Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Unimaginable Choice

I feel like I should slap a warning label on this particular story. I love to write non-fiction humor but this is a story from the land that funny forgot. The point isn't the trauma, or the horror though. At the root of this there exists something beyond admirable, if difficult. It's the story of a difficult woman, who made some sad choices, some self-destructive ones too. That could be anyone's story, really. It describes most of us, but this woman did something I'm not sure I could do, and it is the stuff of nightmares. Some of them mine, I suppose.

It's the story of how my grandmother saved the life of a woman she hated, and in doing so made my entire life, as it stands, possible. She just had to do the unthinkable to accomplish that.

The thing is, with this sort of story, why tell it? There's the "well, it could help someone know that it's possible to overcome." That's entirely true. We are, all of us, more than the sum total of our traumas. I am, and I always have been. This part of my life is no more important today than any of the other things you might know about me. That I like to make people laugh is really how I'd rather be thought of, and about.

I'm very protective of other people when it comes to my childhood. I talk about my love of books, and the good memories I do have but I don't share many stories often, and there are only a select few who know of this memory. I don't like to upset people, why should I? I'm fine. Folks, I'm beyond fine. I'm happy, and I have a lovely life. It took hard work to get there, for instance, I wouldn't really recommend my twenties to anyone. It was what it was, and I made a good life, with some incidental tears, sweat, and the occasional horrific dream.

But this isn't really about me. I've tried to figure out a way to tell this story without referencing the center part of it, and there isn't a way to do that. So, with many a disclaimer, warnings galore and not a little trepidation on my part, I'm going to launch here in a moment, and tell you how thirty years after her death, I realized how much someone cared about me. I guess bravery can wear a lot of faces. That when I say, "We are more than the sum total of our traumas." We are also more than the sum total of our failings.

When I was six-years-old my mother left my father, an event with much drama around it. She took with her my half-brother, and I remained behind with my father and grandmother . She left because, as she will tell you, my father was going to end up killing her. She's not wrong, and her life has been hard. Please don't judge her. I don't, I love her even if I feel rather distant from her. If you knew her? You'd like her, she's a pretty good person on top of everything else.

I caught a bit of guff from a longtime friend not long ago when I referenced some of the more positive things about my father here, and didn't mention the bad. I wasn't concealing anything, the good parts of my father, of both of my parents really, are what I remember these days.

I suppose people could say that my mother is overly dramatic. That she's overstating something, but sadly, she wasn't. Whatever the official diagnosis on my father's problems might be it is lost to time. He's long dead, but he had a long, sad story and a violent one. Every now and then my father would snap, and it was as if he was an entirely different person. Honestly, I remember that, and it really was like being in the presence of someone I didn't know. My mother describes it as such, also. He fought in a war, and was pulled from combat following a breakdown. He was hospitalized for over a year, long before I was born, but ever after he had exceptionally violent episodes. Stress brought it out in him, and three times he very nearly killed my mom. He once beat her head on an asphalt driveway, as a for instance. A neighbor intervened. It was the seventies, the approach to domestic violence was quite different.

When you're five-years-old life is pretty simple, or rather, your assessment of a situation is pretty simple. The person who is bleeding is the wronged person. Whoever has the biggest owie has been done wrong, and that's all there is to it.

I've heard this story more than I've ever told it. My mother tells it frequently. She will tell it to people who know me, on the rare instances that they are in the same space. I really wish she wouldn't. For one thing, it scares the stuffing out of them. What exists in my memory is a slippery, rather terrifying thing. I was playing "boat" on the bed in my room, with my brother and two neighbor children. Heaven help them, by the way. Oddly enough they weren't allowed to play at my house again.

There was an argument about an oven, of all things. My father had cleaned the oven, and my mother was irritated, tired, and snapped at him about that oven. It could be something that small for him. The landing in front of my room was next to a staircase, with a radiator up against the bannister. It was a bending staircase, a back staircase. What I saw was this, my five foot tall mother, being choked by my six foot tall father, and a great deal of screaming. The force of the attack propelled my mother backwards into the radiator, and my father continued to choke her, bending her back over the staircase. The only thing that might have saved her life was actually if she had fallen, it would have been a fall of about six feet and she might have survived that. She wasn't going to survive being throttled, and my brother and I (along with our poor, terrified guests) were locked in place, screaming our collective lungs out.

The next thing I remember is a lot of blood spurting from my father's head. This is where the fact that I've been told this story so often comes in. I can tell you that what happened is that my grandmother hit my father in the head with a lamp, hard in order to stop him from killing my mom and that blow was no joke.

