Okay, so this isn’t literally about “cleaning by candlelight”. We had electricity!! It isn’t even actually about my mother’s lifelong and excellent private performance of Mommie Dearest. This is actually a memory about my older sister. One that haunts me to this day when something triggers it. An experience/event that in all my vast research on various types of mental and emotional abuse, this event still perplexes me.
It’s all enmeshed with a Mommie Dearest event though, so it all sort of entwines itself together into a surreal, confusing, “WTF” kind of experience.
One evening my mother arrived home late at night, well after dark. My step dad had built her a big beautiful home on 20 acres of land out in the country. I never once saw my mother clean a thing… That was our job. That was “what children are for”.
I was around 11 or 12. It was a pretty large house, so the cleaning was a time consuming, constant activity. I had cleaned late into the night after school one day, hoping to get mother’s rare and unlikely favor to ask if I could go to a slumber party that weekend with a friend from school. I cleaned, and cleaned, and cleaned… the very best I knew how from my 6 vast years of experience as my mother’s live-in housekeeper.
The evenings she stayed late at my step dads’ business working were always my favorite. The house was temporarily safe from screaming and my constant unintentional, inadvertent “transgressions” when she wasn’t home. ( by the way, mother worked because she wanted to, not because we needed the money or because my step dad insisted. She insisted.) So I cleaned fairly joyfully and hopefully with all the optimism and excitement of a pre-teen hoping and praying… Wordlessly begging even… for a normal childhood weekend experience like a slumber party with friends. All the girls at school did this every weekend and often week nights too. I had had one sleepover before in the 4th grade. Mother’s answer was always no, so I’d become often too afraid to even ask as the years of no’s went by.
I’m cleaning into the darkness every moment I can until she gets home. So excited to surprise her and hopeful for the favor I may get in return .
Around 8 PM, her car headlights come shining into the house as she drives down the driveway. Only then, do I start to feel afraid and nervous. I’m very proud of my hard work cleaning though, so my hope outweighed my fear for a rare moment.
She comes in the door. I excitedly hug her and ask how her day was …quietly waiting for her to notice how especially wonderful the house looks tonight. I see how she glances around. I knoW she sees the hard work I’ve done, but she says nothing.
Absolutely nothing. My surprise is ruined! She goes in her bedroom to change (I KNOW she’ll notice my hard work then!), and comes back out silently pretending not to even notice!
Hmmm… I wait a few minutes for her to sit down and relax (my fear is growing exponentially by the silent seconds ticking by without the acknowledgement I had counted on) and I finally muster the courage to excitedly (but timidly) say, “Mommie, I cleaned the WHOLE house tonight for you!! How does it look?”
She looks around as if she’s searching for something hard to see for a few seconds. My stomach is now on pins and needles, scared and confused, but still trying to hang on to a semblance of confidence at how hard and thorough I had worked on every nook and cranny.
She looks around in silence for those excruciating few seconds and finally very quietly and carefully says, “Oh, you did? Well I don’t know…. I’ll have to have a closer look around and see how you did .”
I’m flabbergasted ! It was obvious everywhere how especially spic and span, tidy, and shiny everything was!??? How could she not have already noticed?!
These were always the most uncomfortable and confusing moments for me. I was just a child, yet I had always had the deep intuition of a wise old woman . My gut told me without a doubt that she HAD noticed. But my youth and worship of my mother the goddess couldn’t fathom WHY she’d lie to me about this after I’d clearly worked so hard to surprise her. I mean, of COURSE she didn’t lie! She was the queen of the world! The one who “hated liars of any kind” and insisted on truth down to every detail like what fabric you were wearing. And if you happened to leave out that kind of thing you were “A LIAR!”. No, this perfect woman of truth and knowledge would never lie, would she?! Yet, from a ver young age, my gut often sensed she lied chronically, she just simply hated being lied to. Here, was where the beginnings of my disconnect with myself and my spirit started. Chronic contradiction and things just never seemed to add up somehow. …just more proof in my mind that I really was a “crazy problem child”. Survival instincts insisted I tell my intuition IT was a liar, not my beloved mommie dearest…!? GAWD, the mass internal conflict and chronic confusion this brought into me!
