Cycle of Abuse: Any Given Christmas

Way back when in my ‘it’s all about me’ phase.  I would never, ever have given a thought to those who suffered familiar abuse.  For that matter, as a pungent New Hampshir-ite, I scoffed at those who wrote of their neglectful childhood.  Those who wrote journals.  Kept notes.  Reflected upon the devious behavior of those deemed ‘adult’ enough to provide protection.

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I would in honesty have to say, there had been fear posted along side my cynicism of others and their plight.

Fear in knowing.  Fear in delving too deep into the woods of my own destructive childhood.  As stated before, No One Dare…inquire with any persistence about my mother or father’s backgrounds.

I realize now.  The repression of truth from both parents…had only been another means of abusive control.  With all the violence swirling around.  My brother, my sister or I would on rare occasion ask about our histories.  Usually it was met with…

Why does it matter?

Go ask your father!

It’s none of your business.

Still the doors on South Main street remained forever locked.  The shades pulled down tight.  We (as the children) were not allowed to have friends over without a parent around.  There had been little interaction above and beyond parental duty…when it came to school or social contact.

If the dishwasher had been filled without properly placing dishes inside…A threat of beatings would be aroused.  If my brother (Bud) dare bicker with my father (his stepfather) about privileges…He was met with the slamming of his body against a wall.  If my sister needed consoling over being bullied in school?  She was met with a night alone in her room without supper.

Our house was indeed loud.  Loud with screams and cries.  And, come the next morning, the children would go about their outside business…as though, nothing happened.

After life became life in the Bowley family.  When both parents were released from the State Hospital.  We became a dysfunctional family.  A dysfunctional family…before the word became popular.

There had been times where I would find myself tossed down the basement stairs for allowing one of our dogs to ‘piss’ on a wood pile.

‘Don’t you know that shit stinks up the whole house when you burn it?  Are you as stupid as…you look?’

And, if any of the children turned to our mother for back up?  None would be found.  Janice had been as abusive in her lack of protection and neglectful love…As, Harold, in his verbal and physical assaults.

I suppose my brother get sick and tired of defending her.

My sister turned her neglect into broken bouts of love.

I had turned to addiction and detachment.

For my part, essentially the only child left behind at the age of eleven, I continued on.  Continued to question why my father would come home and assault my mother with a cowardly hit to the back of the head.  Why he would continue to call her a ‘fat, lazy’ woman…because the chicken had not been cooked perfectly.

It had been a chilly Christmas Eve.  Begrudgingly, my parents left me alone.  Left me alone with a box of micro-wav-ableSwedish Meatballs and bad 80’s television.  They had left in the midst of a subzero, snow squall, night…to attend a Blue Cross/Blue Shield employee Christmas party.  Somehow, in her timid ways, my mother had found herself a manager.  Found herself the ‘family’ bread winner.  Found herself suffering in silence…because she made more money than my father.

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I remember hearing the door to the Dodge Colt slamming…slamming loudly.  Enough so that it echoed through the swirling winds and the sounds of neighborhood dogs responding to the weather.  It had been in or around ten at night.

The next day would be Christmas.  A day of joy, ten o’clock service at St. John’s Roman Catholic church…and, a day filled with my parents arguing.  Arguing all the way down to Waltham.  Arguing about the doorstop fruitcake my grandmother would hand over.  Arguing about the way my grandfather spoke down…to my father.

We have always had animals.  Ever since I can remember, at least one dog, at least one cat.  I do not recall my father being overtly abusive to any animal.  However, he treated them, as he did the rest of the family, heavy swats to the head, coercive reprimands, loud threats.  No animal from my childhood liked my father.  They, like the rest of us, both hated and feared him.

With our dogs barking at his slamming of the basement door.  A vocal,

‘Get the fuck away!  Fuckin’  stupid dogs!’

Then a whimper or scurry from the dogs, quickly, up the stairs.  They always ran and hid when Harold came home…in a mood.

But where was my mother?  He would not have left her.  Harold dare not leave his wife alone…among friends.  She might say something like…’I’m not happy!’

