Years later, she would be surprised to learn that children in many communities took homework home with them as a matter of course. In her experience, homework normally began when you entered junior high. In lower grades, being assigned homework was a sign that you were failing a subject and needed extra work in it.
Even at the age of eight, that made no sense to her. It seemed rather obvious that if you didn’t know how to do something in class, where you had examples on the board, access to the teacher, and maybe even a classmate or two who did understand the work and might be able to explain it to you…if you weren’t grasping the work and were unable to do it under those circumstances, what hope was there that you could do it alone, without resources? Ask your parents for help? Well, maybe some other little girl, but not this one! Even letting Mommy know that homework had been assigned was enough to warrant a spanking or two, and she was happy to keep that nasty strap hanging on the back of the kitchen door, thank you.
Staying after school for help wasn’t an option, either. She had given herself a lifetime of headaches trying to figure out Mommy’s thinking so she could anticipate trouble and stay out of it, but so far, no reliable patterns had emerged…although there was a growing list of items and actions both forbidden and unadvisable. The expectation of perfection…first time, every time…was unspoken…as was unquestioning obedience. Once, in response to her tearful excuse “I tried, I couldn’t!” Mommy had taken her shoulders in a bruising grip, shaken her until her teeth rattled, and said “If I tell you to go in the bathroom and tie a ribbon around a stream of water running from the tap, I expect you to do it! No tries! No failures! No excuses! Do you understand me?” She understood, all right, a sense of hopelessness rising within her. She simply did not know how to stay out of trouble with Mommy.
And this homework assignment was no exception. Mommy would have a screaming, raving fit when she found out about it. Only kids who were in danger of failing a subject got homework…this assignment would tell Mommy, loud and clear, that she was failing arithmetic. She already knew what that would mean...
“This from my genius daughter? This is simple arithmetic…you cannot possibly be so stupid that you can’t do this! Brother can do this and he is three grades behind you in school! You’re daydreaming again during lessons, aren’t you? Staring out the window when you should be paying attention, then playing dumb to get sympathy from the teacher. I know how your mind works, little girl, and you may fool that silly old biddy of a teacher of yours, but you don’t fool me one bit!” All of this delivered in a high-pitched, enraged shriek punctuated by the stinging snaps of the strap as it bit into what would be her bare butt, for Mommy would make her take down her pants and bend over the bed and remain motionless…to move prematurely was to invite a protracted punishment. Better to lay passively and take the lashes, maintaining silence or shrieking with each blow, depending on what Mommy wanted at that given time. No thanks.
She had gone to her teacher to beg her to reconsider but Mrs. Brown had just said “You need the extra practice, dear.” Then she got scared, thinking about Mommy’s reaction to homework…and she tried to explain, through tears, what was going to happen to her when her mother saw the homework. Mrs. Brown smiled indulgently and scoffed, “I’m sure it’s not as bad as all that, dear. Now take your assignment paper and have it back to me inside a week.”
Reluctantly, she took the paper off her teacher’s desk and took a look at it. Her heart sank and that sense of hopelessness that had created a kind of hollow space just below her throat, expanded. “I can’t do this,” she said in a choked whisper.
“Of course you can, dear,” Mrs. Brown said with cheerful encouragement. “Of course you can!”
“This is all multiplication and long division,” she said, her voice tinged with horror. “I don’t know my times tables!”
“Well, then, you will just have to ask your parents for help,” Mrs. Brown said dismissively, turning back to marking the papers on her desk. “Be careful walking home, dear.”
She had folded the paper into a small square and stuck it in her sweater pocket so that nobody could see it. If anyone saw her carrying a homework paper and told Brother, he would delight in tattling to Mommy, and this was something to keep quiet…very quiet.
She took the shortcut home, through the creek, and went straight to her room, closing the door behind her. She had only a few minutes to change into her play clothes before Brother would be at the door, demanding that she open it. Closed doors, except when changing clothes, were not permitted. She had to find a place to hide the paper until she could decide what to do about it. She looked hurriedly around the room…not under the mattress…Mommy would find it when she changed the sheets. Not the closet, either…coming home that day and finding most of her toys gone to the Goodwill taught her that her closet wasn’t a safe place for anything. She couldn’t leave it in her pocket…it might fall out or Mommy might decide to wash the sweater and find it…where? Where?
Her eyes fell on the upended orange crate that served as a bedside table for her. Inside the crate was a stack of Little Golden Books and a clutter of old colouring books, paper doll folders, and some old drawings of hers. Perfect! She slid a book out of the middle of the stack, slipped the paper between the pages, and returned the book to its original position. That should buy her some time to decide what to, she thought with a huge sigh. She had a week.
