It was her favourite dress.
She fingered the crinkly rust-brown cotton flounce at the bottom of the skirt and ran her fingers over the crocheted trim at the top of the flounce that looked like a string of white daisies. She knew they couldn’t afford to buy her clothes from the store and it was a good thing that Mommy knew how to sew, or she might be running around naked!
She tugged the dress down from its hanger, the soft green calico printed skirt spreading out like a parachute. Mommy had made the dress last year, for the school pageant. Every grade did a dance out on the lawn for the parents at the end of the school year and the fourth grade had done a square dance. All of the parents had been instructed to provide appropriate costumes for the children, and the girls were to have full-skirted dresses with crinolines beneath them, which excited her very much. She loved the fluffy look of the crinolines Janet’s and Megan’s older sisters wore underneath their felt poodle skirts, and now she was going to get one of her own!
Mommy had complained and complained and it had begun to look like she was the only girl in the fourth grade who wouldn’t have a square dance dress for the pageant…would they even let her dance if she didn’t have the dress? But at the last minute, Mommy stayed up all night sewing and the result was this beautiful dress with the full skirt that made a circle when she twirled, and with actual ruffles on the hem and at the edges of the sleeves…even if the ruffles were made of a kind of ugly rust brown. But the mint green of the bodice and the skirt and the delicate daisy trim made up for it, and even though she never did get the crinolines, the dress made her feel pretty when she wore it.
Retrieving the dress from the floor, she pulled it over her head and struggled with the zipper. She had only the one pair of shoes, the ugly brown and white saddle oxfords, and all of her socks were the same thin plain white cotton and she had nothing for her tortured, fried, sadly home-permed hair save a few bobby pins, but it didn’t matter. In this dress, she was pretty.
She had already eaten breakfast and made lunches for her and Brother. The dirty dishes were in the sink for her to wash when she got home. “Hurry up!” she urged Brother from the bedroom door. “I have to wake Mommy up for work in five minutes and you know she will light into you if you aren’t ready!”
“Light into you, you mean,” Brother said, lingering over a comic book when he should have been making his bed. He might only be six, but he was astute enough to know how things worked in this house. She stepped in and gave the blankets a few flips and twitches, giving the bed an appearance that at least an attempt at making it had been made. “Let’s go,” she said. “Your lunch is by the front door.”
Brother was no dummy. He tossed his comic into the jumble on his closet floor and slid the door shut, giving the room an appearance of tidiness, then ran out the front door, brown sack in hand. He did not want to be within earshot when she went in and woke Mommy up for work.
She gave a last look at the kitchen, the living room, the bathroom, stopping to pick Brother’s wet towel up off the floor and hang it on the rack. She checked again that the percolator had coffee and water in it, ready for Mommy to turn on the stove and get the coffee going. Taking a deep breath to calm herself, she opened her mother’s bedroom door and looked in.
She stood stock still. There were two people in the bed! But…Daddy didn’t live here any more… Her heart soared momentarily…had Daddy come back? She scrutinized the bit of face and hair she could see from the bedroom door…nope…not Daddy. The hair was too long, too dark, too curly. So what should she do now? She pondered for a moment, knowing that to fail to wake Mommy would make her late for work, a major crime by any standard. But she had a sense that her being in the room with that man was a serious invasion of Mommy’s privacy, another major crime. She mentally flipped a coin and decided getting Mommy up was the safest course of action.
Ten minutes later, after dodging half-waking blows and warding off a steady stream of curses, she heaved a sigh and headed out the front door for school. Mommy was in the bathroom, which meant it was safe for her to leave…once up, Mommy never, ever went back to bed. Mommy had said nothing about the strange man in her bed and she knew better than to ask. She hurried, fearful of being late, fearful of Mommy coming along behind her to snatch her back for something she had forgotten, and rushed for the shortcut across the creek, knowing she could not be seen from the roadway and that she would emerge safe in the embrace of the school grounds. She smoothed her hands down the soft pale green sprigged cotton skirts of her favourite dress. At least she felt pretty.