After what seemed like hours.  My father managed to shut himself in their bedroom.  Once the parent’s door was shut…it was rarely opened.  And, none of us, dare wander into the ‘parent’s bedroom’ alone.  Doing so would require him to trust us.

My mother?  Well, after slipping my shoes on (we were not allowed to wear footwear in the house) I found her passed out in vomit.  Actually, covered in her vomit, passed out next to the car and snow embankment.

She had actually had a fun night!

She had actually let her hair down and got drunk.

And,

by doing so, Harold was not in control.

That Christmas was barren of all the joy and promise…the Bible spoke of.


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Cycle of Abuse: Lover’s Lane

Several months after my grandmother’s death.  After the discovery of my father’s misdeeds.  My mother who had started becoming more and more incapacitated with delicate bones, infirm lungs, depression, anxiety, domestic abuse…etc, etc.

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I had set into a routine of going every other day to the, little, almost log cabin, in Canterbury.  Cleaning, walking dogs, doing laundry, being transcended back to childhood.  Reliving life as a ten year old.  Witnessing my father forbid my mother from leaving the house, driving a car (when she was capable), talking to her friends, going to church, with holding certain required nutrients, scolding her for not letting the dogs out, scolding her for burning dinner, accusing her of making him out to be the bad guy.  The five or six years I took care of my mother, which in turn meant, keeping an eye on the devil in father’s clothing; most neighbors did not realize my mother had two other adult children.  Those children were rarely seen.  They children were rarely heard from.  That situation arose from my father’s need to control my mother.  Though, I would hazard to guess that it would be easy to forget of the difficult parents in a small New Hampshire town.  Far away from life on life’s terms…In my brother and sister’s life.

My grandmother had been buried in the dead of winter.  Just like my grandfather, before, her…dead trees, solid frozen ground, impenetrable landscape.  It seems that is how the Irish come and go.  Hard times in life.  Hard times in death.

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Sometime in mid May, my wife and I had made arrangements for taking my mother to Waltham.  So she could see her mother’s grave.  So bushes could get planted.  So the rosary could be said.  So the heavenly father would understand my mother’s remorse.

This was not to be an easy trip.

Calvary Cemetery, is filled to the brim with Irish immigrants…Past and not so present.  It also resides in the out skirts of Boston.  Finding the name Quinn among hundreds to perhaps, thousands, of other impregnated with the blood from the motherland…is not simple.

It had been Megan, my spouse and my, chore to play detective.  How much had my mother known about the ‘murder?’  Had my father ever divulged, in between the threats and physical abuse…

What he had actually done to his first wife?
Where had he and my mother first met?

How much of his former indulgent and psychopathic life…did she know about?

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Digging the past out of my mother was never easy.  She always remained guarded about her history.  Her transgressions were meant for the confessional and no where else.

But with this secracy, what had been the cost?  Having driven my brother thousands of miles away.  Having forced my sister into her own form of shallow narcissism.  Having driven me into infidelity, lack of nearness, addiction and anger.  How much the cost of guarding the truth?

‘Did you know he killed his wife?’

‘I knew something.  Your father never liked sharing much about his past!  He didn’t have a good childhood you know.  And, look at where I was at!’

Meaning, she had been in the midst of a nervous breakdown when they met.  Meaning my father was brought up during the depression and his family very poor.

Meaning, to me, WTF!  You married this man.  You were at the state hospital.  You were a victim of abuse.  You needed to get your children out of an orphange…

Meaning, you didn’t ask questions?

Even now, several years later, I can recall the day.  Sybil, my sister declined coming with us.  Having said, she couldn’t get time off from work or, if she did it would cut down on her vacation time.  There seemed always to be an excuse.

You guys always do stuff with Mom during the week.’

‘We always go with just your friends!’

‘I don’t want to see that movie.’

Etc.  Etc.

Sitting adjacent to the graveyard.  Side by curb side with the neighboring flower shop.  Watching trash blow back and forth across a well traveled street.  Finding myself at wit’s end.

My wife, Megan, poked me in the thigh.  She gently patted my leg.  Meaning…calm down, you’ll get nowhere if you push.

She, as always, had been correct.