After she “looked around” a bit , it was clear what a total failure and disappointment I was as usual. At first, she just seemed disappointed and maybe frustrated..? However, as she began pointing out just how awful the house looked, she began to rise into the frenzy I was familiar with and terrified of…
She’s got ahold of my arm, pulling me around the house to show me how horrible it looks, how unacceptable it is, how worthless I am… Her voice is rising quickly and this “disappointment” is fast turning into rage. I’m secretly wishing I hadn’t even tried. After all, she hadn’t asked me to clean the house today. I had just wanted to surprise her,delight her (and maybe go to a slumber party Friday night). Clearly, I should have safely stuck to only doing what I was told to do when I was told to do it . What was I thinking rocking the boat like this? I knew better!!
So on to the real event of this story………
Eventually after enough shrieking and screaming and raging, my sister ventures calmly upstairs from her private oasis in her seclude bedroom on the first floor. I’m sure she’s just curious what I did to set mother off this time… I had told my sister on the walk up the hill from the bustop after school what I had planned to do and why. My sister of course wisely took no part in my “big surprise” and had just stayed in her room all night.
Unfortunately, this mistake was SO egregious and disgusting that this time mother chose to punish HER for my horridness as well. This rarely happened, but once in awhile, it did.
Mother is shrieking that we will ” BOTH CLEAN THIS FILTHY MESS UP TONIGHT IF IT TAKES US ALL NIGHT”. Like I said, rarely did my sister get included in these tirades, but even as the favored golden child, she knew better than to argue for justice while this level of rage was occurring .
Every light in the house was on from mother tearing through it to point out the mess I’d left . It was late, maybe 10 or 11 PM at this point. It was almost eerie with the whole house lit up bright as day and the windows were black from the complete darkness outside.
We both quietly began cleaning. I loved my sister for not seeming too awfully mad at me for getting us into this mess on a school night when we’d have to wake up for the bus at 5 AM. As disconnected, favored , and quiet at home as my sister was, she was still my ONLY hope and source of holding onto reality and sanity in this house. I looked up to her and desperately wanted her to love me…even from her quiet shell…
We had been cleaning a few hours into the night when my sister sat down on the piano bench looking upset. I sat down on the blue plush carpeted floor beneath her and in a quiet voice (mother was in the next room) asked her what was wrong.
Here is what she said…..
“I just feel awful about what happened to you and I’m really worried about you!”
What? I’m confused and really scared that here is when I’m going to find out how mad at me my sister REALLY is. I say, “Dawn, what are you talking about? This is my fault. I’m sorry you’re being punished too! I really wanted to go to that slumber party!! I’m so sorry!”
My older sister, Dawn, just looks super sad and shakes her head kinda pathetically toward me like I’m just crazy, clueless, ignorant…. I don’t know… I’m VERY confused…and for some reason, afraid too. She says, “no no no …. You don’t remember anything that happened, do you?”
Huh?? I’m soooooo confused!! I know what happened! I cleaned the house all night and made mother mad and now we were both being made to clean everything over again in spite of the fact that it was all already spotless. I knew EXACTLY what had happened!!?? What was going on here???? Was my sister finally losing her mind?
Very quietly my sister starts telling me what has “really” happened.
She says, no. You tried to kill yourself by taking a bunch of mom’s pills and you were unconscious in the snow outside. I found you and mom and I had to take you to the hospital. You were dead but they brought you back to life. That’s why you don’t remember anything of it all. I’m just very worried about you.
This was creepy as heck!! WHAAAAT???? None of that had happened!!! NONE OF IT!! What was she talking about and WHY was she saying this and insisting it was true??
I started crying and saying over and over and over WHAT? No I didn’t !! Why are you saying this?? Stop saying that! PLEASE tell me the truth?!
She kept insisting and sticking to this story of my “snowy suicide” which had led to us being punished into cleaning the house in the middle of the night .
I was getting so upset and confused at this point I was no longer whispering . I was crying, scared, confused, and hysterically trying to force my sister to tell me she was just mad and playing a silly joke on me with this bizarre random story .
Mother came in to find out what was happening of course. I desperately asked mother why we were cleaning in the middle of the night.. ???? If I had tried to kill myself and been found in the snow ..??? if I had died and just didn’t remember any of it…????????
I was too confused and scared I was actually maybe crazy to even be afraid to ask mother these wild questions while sobbing hysterically, desperate to hold on to reality..
Mother shook her head at Dawn and said with a smirk, “don’t tell your sister that stuff Dawn. You know she can’t remember it. Quit confusing her”.
And we were allowed to quit cleaning for the night and go on to bed.
Does anyone know what this was? Any ideas? This eerie insanity from my calm, wise sister still makes my head spin today!
WHAT was that mental game? And why?????