It had been a hard day at school. As usual, she was the last person picked for softball…and then she was put into a made-up position, “far right field.” Right field was the hinterlands, the furthest, most remote legitimate position into which the ball flew only at the hands of a left-handed batter. It was the place of the ostracized, the inept, the bungling sports incompetents. And her team captain had invented an even more remote position for her to play. Just as well, she shrugged, walking slowly alone towards the shortcut. Ever since she had been smacked in the face with that pop fly over the backstop one of the bigger sixth graders had hit, she was afraid of the ball and she preferred being sent out to the hard dirt badlands where no ball threatened her and no taunting classmates interrupted her daydreams.
Fractions weren’t making much sense, especially multiplying and dividing them, and she’d gotten a bad mark on her arithmetic paper today. Another one. She was going to get a bad grade in arithmetic this term and that was going to make Mommy mad. But she couldn’t help it! She didn’t know her times tables and that made it very hard! When she had skipped a grade, nobody thought to take a little time to teach her the stuff that she should have learned in that grade! Arithmetic was hard when you didn’t know your times tables and Daddy wasn’t there anymore to help you memorize them. She hadn’t wanted to skip that grade anyway, and leave all her friends behind and have to try to make new friends with older, bigger kids. But she was smart, the tests said so, and Mommy insisted so much the school gave in. Who listens to the objections of a seven-year-old, anyway? As always, she did as she was told, regardless of her own personal feelings in the matter. The grownups were in charge.
The weather was warm and the creek bed was almost dry. She skipped lightly over the exposed rocks and climbed the path up to the street ahead, passing Donny Matthew’s house. Donnie had died over the winter, from something they called “dip-thir-ee-uh.” She had no idea what that was or why a nice kid like Donny had to die from it. He was there when they went on Christmas Vacation, his desk was empty when they came back. She wondered if this mysterious disease was like polio. Every autumn there were empty desks where classmates went missing due to the dread scourge. Sometimes they came back later, in wheelchairs or on crutches, wearing clunking iron braces on their legs…sometimes they never came back at all. Nobody talked about it. She wondered why.
She walked along the sidewalk, past the small neat bungalows of the newer houses and the occasional large, older house that was surely the dwelling of the original owner of the land. She crossed the street to avoid walking past the “witch’s house,” a dilapidated old structure of peeling once-white clapboards half hidden behind an iron fence draped with the desiccated sticks of what must have once been a flourishing vine. A bent old woman with great streams of wild iron gray hair lived in the house, a vile tempered old woman who screamed at the children as they walked by and shook her walking stick at them. The old woman gave her the creeps.
At the next corner there was her favourite neighbourhood house. A retaining wall of black stone with white mortar surrounded the property and colourful flowers were planted at the edges and cascaded over. The house itself was an appealing mix of candy-pink stucco above a window-high façade of the same black stone with white mortaring. Often, as she walked by, the white-haired old man who lived there would be out in the garden and on occasion he would pick a stem of pretty geraniums and present them to her with a bow and a flourish, like she was a princess, causing her to giggle and blush before she took the flower and skipped home. Occasionally he had a sweet in the pocket of his bib overalls for her, and other times, just a friendly smile and wave. The neighbourhood knew him as “Grampa Flowers,” and many of the children, like her, loved him. Others, unaccountably, avoided Grampa Flowers’ house. She shrugged and continued on towards home, hoping Grampa Flowers would be digging in his garden as she came by…she could use a smile and a flower to cheer her up. Even her favourite dress was not doing the job.
Pink geraniums and petunias rioted in the flower beds at the edge of the retaining wall, and she was delighted to see Grampa Flowers on his knees, plucking out weeds with his gloved hands. “Hi, Grampa!” she called, waving, putting on a happier face than she felt.
