Something was wrong. Her eyes popped open and she was instantly alert, but remained perfectly still, mimicking the steady rhythm of her sleeping breaths. She concentrated on listening, for the room was dark with only the eerie glow of the pilot light on the kitchen stove to provide the faintest of illumination. But whatever had awakened her had gone silent and there was nothing more to hear. She wriggled her toes experimentally, finding the weight of Mother’s fat white cat still warming them…it wasn’t Kitty. She tried to go back to sleep, but her bladder wanted emptying and it was becoming progressively more insistent. With a sigh she crept out from beneath the cat and the pile of thin blankets into the frigid air of the kitchen and made her way gingerly across the icy-cold floor to the bathroom.
She didn’t need a light in the bathroom. The room was so small there was no room to make an error. She felt for the toilet lid…Frank must not be here, she thought, finding the seat down. Finished with her task, she turned to the basin and felt for the taps, but her hand encountered something unaccustomed…something warm and fuzzy…with a gasp of alarm she stepped back and hit the wall switch, flooding the tiny room with light.
Anger instantly surged up and she felt her face flush, but just as quickly it was tamped down by her habitual resignation. It was Christmas Eve…or very early Christmas morning…and they had opened their presents the night before. Not that she had many to open, but there was the breathlessly anticipated package from Nana. Nana never cared what Mother thought, although she knew better than to send money because Mother would “take care of it” for her and she would never see it again. But Nana never heeded Mother’s advice or admonitions about gifts for her and as a result, Nana…like her stepmother Maggie…usually chose gifts she simply adored, often to Mother’s disgust and dismay. And this year, like so many others, Nana did not disappoint.
She had never forgiven her mother for intercepting presents from Daddy those years he was gone and repackaging them as if they were from her. She had been very embarrassed that first morning she had a sleepover with Daddy and Maggie and she came out to the breakfast table wearing the beautiful blue gingham quilted bathrobe with the ruffles at the cuffs and hem. Maggie looked at her kind of funny for a minute, then said “That’s a lovely robe dear. Do you like it?”
She thought it was a funny question, but she ran her fingers around the ruffled sleeve…imagine! something from her mother that had ruffles on it!...and nodded. “Yes. It’s my favourite robe ever. It’s not just warm, it’s very pretty, too!” Maggie and Daddy exchanged a silent look over her head and then Daddy cocked his head slightly to one side. “Where did you get the robe, sweetie? Was it a present?”
She stroked the quilted sleeve, nodding. “Mommy gave it to me for Christmas last year. Isn’t it pretty?”
Maggie’s mouth immediately set in a thin, grim line and Daddy looked a little surprised. “From Mommy?” he had asked, but she was catching on now, and nodded her head very slowly.
Daddy and Maggie exchanged those silent looks again and Daddy came over to the table and sat down in the chair next to hers, taking her hands in his. “Honey,” he said, his voice uncomfortably soft. “Honey, the truth is, Mommy didn’t get that for you for Christmas. That robe and the slippers that go with it, were from me and Maggie.”
She had sat very still, surprise and coldness enveloping her like a slowly hardening shell. She felt very, very foolish. She knew Mommy thought ruffles looked silly on her and refused to allow her to have party dresses or ruffled socks, so whatever made her believe that Mommy would buy her a bathrobe with ruffled cuffs and hem and slippers with little blue satin ribbon bows? She looked up at Daddy, holding his eyes with hers. “There was a tag on it from Mommy,” she said. “It was wrapped in the same paper as my other presents.” She felt like she was silently pleading with him to tell her it wasn’t so.
“I’m sorry, honey,” Daddy said softly, putting his arm around her stiffly held shoulders. “Really, I am. But Maggie picked it out at Marsden’s for you and we mailed it down along with some Superman pajamas for Brother.” He squeezed her gently. “Look at the tag in the back of the neck,” he suggested. “The store’s name is there.”