With this slight interogation, I did not get far.  Very little information came out of my mother.  Her exact words will never escape me…

‘After all, look where I was.  I wasn’t well.’

Laughing to herself…The only other sentence had been seemingly a joke…

We met at Lover’s Lane.

Having been a product of the 50’s and 60’s.  I shunned my mother’s attempt at levity.  Oh, how I wish I had known what the truth had been.

Janice, my mother, gave off such fragility, that one did not push.  If an argument was on the horizon.  Somehow, she appeared as though a light wind would blow her over.  She turned inward.  As if, another question or loud word, would disable her completely.  Janice, had always been this way.

No more questions were asked.  My only statement being…

‘My mother and father met at the New Hampshire State Hospital.  Great.  No wonder I’m fucked up!’

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I cannot convey, in words, what it is like to wish to not have been born.  To sit in awe in my own instability and wonder, what if.

What if I had not been born to a psychopath?  Someone hospitalized due to insanity.  A person who conceived of the act and followed through, with the murder of his wife.

Or, a woman, so distraught.  So saddened by herself that suicide seemed the only option.  I have tried on numerous occasions to explain to others…The saddness provoked by their joining together.  By the severe disappointment in choices they made.  By the decisions I could have made differently…Had I known that from the get go…my life had no chance of productivity.

This year, after some research.  After documentary upon documentary.  Article upon article about psychiatric institutes of the 1960’s.  Pictures, data, recourse, etc.

After much forbearance from my siblings of law suits, insults, threats, etc.  Family secrets must remain secret…after all.

After all I discovered ‘Lover’s Lane.’  The place in which I had been conceived.  Where my parents, with total disregard for repercussions, engaged in producing…me.  Me, the addict, lesbian, wanderer.  Me, the poet with questions…

My mother, had been in the Brown building.  My father, the Kent building.  I was conceived in the catacombs!

The population continued to rise every year until 1955 when over 2,700 patients resided at “the State Hospital”. The crowding was extreme. For some years in the 1940’s and early 1950’s each psychiatrist had an average of more than 250 patients to treat. While kindness was still the philosophy, providing individual care of any type had become impossible. And, for the most part, society had come to view the mentally ill, not as people who needed humane treatment but had consigned the mentally ill to a dark and humiliating corner of American life. State hospitals became the physical reflection of that attitude. Books like “The Shame of the States” and “Asylum” or movies like “The Snake Pit” drew attention to the plight of the mentally ill. The annual reports make clear that despite the best efforts of staff and administration the New Hampshire State Hospital had become quite a different place than the Asylum of the nineteenth century. In New Hampshire as well as nationally, the “problem” of mental illness had become a simmering pot, waiting to boil.

Cycle of Abuse: the Matriarch/Part Two

 

St. Mary's R.C. Church Waltham, MA
St. Mary’s R.C. Church Waltham, MA

Two days after my 45th birthday.  On Friday, January the 13th, 2012, my grandmother passed away.  Surrounding her on the 11th, had been a roomful of… mourners.  Nine or so family members gazing lovingly into her closed and slightly cold eyes.

Ruth, my grandmother, would not have had the send off any other way.  Even a nephew had attended.  Supposedly, he abhorred dying and death.  Therefore, it was to understood that he felt no need to visit his great-grandmother, while she was alive.  My niece could not be there.  She had an excused absence, as well.  After all, someone needed to keep an eye on the kids.

Yet, with good fortune, the rest of the fruit for the cake…did arrive.  My brother, Bud, even made an appearance for the following week.  The women folk fawned over the long-awaited return of, Bud.  He held/holds a special place in both my mother’s and sister’s…hearts.  Often in my mind’s eye, a ‘strange’ affection had been held for him.

Though, Bud, made very few appearances, he had been revered as, a special kind of guy.  Not always there when you needed him.  But willing to get upset and angry when long distant family conversations occurred.

Joking, poking fun at one another and for appearance sake, sobbing and paying homage.  I am certain, dear old Ruth, had been semi aware of the praise being lavished upon her.

I learned to not love my grandmother.  After being shunned for my homosexuality, by my grandfather.  And, subsequently, out of respect for Joe Poe’s wishes…my grandmother.