“Hi, there, sweetie!” he replied, waving back. He stood up and, removing a glove, reached into the pocket where he usually kept little candies for the kids, but came up empty. He put on an exaggerated sad face, making her giggle, then held up one finger and lifted his white brows as if an idea had come over him. “Come up to the kitchen!” he said. “I know where Gramma Flowers keeps them!”
She skipped up the driveway and followed him to the kitchen door, where she stopped at the threshold. “It’s OK,” Grampa Flowers said, motioning her inside. He had a cupboard open, his hand inside a tin. “Ah ha!” he said triumphantly. “Got them!”
He pulled out a kitchen chair and sat down, complaining about his back, and held out a sweet for her. She stepped up and took the hard candy, unwrapped it and popped it into her mouth. “That’s a pretty dress,” Grampa Flowers said, “What’s this?” he pointed to the row of crocheted lace daisies above the flounce. “Flowers? You know I like flowers, don’t you?”
She nodded, sucking on the hard candy, as he examined the trim on her dress. “Come,” he said, and patted his knee. “Sit here so I can have a better look.”
He pulled her onto his lap, her legs astraddle one of his thighs, and lifted the hem of her skirt, peering at the decorative flowers. “Very pretty,” he said softly. “Pretty like you.” She blushed and giggled a little as one large warm hand covered her bare thigh. “Would you like another sweet?”
At her nod he handed her another candy and as she busied herself unwrapping the cellophane, his hand slid up her thigh until it touched the crotch of her panties. She wriggled, trying to get down, but he said “Be still!” rather sternly in her ear and, knowing she must not disobey an adult, she froze.
“Very pretty,” Grampa Flowers said, stroking the outside of her panties, allowing his fingers to test the tightness of the elastic. “How old are you, sweetie?”
“Eight,” she said. “I have to go home.” She tried again to get down, but somehow his other arm had come around her waist and she was caught on his lap.
“Just sit still,” he said softly, firmly, in her ear. “I won’t hurt you.” She froze again, wondering what to do. Mommy said never to touch herself there except in the bathtub, and then for just a second…it was bad to touch yourself there. And she was going to be late getting home and if she wasn’t home to answer the phone when Mommy called, she would get a spanking for sure.
She felt Grandpa Flowers' fingers inside the leg of her panties, touching her skin, pinching gently, probing. She wriggled again, trying to get down, and he gave a sighing sound in her ear. “That’s right, honey, move on them. Doesn’t that feel nice? It sure feels nice to me.”
“I have to go home,” she whined, his fingers chafing the dry, delicate flesh. She wriggled again, trying to get down and felt his finger actually slide a little ways into her body. Panic gripped her. “No!” she cried. “Let me down!”
His arm tightened around her chest, “It’s OK,” he murmured a little breathlessly in her ear. “Just relax and let it feel good.”
“It hurts!” she cried, and he pulled his fingers back to gently rub and soothe the chafed tissues, still stroking her and holding her tightly in his lap. He was breathing funny and rocking in the chair, restraining her with one hand and rubbing inside her panties with the other, his breathing getting harsher and more rapid as she struggled. “Let me go! Let me go!” she cried, twisting in his grip and flailing her legs, only to have his hand cup her entire crotch suddenly, tightly, with his fingers tightly pressing against the tiny opening he had tried to breach some minutes before. He stopped rocking suddenly and clasped her tightly to him, pressing her bottom into his lap, his breath coming in harsh gasps. His body stiffened and he released his grip momentarily and she bolted from his grasp and out the kitchen door, too frightened even to cry.
She ran to the end of the block and turned the corner to her street, streaked up to the house, let herself in and ran to the bathroom where she was violently, miserably sick. After retching repeatedly, she ran to her bedroom and stripped off her dress, put it on a hanger and hung it in the back of the closet, behind some of Mommy’s extra clothes, overflow from the master bedroom closets. She banged the closet door shut and stood there gasping, unable to find words...or even tears.
But she knew she never wanted to see that dress again. It was home made. It was ugly, that hideous brown colour, that stupid green. It made her feel dirty, ugly, soiled. She hated it!
It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.