It had been a tough year as a 9-year old. I was emotional during this time but there was no one to talk to about all the things I was feeling and going through. I felt ignored most of the time, and had a lot of alone time. One day I was so upset that no one seemed to care about me that I packed up my little suitcase and ran away from home.
I made it all the way across the front yard and climbed into the bushes that were lined between the frontage road and the 1-acre land in front of our house. It was gray outside and I was trying to figure out where I was going to go. No one knew I had left. No one ever seemed to notice me, and I had plenty of time before they would miss me. That knowledge made me incredibly sad. Thoughts began to pour into my head. “Where will you go?” “How will you get food?” “What if it rains and what about when it gets colder and starts to snow?” I considered going back for my winter coat, but I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to do this on my own. I cried a few tears and then went back inside and unpacked my suitcase. I was destined to be alone, but at least I would have shelter and food. No one ever knew I had left.
I was expected to behave and be a good girl. And from observing everyone else around me, I wanted to be a good girl. It was a waste of effort to argue, and I really cared deeply for my mom. I wanted to make her life easier. I also wanted to make sure I had her love.
I was having a particularly difficult day and Mom asked me to unload the dishwasher while she made dinner. I don’t remember any details about why I was having such a hard time, but I was feeling emotional, exhausted, and frustrated. The idea of doing the dishes felt insurmountable. It was the only time I asked Mom if I could have the night off.
“Please, can I just not do it this one time??” I begged my mom.
“No, you have to do the dishes. I need your help.”
I could sense her fear. She was afraid that if she let me take the night off, I was going to ask again, and then I would become a problem – just like her other kids. I could hear her thoughts and see exactly what she was thinking.
“I promise I won’t ask again. Just this one time. Please….”
I was a really good kid. I didn’t argue, I did what I was told, and I helped with whatever I could. I knew this one time I needed to be held and acknowledged that I was human and I had bad days too. Mom would not back down. She seemed more like a boss than a mother.
Instead of doing the dishes, I ran to my room and landed face-down on my bed and cried. I cried for what seemed like hours. I cried until the sun set, and neither my mom or my brother came in to comfort me. Mom acted as if I was being manipulative and behaving like a brat. It was awful. I missed dinner and cried myself to sleep.
I woke up the next morning very confused. I was still dressed and there was a light blanket on me. I looked around the room and slowly put the pieces together. I didn’t know when I fell asleep and I never heard Mom come in. My first thought was, “She didn’t even help me get my pajamas on and tuck me in bed." It felt like she didn’t want to ‘deal with me’. I almost started to cry again but before the first tear fell, fear struck my heart. “Oh no! I never did the dishes! She’s going to be so upset with me!”
The speed in which I went from sadness about the lack of care to fear, was telling. When I didn’t do as my mom had asked, she would withhold love. And if I didn’t have her approval and her love, there was a part of me that knew I wouldn’t survive. It was essential – like water and food. There was no other human who could take care of me, other than my brother. If I had to live with my dad, I knew my life would be over. Mom was the safest option. But her love was conditional. She loved me when I was good, and turned it off if I didn’t behave or respond the way she wanted me to. (I watched her do it with my own children.) I relied on God, but I needed the human companionship as well.
Mom must have heard me awaken in my bed and at that moment she came in my room. “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” the tears began to roll down my face but this time I was begging for mercy. “I didn’t do the dishes. I’m so sorry, please forgive me!” Mom smiled and stroked my head and said, “It’s okay, honey.” My heart breathed with relief. I still had her love. She still loved me, even though I didn’t do the dishes. Everything was going to be okay.
Then she continued, “I left the dishes for you. You can still do them.” Her smile seemed to say, “See, I wasn’t going to let you get away with it.” My heart sank. The tears stopped. The begging stopped. It felt as if darkness surrounded me. I silently got up and did the dishes and was quiet the rest of the day. (Note to self – just do as your told and you’ll avoid a lot of heartache.)