After the accusations of being just like my father.  A man both, Ruth and Joe, denounced.  After the many years of my addiction’s bad behavior being phoned about the family lifeline.  After being told I had been an angry, hateful, dishonest, cheat by the powers that be.  After all that, and so much more, I kept Ruth at arm’s length.

She referred to my partner and soon to be wife as, looking like a teenage boy with severe issues.  She choose to pick and choose my physical being apart like a piece of sludge through fine knit cloth.jesus 1.jpg

She choose.  She picked.  She insulted. She name called.

She had been the one and only, Ruth.

Odd, I had been named after her.  But after the rubbing off of family lies through cursed truth…I discovered that even, Grandma Ruth’s name had been a lie.  Indeed, her birth name had been, Victoria.

Ruth, though, being stubborn and tough, felt she needed a more…biblical-ly correct title.  A title that would suit her high standing with god.

Funny story?  Or, perhaps, not!  I managed to find myself being the lone speaker at my grandmother’s funeral.  That is other than the priest.  For some reason, my mother felt that the telling of ‘my story’, made me eligible to speak in public.

Often AA meetings like the participants to share, discuss and tell, their stories.  Stories of how they began the road to addiction’s hell and how they hoped to get off…the road.  Somehow, this personal perk made me allowable as, Ruth’s eulogy preacher.  Course, my sister had boo hoo’d this.  She, Sybil, deserved this honor.  After all, she visited my grandmother more often.  Six days a week.  As opposed to my two or three.  Plus, she shared with Ruth.

When Sybil took a tumble-down a flight of stairs.  Ruth had been able to see the photos Sybil took of her bruised and naked ass.  Many photos, many bruises, too much information, as Ruth put it.

Sybil also volunteered to clean, trim and file, grandma’s besieged, ancient toenails.  Sybil made a day out of it.  Bringing special treats to the nursing home.  Watching something special on the tiny television set.  Prepping and readying, Ruth for the ‘nail’ treatment.

How I wished my mother had chosen Sybil.  I ended up with the neuovirus.  My brother and sister-in-law did to.  I barely made it through the paying of respects…a couple of nights before.  Sweating, shaking, nodding instead of speaking, etc.

Upon approaching the pew at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic church.  St. Mary’s where my mother had once attended church and school.  St. Mary’s where only the good catholic’s of Waltham go.  When I finally managed to place my placid self down.  There had been a not so gentle reminder of frankincense burning.  Burning my eyes, my soul, my stomach and helping to shut down all defenses.  Thank christ there had been toilets in the front and the back.

I spoke, as my wife later recalls, quickly, insistently and with vigor.

The matriarch of the clan had passed.  She had gone for 91 hard years.  Hard years of a punishing husband.  Hard years of turning that belted abuse toward her daughter, Janice.

Again, I am uncertain of not having an intrinsic love for her.  I did respect her.  She demanded it.

For awhile, I had not wanted to think about how unfortunate events…unfold.  Live in the pool of ignorance.  My life has never been blissful.  That is until recently.  When I had made a conscious decision to unmask truth.

It had been sometime in February.  Shortly after the funeral.  My mother’s side of the family had been dying slowly.  As is usually the case with age.  I knew little of those who  through, the filtered blood that ran into my veins.

I knew that the Quinn’s, the Stukoni’s, had been hard-drinking, hard talking, ravished souls.  A history of persons trying to live a good life.  A good life often laced with tragedy.  But what of the Bowley’s?  Where, what, when and how did they come about?  My father never gave attention to his side of the family.  Going as far as, avoiding them, physically.  We very rarely visited anyone with Bowley blood.  Though, we all lived in the same small state of New Hampshire.

February, ancestry.com, and my stubborn inquisitiveness, were about to change that mystery.1401636_150x150

 

 

Cycle of Abuse: the Matriarch/Part One

 

Cycle of Abuse: Chapter 1

The treasures of my yute!

I had begun to wonder.  What would it be like to have been born into a different family?  Would the rules have changed?  Would I have still become an addict?  For that matter, would I have lived long enough to make to recovery?