By the end of the week, however, she had come up with nothing. At first she had thought she could do it while Mommy was at work, but Brother was always spying on her. She then thought about asking Daddy for help, but Daddy hated secrets of any kind and would insist that she “come clean” about her troubles with arithmetic. That would be fine as long as Daddy was home, but the minute he was off to his evening job, Mommy would beat the stuffing out of her with that strap for not telling her first and making her look like a fool with Daddy. But telling Mommy she was failing anything was out of the question…Mommy took her mistakes and failures as personal assaults and punished them accordingly.
The homework had been assigned on Friday afternoon. By Monday night she was beginning to feel sick to her stomach all the time. Not a real stomach ache, just a kind of general kind of mild carsickness feeling. And her eczema was itching like crazy, much worse than usual, with the little spots behind her knees flaring into weeping patches of itching misery. She could feel a boil coming up on the back of her thigh, a fact she was careful to conceal from everyone, lest Mommy find out and hold her down and squeeze it. She wasn’t sure which was worse…Mommy sitting on her to hold her down…and cutting off her breath…or the deep, piercing agony of having the boil squeezed, followed by hours of deep, hot, tender throbbing, like a toothache deep inside her muscle. That she was not allowed to scream or cry during the process didn’t help at all, either. Why couldn’t Mommy just put egg skin on it, like Nana did, and let it come to a head on its own?
She had four more days and had not yet figured out how to get that homework paper done and back to school without being found out. She lay in her bed at night, unable to fall asleep, dreading the arrival of dawn. Another day…the countdown grew shorter. She felt doomed, hopeless, like her life had taken a bleak turn and there was no way to steer herself back to safety. She was afraid and on the edge of tears every moment. She was extra careful to stay out of trouble because she didn’t think she could take a whipping with the strap right now, not with that boil coming up on her leg. If Mommy hit that with the strap, she would probably pee in her pants from the sheer agony of it. She turned in her bed and looked at the stars outside the window. God was somewhere out there. Why didn’t He rescue her? Exhausted, feeling sleep inexorably claiming her, she looked out at the cosmos and whispered, “Please, God, don’t let me wake up in the morning.”
It was Friday morning and despite her fervent nightly prayer for oblivion, she awoke and dragged herself to school. She had black circles under her eyes from lack of sleep and her roiling stomach hadn’t allowed for much appetite. Always a bit on the thin side, she was beginning to look undernourished. If Mrs. Brown noticed her distress when she called her up to the desk at the end of the day, she gave no indication. “Don’t you have something for me?” the teacher asked mildly.
She hung her head and shook it. “I lost it,” she lied. “I can’t find it anywhere.”
Mrs. Brown pondered her for a moment, then nodded. “Ok, well, I’ll give you another paper. If you don’t have it to me next Friday, I’ll have to contact your mother, do you understand?” She nodded miserably, taking the paper and folding it to fit her pocket. Once home, it joined its mate in the Little Golden Book, and she flung herself down on the bed, staring out the window at the cloudless sky. “Why won’t you let me die?” she whispered, tears leaking out her eyes and running a thin trail to her ears. “Why do I have to do this?”
By the end of the second week, she merely shook her head “No,” when Mrs. Brown asked for the homework paper. She had considered pleading her case with the teacher again, but, convinced of the hopelessness of it…indeed, convinced of the hopelessness of her whole situation, she opted for muteness. Mrs. Brown handed her a paper to give to her mother. “Return it to me on Monday, signed,” the teacher said. She did not even acknowledge, simply folded the paper to fit her pocket and trekked home, “losing” it in the creek on the way.
Monday saw her with a gripping stomach ache. She had barely eaten for several days and had nothing to vomit, but her body paid no attention to that pointless little fact. Bent over the bowl, she heaved and gagged and cried, her darkly shadowed, red-rimmed eyes accentuating the paleness and growing thinness of her face. Surprisingly, Mommy did not accuse her of goldbricking this time, but put her to bed and told her to stay there until she got home from work. She spent the day sleeping and trying to do the homework, but without knowing her multiplication tables, she was unable to even hazard a reasonable guess. A black mantle of hopelessness settled over her, and she climbed back into her bed, more prayers for deliverance on her lips. She had hours of uninterrupted time to think. And she could find no solution to her dilemma that did not involve another whipping, another tongue-lashing, maybe even perpetual reminders. Her bedroom wall was paper thin and when Mommy had company, she often lay with her ear to the wall, listening to Mommy tell her friends what a horrible child she was, how difficult, how wilful…she wasn’t stupid, after all, so she had to screw things up to royally and regularly through sheer dint of wilful defiance. There was, in Mommy’s mind, no other answer, and every mistake, every misstep, every error she had ever made in her entire short, miserable life, had been trotted out by Mommy as examples. “Poor Georgia,” she once heard a woman say, “you certainly put up with a lot from that child.” She lay in her bed, burning with humiliation, listening to her transgressions being broadcast to everyone Mommy knew, each new one described in minute and painstaking detail…and this one was going to be the jewel in Mommy’s crown of “Poor Georgia, saddled with this horrible child” stories.