She didn’t need to look…she knew…she had seen the tag before and just thought maybe Nana had done some of Mommy’s shopping for her because she was so busy all the time. The Marsden stores were all up there, up north, where Nana lived and where Daddy had been living while he was gone. She cast her eyes down to her lap, her gaze falling on her chewed nails. What do you say now?
She had blinked a few times then raised her head. “I love the robe, Daddy,” she hugged him tightly around the neck. “Thank you, Maggie…it’s beautiful and I love it and you can buy clothes for me any time you want!” she said. Every one smiled, but the rest of the day was subdued. Daddy had a quiet talk with Mommy in the kitchen that night, when he brought her home. Nobody ever told her what they said, but Mommy walked around with a clenched jaw for days. Ever alert to the signs of danger, she stayed in her room as much as possible.
She shook off her reverie and looked down at the carnage in front of her. Nana had sent her an absolutely fabulous red plush pullover with knitted cuffs and collar. It looked like the top half of a huge scarlet teddy bear and she absolutely loved it. “Red doesn’t look good on you,” was Mother’s only comment as she exclaimed delightedly over the outlandish, brilliantly coloured, deep pile plush top. She was going to wear it to church in the morning and had left it folded on top of her little chest of drawers when she went to bed.
Obviously, it had not remained there, for it was soaking in a basin full of red water, one sleeve recklessly cast over the side. It looked like a basin full of blood. She stepped back, surveying the wreckage of her beautiful red plush top. The collar was stretched out of shape, something blackish and sticky was adhering to the pile where it was not submerged in the sink, and it looked to have a tear in the dangling sleeve. What on earth had happened?
Reaching behind her for a towel, her hand encountered an unfamiliar texture…well, familiar, but out-of-place. It felt like the woven wool of one of her school skirts…and turning slowing, unwillingly, she found her green wool skirt tossed carelessly over the towel bar, a long dark stain marring the front. Exactly what in the name of heaven was going on here?
Her answer came in the form of a pounding on the bathroom door. “Get the hell outta there!” Mother’s voice intruded. “I gotta use the john.”
She opened the door to be greeted with a completely unexpected vision of her mother. She was drunk, barely able to stand on her feet, and clutching the doorframe for support. “Outta the way!” Mother barked,”or I’ll upchuck all over you!”
She was out of the way instantly, and closed the door behind her, Mother’s battered face still imprinted in her mind. Had she and Frank had a fight? Frank had never hit her before, not even when she tried to goad him into it…had Frank finally given in? Both of Mother’s eyes looked black, there was dried blood on her upper lip and a bruise on her chin. But how did her own clothes fit into this?
She pondered the wisdom of waiting for Mother or just going back to bed, but decided she could pull off a “wanted to make sure you were OK” scenario if necessary. The door opened and Mother staggered out into the hallway. “Never mix your booze, little girl,” she said, her eyes nearly spinning in her head.
“What happened?” she asked. “Are you OK?”
“Wrecked the Goddamned car,” Mother said, trying to push herself off from the wall. “Smashed it right up!” she gave a grotesque, blood-stained grin. “Yup! Smacked that sucker!”
“But you’re OK, aren’t you?” she asked again, trying to figure out how to ask about her clothes without making Mother angry.
“Yup,” Mother slurred. “Em OK. But got blood all over your top. Gotta wash it out. Be good as new.”
“And the skirt?” she didn’t bother to ask about the tear in the top. Nothing would make that as good as new. “Why were you wearing my clothes?”
Mother looked at her as if she were short a few brain cells. “’Cos its Chrishmish!” Mother said with a bizarre giggle.
She shook her head. “Red an’ green, girlie! Red an’ green. I dint have anything red an’ green an’ I wanted to go out an’ so I borried yours!”
Mother looked at her closely for a moment and she felt herself go cold, ready for that mercurial mood change that would spell danger. But then Mother smiled again, then laughed, enveloping her in a bruising cloud of alcoholic vapor. “Smile, girlie!” Mother laughed, pinching her cheek painfully. “Where’s yer Chrishmish spirit?”
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.