So many questions…So little time.

It is not shame that has brought me into this need.  This longing to write out exactly what happened in my family’s little cycle/circle of abuse.  I caressed that wound years ago.  Adamant that more needed to be done.  Actions needed to be taken against my abusive father and emotionally distant mother.

I stewed over the pains and aches…like leftover beef on a hot outdoor grill in the New Hampshire summer humidity.

Yet, something began to turn inside of me.  There had been less pointing of the finger at those I felt were culprits in the boiling blood of my family legacy.  And, more of a need to understand my own paranoia, anger, compulsiveness and…unfortunately, physical ailments.

As I write this, there have been several orthopedic surgeries within the last five years.  More than ten…Less than fifteen.  I say, unfortunately about my disability…for I will never know for sure.  Never to know the exact background to illnesses that have taken the lives of relatives from the past.  For I do not know the exact reason for the ills that have befallen many on my family tree.

I do know this for certain…joe poe

My grandfather, who had been born in Worcester, Ma., was unpleasant.  As unpleasant and outwardly angry, as most any man, I have ever met.  His scowl and belittling undertone statements struck fear in any person…unlucky enough to have met him.

He had been a Massachusetts State Policeman.  He had been a chain smoking, heavy drinking, Irishman, who took no prisoners…Took no prisoners when he worked.  Or, when he came home.

Somehow through the course of the 1960’s Joseph developed a knack for photography.  One thing, led to another…And, not only did he carry a gun to the scene of a crime.  He also took pictures of all the deadly, beyond a good imagination, crash sites.  He became the go to man when it came to homicide, suicide, and accidental death, by motor vehicle.

I still remember vividly the many occasions in Waltham, on Cedar Circle.  The obligating ride down route 128 to an obligating visit…to pictures strewn about the dinning room table.  Vivid black and whites of the latest victim of death upon the Massachusetts’s turnpike.

If anything…my grandfather’s glorious response to how…beautiful and engaging the photos were.  Only truly depicts his personality.  The idea that someone could get so much satisfaction out of another’s untimely demise…stirs the depth’s of my soul.

Guns, guts and glory!

To this stoic man whose employment photo in full uniform, reminded me of one of Hitler’s henchmen:  My grandmother was a dumb Pollock and my mother a, stupid cow.

So often my grandmother found herself the butt-end of polish jokes.  And, my mother, forever, reminded of a youth speckled in bullying.  Bullying by her own flesh and blood.  Over her size and weight.

There had been the slaps, the belt, the insults, the pushing and shoving…by my grandfather towards both Grams and my mother.

I recall riding home from my great aunt’s funeral.  Passing the homeless, the burned out buildings, the graffiti and the desolation of  streets in Waltham.  I never cared for the city in which my mother grew up.  Having been born in Concord, New Hampshire.  The definition of city envisioned itself quite different.  Concord being the bright sunlight of day.  Waltham being the wet and dripping stonewalls of night.

Riding home in the backseat with my mother.  I spent my time in a blank state of mind.  Avoiding eye contact with those on the street.  Pretending to enjoy the gray of the city.  Passing a rundown watch factory, and just over a set of forlorn rail-tracks…we came up on a bridge.

My mother said something to me…Something, I will always remember.  She also spoke in a familiar tone.  A tone that I can only associate with childhood.  Very, very, hush, hush.  As though, her words had no air.

“This is the bridge where I almost jumped!”

For a moment.  I thought maybe she had misspoken.  But it took little time for me to realize who was speaking to me.  My mother had a vast history of suicidal thoughts, tendencies and suicide attempts.

Quickly and with what meek energy she could summon…

She spoke a few words more.

“Your grandfather sent me out to get him cigarettes in the middle of a snowstorm.  He had a few patrolmen over, he’d been drinking and…he didn’t feel like getting out of the Lazy Boy.

He didn’t give me enough money.  I couldn’t get the cigarettes.  When I got home, he asked me…

‘What good are you?  You’re as stupid as your Pollock mother!’

…fucking kid!

With more money in hand and crying.  I slipped on my goulashes and left.  He had such a way of making me feel so small.”