I have no memory of that blow, I only remember the blood afterward and screaming, "You hurt my daddy!" at someone. I didn't really understand choking, but I understood bleeding.

And having heard so often, "Nana hit your father in the head with a lamp." I assumed that it was my tiny, Scottish grandmother, over for a visit. I don't know why I never questioned that. I knew my grandmother lived in Scotland, but she visited, so that was possible. However, my grandmother from Scotland is four feet ten inches tall, and alive to this day. My other grandmother was 5'9". I don't know why I still have no memory of the fact that it was my father's own mother who brained her son with a lamp, and saved a bunch of lives that day.

My mother has a habit of repeating the same stories, over and over when I talk to her on the phone. Don't we all? I've gotten into the habit of trying to prod her along when I've heard one too often. I know why she brings up that memory so often. She feels guilty about having left me. People judge her for that, too. I forgave her long ago. I don't see her all that often, but I send her flowers on Mother's Day, give her the occasional spa certificate. My mother was in a terrible situation, and she had to make a terrible choice. It happens in life. She'll tell you that there was no way to take me, and she's right. I was my father's only child, and he never would have let me go.

My mother was telling me this story again, I don't know why. I tend to hear it every couple of years, and she doesn't need to ask for my compassion any longer. I prompted her, "And then Nana hit him in the head with a lamp."

"And he picked her up by the hair, and threw her." Yup, another delightful gem that I'd just as soon not revisit but, it is what it is. I probably sounded a little bored, or impatient.

"Yes, Pat...", my mother continued, and if life had a soundtrack, there would have been a needle screeching for me.

"What? What did you just say?"

"Pat hit your father in the head."

Pat was my father's mother. The woman I lived with growing up until I was twelve, and she died of cancer of the almost everything. She was an alcoholic, as it happened. One rather funny sticking point is that my mother remembers her as not drinking much before I was in bed, but I suppose that's because when my mother knew her best, that's what she did. Pat went on to drink all day, every day but she took care of me when I was little, almost from the time I was born. My mother worked and went to school.

A lot could probably be said about that, about my grandmother who had lost the husband she adored years before I was born. She wasn't fun, but she wasn't horrible either. She did sort of nearly kill me as one of her last acts, but it wasn't intentional. Pat was a smoker, who would take a bottle to bed with her. She managed to set her mattress on fire three separate times, and on the last occasion, didn't realize she'd done it. I assume she felt sick (because she truly was, the cancer was in her brain by the time it was discovered), and after she dropped her forgotten cigarette, she went downstairs to her den to watch TV. The house caught fire, with me on the same floor. I'm fine, but that's yet another thing I don't recommend. Waking up with the house on fire.

It is a sad, but true fact, that is the only time I ever lashed out at my grandmother. When I awoke to bedlam, I threw open the window -- dumb, but I was twelve, and couldn't breathe -- sucked in enough air to remain conscious and ran to the downstairs phone to call the fire department. When I discovered my grandmother, asleep in her den in our very large house, I woke her by yelling at her, "You almost killed me, you stupid drunk!"

Not my proudest moment, and luckily not the last thing I ever said to her. She was taken to the hospital by the firemen, as was I, for smoke inhalation and there she was diagnosed with a cancer that took her life six months later.

But for all her faults, when Pat saw her son attacking my mother, she tried to stop him. He evidently had pushed her down, hard, down the hall, out of my sight. Then she got up, grabbed a lamp, and did what I can't even imagine doing, she hit her own son with as much force as she humanly could. My mind always inserted my mother's mother into that, no image required. I knew the story, and it's very easy to think that a mother would attack the man attacking her daughter. It is a very different thing entirely for a mother to do that to her own child. My father was not the product of an abusive home, by the way. All of his problems seem to have started with Korea, his childhood was happy, even though he was a kid in the Depression.

It becomes important to tell you that both of my parents were only children. I have no uncles, aunts or cousins. I have no idea what would have happened to me if my father had killed my mother. None. I suspect it would have changed a great deal. Foster care seems likely, although poor drunken Pat probably would have fought for me. I also suppose it's possible that my father would have simply stopped killing my mother, and jeez, you'd hope. Rather unlikely, and you'll just have to trust me on that. He never really just snapped out of his fits by himself.

Pat stood by the side of her only son through all of his troubles. She hated my mother because Pat blamed my mom for many of them. Evidently my dad had been doing well for years. He'd studied in Ireland, he'd gotten his doctorate. When he came back from Ireland with his Scottish wife, and her son, he stopped doing well. If you think I'm blaming my mother, that's not the case, at all. My poor, tiny, rather brilliant, and exceptionally pretty mother had no clue what she was getting herself into when she married my father.

