught me that I was complete as I was.

Something in me snapped and I hung up on my sister, telling her not to bother me again. With the exception of concerns for my mother’s care, she’s out of my life.

My father has been dead these past 10 years and I think he’d be proud of who I’ve become. It’s taken me six years to write these words down and even now I still worry that I’m going to get punished for them. I’m starting a business and working on getting my life on track. A difficult job for a woman in her 50s whose entire being was once taken up with the job of making her sister happy. Life goes forward.

I am a survivor and a victim.

It Never Happened – A True Story of Sibling Abuse (Part 3)

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TRIGGER WARNING!! The following contains graphic descriptions of abuse and may trigger readers who have a sensitivity to these images. Be warned.

At this point in my story I need to veer off and talk about another part of the tale that isn’t wholly mine to tell. I had two brothers I’ll call John (the older) and James (the younger of the two). As I was the baby of the family, a large part of this story I didn’t witness but was told by John and James what happened. I’ve put the pieces together here. I wasn’t the only victim and survivor of sibling abuse in my family. In a lot of ways, James had it worse than I did but in many ways he had it easier. You be the judge.

John was the next oldest in age, being about a year younger than my sister. He was born premature as my mother decided to help my father move a sofa when she was in her 8th month of pregnancy. An idiotic move but the birth led to more feelings of guilt on my mother’s part. It became clear there was something wrong with him and my mother was positive it had to do with his premature birth. I didn’t. My brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his 40s. Was he showing symptoms in his teens? I don’t know. I do know that he was one of those rare schizophrenics who don’t see or hear things but, rather, has delusions in his mind. Delusions of grandeur they’re called.

James was a year younger than John and a problem from the beginning. He didn’t speak until he was about 3 or 4 years old because he was simply too lazy. He would point and grunt at something and my parents would get him what he wanted. He was also a late walker for a similar reason. He simply didn’t need to as my parents would pick him up and carry him. The doctor put an end to it, though, when he told my mother to stop giving in to him. Within a couple of months he was walking and talking. He was later diagnosed as a “slow learner” by school psychologists. This was a catch-all phrase in the 70s meaning there was something wrong but no one could pinpoint what.

John had a streak of cruelty and violence in him that seemed to come from nowhere. Now, it is uncommon for schizophrenics to be violent unless they’re protecting themselves. My brother, however, seemed to revel in cruelty, especially toward James. Some of the incidents are too graphic for me to relate but I will speak of a few so readers can get an idea of what was going on.

James was the scapegoat for whatever John had in mind. Many times he’d make James stand in a corner while John and his friends threw darts at him. Another favorite game was to make James crawl on the floor yelling, “I’m a pig!” and squealing. As I said, there were others but those will give you an idea of what went on.

Is it any wonder, then, that James continued to wet the bed his entire life? Part of it was laziness. He simply didn’t want to wake up in the middle of the night to go pee. Part of it was John. If James did make the mistake of getting out of bed, John was there waiting to pounce. Eventually, James just learned to stay in bed and stay asleep. It was a survival trait as much as anything. However, the behaviour never changed in his entire life.

John also had a violent temper and the walls of the apartments where we lived were a testament to that. He would often put his fists through walls and doors, threatening anyone who got in his way in a blind rage. As a baby I was largely shielded and so was my sister by virtue of being a girl. My brother, James, and my parents, though, were the usual targets. Neighbours often complained about these violent outbursts and managers would come to inspect the apartment. We got creative, though, and learned to hide the holes with pictures and posters. One of my favorite pictures was a replica of “Blue Boy”, a painting I still find haunting and attractive.

My parents did try to get John help but in 70s, child care was much different than it is now. Desperately they reached out to doctors, teachers, even social workers who gave them the spare the rod, spoil the child speech. If John was a torment, it was their fault because they were bad parents. Given my mother’s history, it only added to her sense of guilt and anxiety.

I’m not sure exactly what happened as the incident has largely remained a family secret, hidden even from me, but by the time John reached 15 he was evicted from the family home. Years later my father related much of the story but I have no recollection and don’t know the intricacies of it.

It was about this time that my parents began fearing for their children’s safety when John would act out. They had three other children to think of and one of them wasn’t even in school yet. James had all but retreated into himself and refused to speak of the abuse he suffered at John’s hands. James and I learned to keep the family secrets or else.

John was being violent again and my father was trying, in vain, to contain him. As a child, the physical violence of my brother and the verbal violence of my sister was simply too much for me to handle. I would often come out, begging in tears for everyone to stop. Please just stop. Even to this day I cannot stand a voice raised in anger. It’s enough to make me shake and cry uncontrollably.