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My mother had a unique way of starting a feel good family story…and, just ending it.  Just like that.  As if the story didn’t begin in the first place.

The most of I got out of her?  Had been a simple, non-comedic,  punchline…

“Anyway, I felt so horrible.  I stopped at that bridge.  Climbed on the bricks.  Slipped and fell, back onto the sidewalk.  A patrol-car passed by.  Recognized me as, Joe’s kid.  And, gave me a ride back home.  Completely oblivious to what I had just tried to do.”

Grabbing my mother’s hand gently.  I looked ahead to my grandmother, who was still alive at the time.  And, my father, who had been complaining about my grandmother’s use of the car window.

That is all I have to say, at least for now, about dear old granddad.  A man we the children called, affectionately, Joe Poe.

Whoops!  Untrue.  I will introduce the Matriarch of the family, by giving one more nod to Joe Poe.

In my mid twenties, I had come out.  Not full blown.  I’m not a full blown…anything.  I just am not a wearing the rainbow flag like a poncho, leather wallet with chains, lesbian.  Do not get me wrong.  That image works for many.  It just has never been my style.  I have done the marches, the sit-ins, the demonstrations and the volunteering.  Yet, for many reasons, I remain private but open.

My grandfather disowned me…when I had been 24 or 25.  Nothing spectacular.  I had moved to North Carolina.  My grandfather was beginning to slowly die, grow blind and talk gibberish.  Though, to me he had been sick all his life.

I sent him audiotapes of Sherlock Holmes detective series and a sundry of other murder mysteries, on tape.  They were all sent back.  Very little communication occurred.  And, in the same hushed voice my mother always used.  I had been told…Joe Poe was not pleased with my sexual orientation.

Five years later, upon my return to New Hampshire.  My grandfather died not two months into my return.

With some coaxing by my partner and my mother, I renewed a relationship with the Matriarch.

Ruth Quinn had once been…Ruth Stukonis!  The Pollock joke is on you Joe Poe.  It turns out my grandmother is actually, Lithuanian and Russian!

Raised by bad ass nuns and foster families from hell, Ruth came of age before and during the depression…The depression in Boston being raised by an already uncaring and violent family, could not have been easy.

It could be said, that my grandmother had the mouth of a truck driver, the drinking ability of a sailor and the prowl-ness of a well handled knife.

She worked in factories, restaurants, college cafeterias, etc., only to come home to a belt wielding, gun totting hard-ass, husband.  But she was married!  And, for a woman of the 1940’s, catholic and fat (her words, not mine) that was everything.

There are times where I know I did not love her.  Yet, I respected her.  My grandmother and mother both dealt with severe weight issues.  All their lives.  Even when they were below a good weight.  In their minds, and due directly to my grandfather’s belittling, both were forever on a diet.grams 1

Ruth told you, daily: How stupid you were, how fat you were, how you could do better, what was wrong with your wardrobe and many other things she deemed your personal flaws.  Her abuse came verbally.

Emotionally distant, not one for the friendly feeling of a hug, and/or telling you she ‘loved you.’…That had been my grandmother.  Along with telling you dirty jokes, pointing out your latest cold sore and listening to Jimmy Buffet’s

Let’s Get Drunk and Screw

Indeed, she accused me of stealing, lying, drinking and drugging, on more occasions than I can count.  And, much to her now deceased… chagrin, she typically pronounced these indiscretions when I hadn’t done anything.

Do not get me wrong.  I did steal, lie, do drugs and drink.  Just now when she wished upon me the Scarlet A.

I actually tried to make an amends to her, early in sobriety: For taking a paperboy’s tip, from decades before.  She refused to believe me.

Looking back, I know in the deep part of my heart.  The part only my wife and animals are allowed to see.  I know…Ruth and Joe Poe did not care for me.  I had been the product of my father’s blood.  And, my father was a heathen, a heretic, a non-catholic.

My siblings did not share my father’s heritage.  And, though they had been prime examples of abuse, from my mother’s first marriage…They still did not belong to ‘that man.’  That man who had been my father.

 

 

To Be Continued…the Dying of a Matriarch