I was 15 years old, I think.
Sitting on the edge of the hotel room bed, stiff as a board. Afraid to move almost.
My brother was watching TV or listening to music or something that I was far to consumed with fear to notice.
I wonder if he sensed the tension?
Amazingly I’m not even sure what the conversation was I’d had with my father, or if I’d even had it yet. But I must have because they were arguing about it, about me.
My best recollection is that I’d decided not to come back to visit them the next summer – my fear wasn’t about his reaction or anticipated anger that his daughter didn’t want to see him. On the contrary, anger would have proved he cared.
It was her, my step-mother’s reaction that I most feared. And fear is the right word. I sat there listening to them trying (maybe not very hard) to conceal their argument in the bathroom of the hotel room. I wanted more than anything to stand up and say “It doesn’t matter, I’m not coming. No one’s to blame, I just don’t want to.”
Sounds simple now anyway. Maybe I was afraid for him – she was always yelling at him. Maybe I didn’t want what I said to get him in more trouble.
All I know is that this moment is one that has had one of the most lasting impressions on me throughout my life. It was the first time I remember feeling that I wasn’t standing up for myself and it felt awful! Throwing up would have been a welcome relief.
How did that hotel trip end? I don’t even know. I have this habit – probably a good one – of blocking out the bad memories. Needless to say I don’t have many of my time with my dad and his wife.
But this one was different; even then as I was sitting on the bed, it was changing me. I never wanted to feel this way again. So completely left out of my own life, a total lack of control over my fear. It froze me in place and at times felt like my head would explode.
The situation may not sound too dramatic, and it probably wasn’t in reality. But for that 15 year old it was obviously the culmination of years of fear, silence, and dealing with an overbearing person. All I know is that I think back on that day with both regret that I didn’t stand up for myself in whatever small way I could have; and pride that I used it as a positive influence to change the way I let others interact with me now. I don’t know of any other memory that I have such conflicting and simultaneous feelings about.
It feels good to write about it. It is a relief, if for no other reason than it was good to get it out. I don’t think of my step-mother now as someone I fear at all. I’ve since stood up to her and even get the sense that she’s slightly intimidated by me now. But that day and those feelings are so easy to bring back up – that’s how I knew they were important. I had to understand them. That point may have made me more of who I am than any other single day in my life.