I must have stepped in between my father and John. John swung out. Whether it was with his fist or his foot, I don’t know. I don’t know if he connected or not but it was this incident that caused my father to eject him from the home. My father later said he had to choose between John’s violence and my safety and he chose me though he didn’t love my brother any less.

Let me make it clear that my brother John never turned his violence towards me intentionally and he was just as hurt and shocked as my father was that I was nearly the one injured. He left the home, becoming homeless at that age and was later taken in by some friends who were part of a motorcycle gang though he never officially became a member of the gang. His life was a daily struggle that no one in the family could ease and it weighed on my father heavily.

Later in life, before my brother James died of cancer in 2001, James returned home to accept responsibility for what he’d done as a teen. He’d been diagnosed with schizophrenia by this time and was dutifully taking his meds. In a heart to heart conversation, John apologized for what he’d done to James. They both acknowledged that an apology didn’t change what happened but it did much to heal them both. I know how hard it was for John to swallow his pride and give that apology. I also know how much he needed to say the words and how glad he was after my brother’s death that he’d given it.

I never received even the acknowledgement that these events occurred by my abuser.

(to be continued…)

It Never Happened – A True Story of Sibling Abuse (Part 2)

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By the time my sister was 11, my mother had built up enough guilt to satisfy the Vatican for a decade. She was determined to be a good mother but how could she when her child’s life was a daily torment? Part of her lived in constant fear that her children would be taken away again.

She came up with a brilliant plan, have another child. My mother hoped I’d be a girl so that my sister would have a playmate. It was my job from the moment I was conceived to make my sister’s life better.

However, long before I was ever thought of another problem was brewing. My sister would often come home filled with the rage, frustration and tears that bullying brings. Without any other venue to release those emotions, she would vent them on the family in the form of verbal rages. My parents began giving in to her demands as a means to try and make her happy. My father was at a loss as to how to fix the situation. A quiet man, his solutions to problems were often direct and swift. Bullying, though, is a complex problem and, at the time, was seen as unimportant.

So the situation at home was quickly becoming centred around my sister. Getting pregnant and giving birth to me specifically to make my sister’s life more pleasant just cemented the deal. My mother often joked how I never belonged to her, that my siblings took over my care. Especially my sister.

Any parent should be aware that leaving the care of an infant to your children who are just entering their teen years is a bad idea. Especially when the only peer interaction one of those children had was one of torment. Now, in the home, my sister was quickly becoming the little dictator of the family. If my sister wanted something done, she would scream until it was done. Everyone just learned to get out of her way to keep some peace in the house.

My mother saw how happy I made my sister so she turned more and more of my care over to my sister. I’m not sure when my discipline was included in that but the daughter that was quickly ruling the house with an iron fist was allowed to rule over me as well. As my sister grew into a woman with her own life, my mother’s guilt slowly eased. Even if it never went away.

I feel a need to interject something here. My mother suffered from something few of us can understand and I don’t blame her for that. However, she used that suffering as a justification for rejecting me and not bonding with me as a mother should. She further used her past and state of mind to enable and condone my sister’s abuse. She not only saw what my sister did but she encouraged it and it’s that for which I do blame her.

There is a story that my mother found outrageously funny about my early years that she would tell repeatedly. I find it alarming.

When I was a toddler, probably about 2 years old or so, I was being potty trained. Like any child, the concept was a bit beyond me still so I was still having accidents. There’s every possibility, too, that my bladder wasn’t yet ready for full potty training. However, that didn’t stop my sister who was tired of changing diapers.

One day I was playing in the living room when my sister asked if I needed to go. I said no and kept playing. It’s likely that I was engrossed in my play and simply didn’t have the attention required to know if my bladder was full or not. I was a toddler and knowing when you have to go pee is a new skill that requires some thought.

I have many memories from my early years. My first memory is waking up in my crib from a nightmare and pulling myself up by the bars, crying as I did so. I was probably a little less than a year old at the time. The potty training memory is another memory but it comes in bits and flashes. Not like the nightmare one which is fairly clear.

I chose that moment to let my bladder loose. Right in front of my sister who was already done with this whole potty training business. Convinced I had done it just to spite her, my sister picked me up and turned me over her knee. My mother wasn’t opposed to spanking and she had allowed my sister more and more freedom regarding my care. When my sister began spanking me, she did nothing to stop it.

It’s at this point my mother always began to laugh. She would tell me in mirthful tones how my sister spanked me so long and so hard she began to get frightened. Once I asked why she didn’t stop my sister. My mother merely responded by saying she didn’t see a reason to stop her. Still, the spanking went on. I don’t remember the actual spanking but I do remember my sister grabbing me.