Mrs. Brown must have telephoned Mommy at work because Mommy was screaming when she came in the door. “You conniving little bitch!” she bellowed. “Get your sneaky ass out here this instant because if I have to come for you, I will snatch every hair out of your head dragging you here.”
She rose from the bed, dizzy from two weeks of eating next to nothing, and her bladder suddenly wanted urgent emptying. She walked out to the living room, staying close to the wall for support, to face her Mommy. Brother was sitting on the couch, unaware of what was going on, his eyes wide open, his mouth formed into an “O” of surprise. She looked around the room, her eyes resting on the clock on the television, her heart sinking. Daddy wouldn’t be home for half an hour yet…she was going to die for sure.
“What in the name of all that is holy do you think you are up to, miss?” Mommy said, grabbing a handful of her frizzy perm and yanking her head back. “You look at me when I am talking to you!” Mommy shook her violently by her hair. She clicked her eyes over to focus them on Mommy’s and felt herself begin to go numb. First her feet felt like they had disappeared, and the feeling began creeping slowly upwards.
She wasn’t even sure what Mommy was saying to her, her attention had been focussed on the feeling that was disappearing from her legs. Would she faint when it reached her head? Was she dying, at last? Would this be her release? Would she go to Heaven and be with Jesus? Was Heaven really there? She had thought Jesus loved children, but she was having trouble reconciling that with Jesus leaving her here with her mother. Mommy was shaking her by the hair and screaming at her, but she couldn’t understand the rushing, distorted sounds. Mommy’s freakishly red lips opened and closed rapidly and flecks of spittle flew from them, but she didn’t feel any thing. She could tell Mommy was shaking her head back and forth by the hair, but she really didn’t feel anything, the rushing and roaring in her ears overwhelming everything else.
She saw Brother bring the strap and somebody took down her pajama bottoms…did she do it herself? She wasn’t actually sure. Mommy’s mouth continued moving, her crooked yellow teeth alternately bared and covered by the bloody red lips, making strange warped sounds. She could see the strap flying through the air, she could even feel the slim strip of leather wrap itself around her, following her every contour like a caress, and she could hear a wailing sound in the background…was it a siren?...but, curiously, she didn’t feel the strap and she didn’t exactly understand what was going on.
She opened her eyes suddenly and she was in her bed. She thought she remembered walking back to the bed, getting in, and pulling up the covers, but it seemed rather dreamlike in quality, so she wasn’t exactly sure. Daddy was beside the bed, shaking her gently.
“Are you awake, punkin?” he was asking. “Mommy says I need to have a talk with you.”
The fog instantly cleared from her brain. This was really bad, if Daddy was being sent in to punish her, too. She held her tongue and waited for him to continue.
“Mommy says you lied to her about a homework assignment…” she shook her head. “You didn’t lie?” Daddy asked. She shook her head again. “OK, then, what happened?”
“I didn’t tell her about it at all,” she said, breaking eye contact with him. She hated to see disappointment in Daddy’s eyes…it almost hurt more than the strap.
“I see,” Daddy said, looking thoughtful. “And why didn’t you tell her?”
She kept her eyes down, focussing on her ugly little hands with the nails chewed down to the quick. “I was afraid.”
“Of what, honey?”
“That Mommy would get mad. Only kids who are failing get homework….”
Daddy sat quietly for a minute. “Let me guess…arithmetic?” She nodded miserably.
“You could have asked me for help,” he said gently.
“Then Mommy would know.”
He nodded his head again, looking at her. “Did Mommy spank you?” She nodded with a shudder that shook her whole body.
“Well, she expects me to spank you, too,” he said, and she began to silently cry.
“Shhhh,” he said softly. “There’s a way around this.”
She looked up hopefully. “You and me, we’ll work on your arithmetic when I get home from work,” he said. “We’ll get that grade up so you don’t fail, ok?” She nodded slowly.
“What about the spanking you’re s’posed to give me?” she asked, her eyes still swimming with tears.
“I’ve got an idea,” Daddy smiled, winking at her. He stood and slid his belt off through the loops and folded it in half, “When you hear the smack, holler like it hit you,” he said, pushing the double layer of leather together to make a loop, then rapidly jerking his hands apart to make a snapping sound.
“Ow!” she hollered, winking back at him, “Owwww! Daddy!...”
She could almost smell Mommy lurking outside the bedroom door.
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.