It was my father who intervened. I don’t know where he was until then but I do know he came into the room to my screams. Apparently he ripped me away from my sister and cradled me protectively. My father rarely got angry but he did at that moment and proclaimed that no one was to ever spank me again. I still received spankings, mostly from my mother and with a wooden spoon or such, but it was always when my father was away. She knew I didn’t dare tell him of these things.

According to my mother I was magically potty trained from that moment on and I never had another accident. Even when she took me on a two hour train ride. Not one single accident. Yes, I’d learned. I learned that crossing my sister had consequences and it wasn’t my mother that would intervene.

My father rarely came between my sister and I. Although he was physically imposing, he was a gentle, quiet man. At 6’1″, he had a distinctly Clark Gable look about him with those same distinguished good looks. Even complete with the moustache which always looked handsome on him. A look few men could ever pull off. However, confrontation and violence of any kind weren’t his way. While he was prepared to fight for what he believed in and protect what he loved, he preferred a quiet solution to problems.

My mother laughed about the incident for years until dementia finally claimed her memories and she no longer told the story. It is the one thing I’ve been grateful to dementia for giving me. Peace from that sickeningly gleeful way she talked of my sister’s physical violence towards me. I suppose, then, that emotional and psychological violence weren’t even worth noticing for her.

Although my sister’s physical violence was curbed, her penchant for emotional and psychological cruelty wasn’t and it was here she excelled.

It Never Happened – A True Story of Sibling Abuse (Part 1)

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I am a survivor and victim.

Yes, I am both those things and what follows is the hardest thing I’ve ever written in my life. Even now there’s a fear that what I’m doing is wrong and that I’ll get punished for it. That never really goes away, you know. The sense that my abuser is watching and disapproves is always there, always in the background. I always feel a sense of impending punishment.

I still have problems speaking about it. I hear the same old justifications in my head; at least you weren’t hit (I was) or at least they weren’t addicts or there were others who had it worse than you. Yet another part of me wants to speak out. The writer in me needs to tell the story.

I was born the youngest of 6 and it’s here that the stage was set for my abuse. My mother lost her oldest two boys to her father’s cruelty and laziness and a system that was stacked against the poor. She met my father and three months later she was pregnant with my sister. A scandal at the time and one of the first secrets I was taught to keep. It was the first of many.

My mother worked as a waitress and got a job while in the early stages of her pregnancy. The job required her to get a test for tuberculosis. An x-ray. Why my mother got the x-ray when she knew she was pregnant is a mystery even to her. It would have been easy to opt out or to ensure precautions were taken but she didn’t.

My sister was born with Hallermann-Streiff Syndrome, a congenital condition that affects mostly the face and skull. In short, my sister looked different and that difference was the cause of some extreme bullying she suffered in her early years. Did this affect what was to come and who she became? Of course. Does it excuse it? Not at all.

In the first 12 years of her life my sister was tormented by her peers as a freak and it affected my mother deeply. She blamed herself for the loss of her two oldest boys, now adopted legally by her very good friend, and she knew that the x-ray was to blame for my sister’s condition. My mother swam in a sea of guilt and I have no doubt that there was an element of depression involved.

It’s here I need to touch on my parent’s relationship. My mother had been married to a man who had a habit of just walking away from the family for weeks or months at a time whenever the whim overcame him. He lived homeless and partied with friends most of the time. When my mother lost her sons, she walked away from the marriage and filed for divorce but was unable to locate him. That’s when she met my father.

My father was a good man who lived a wanderer’s life. He was much like Bilbo Baggins, content to roam the earth with nothing more than a backpack and a smile. Sometimes not even that. As a teen and young adult, he often “rode the rails” or what is now called being a hobo. He would jump on trains and ride them to the next stop. He even once told me it wasn’t uncommon for him to get himself arrested loitering or something small so he’d have a place to sleep and a good meal. Not a glorious life but my father had a good heart and he never caused harm to anyone. He later joined the Army because, as he put it, he wanted a job. After that was finished he joined the Air Force and then the Merchant Marines. He even went to Korea as a member of the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. Yes, he was a ground pounder.

My father and mother met when he was in the Merchant Marines. He’d missed his ship and met a waitress whose life had taken a bad turn instead. My mother had just lost her sons and left their father when she met my father. Although he would help her fight for their return, they were never successful. When she became pregnant, my father chose to stay at a time when, if he had chosen to leave, no one would have thought anything about it. After all, in the 50s, a pregnancy was the woman’s problem and her job to find a man to provide for her and the baby but it was a man’s choice to take on that role.

By the time my mother met my father, she was wrung out. Too much had happened and she’d had no help dealing with any of it. She often told me that she didn’t care if my father stayed or left. My father, being the man he was, chose to stay and be the best father he could be with nothing more than a grade 6 education and determination.

This, then, was the back story into which I was born. I didn’t stand a chance.

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