I cannot imagine the horror of the choice Pat made. If you're a parent, heck, if you're able to read this and therefore human, I doubt you can imagine it either. I cannot imagine hitting my son with a lamp, or anyone for that matter. There'd have to be imminent peril for another human being involved. I cannot imagine the desperate moment in which she realized it was the only way to keep him from killing that Scottish woman. And then she did it, and he threw her across the room.

So she didn't stop him, did she? No, but she set in motion the thing that did, and she tried like hell to stop him. The thing that stopped him, as he turned around to get my mother was a five-year-old's reaction to blood. When I saw my father bleeding, I ran directly into the proceedings, and it all ground to a halt.

Why tell this story? Well, you see, when I hung up the phone, I had to sit down. Everything in my life, the one I cobbled together through sheer force of will. My determination to be happy, meeting my ex-husband who is the father of my son, meeting my husband now and being loved, and happy? All of that is a path that would have changed forever had my father killed my mother. I never realized that the person I had to thank for that was a woman who made a very hard choice, a choice I wouldn't wish upon another soul. Even if my father hadn't managed to kill my mother, that was the catalyst for leaving my dad. If it hadn't been such a complete horror show, she might have continued to stay, particularly if he had stopped on his own. Because he had to be stopped, my mother knew that he was capable of killing her, or at least she came to believe it firmly that day.

What really struck me is that it clicked with something else. When I woke my grandmother up, tearfully shouting at her in a the sort of blind howl of outrage only a truly terrified kid can muster, she did something. Something I never mention when I tell the story of the night I woke up to the house afire. I never thought it mattered, because I had already called the fire department. And I have always been angry about that fire.

Pat got up, and ran towards the fire, to try and put it out. She collapsed, and as she lay on the floor struggling she yelled, "Call the fire department."

She was still trying to crawl up the stairs when the firemen got there. I never thought about how I lived with a very unhappy, troubled, but almost insanely brave woman until I found out about that lamp and her impossible choice. One of many, I suspect. Until that phone call, I never thought about my grandmother in any positive sense, or her courage in continuing to stay in an impossible situation she hated. Pat didn't like me much, but I guess she must have loved me.

I doubt I ever knew her very well. There was more to her. There was more to her than the unhappy drunk who set houses on fire, and always made me feel an unwelcome burden.

There's more to everyone, isn't there?

39 comments:

Shrinky said...

Yes hon, there is, and from one kid born of Scots, abusive parents, to another, you've done well, my bonny lass, so very, very well.

I have a lump in my throat reading this. We are all the sum total of those who made us - but, and it's a BIG but, what we choose to do with that is up to us. You need to hold your head up high girl, just LOOK at where you've come..!

My heart weeps for the scared little girl you were, it was wrong, so unconscionable to be placed in that terrible place where you had to make sense of adult issues way beyond your comprehension. And yet. Look at you. Cudos, massive ones.

((I wish I could take it away.)

Shrinky said...

P.s. You are an incredible writer (hugs)

Land of shimp said...

Shrinky, I actually thought of you when writing this, because I remembered your post from a bit ago. Thank you for your kind words, by the way, they truly do mean a great deal.

I think we would all wish to take away those kind of memories, for both of us. I thought the same thing when I read your story.

But we can't, all we can do is make our own story a better one. I suppose part of it is that I've just had better luck in some instances than my mom, dad, or grandmother. Part of it is about, "And I'm so ticked off about this, I'm going to have a great life. Take that, fate!"

So it starts with anger, and when that's gone, there's peace. I think I understand how you feel about your home, your husband, your children, and your life.

You made it, and you made it despite the odds. You should be so proud of your achievements, because they are huge...and you always deserved that happiness, even when you didn't have it, you still deserved it.

We all do.

Man, I will tell you, this was a tough one to write. It's really hard to think of a kid in that situation, even when that kid is you. I made sure my son had an entirely different situation, just like you made sure yours did.

We won...and maybe that's the point in telling stories like this. Even out of an unhappy beginning, you can forge a happy ending...and middle, too.

JeannetteLS said...

"We won...and maybe that's the point in telling stories like this. Even out of an unhappy beginning, you can forge a happy ending...and middle, too."

Indeed, we won. Wonderful writing, and courage. It is strong work, this piece of writing. And I'm crying, with GOOD, strong tears.

Thank you so much for putting that story out here for us. My guess is you will touch far more people, in wonderful ways, than you will ever know.

Cricket said...

I'm speechless.

Well, perhaps not totally speechless, but there is little I could say to add to a story like that. Except, perhaps, why tell a story like that? Well, because it's true, and it's important, and there are lessons to be learned from it.

That is enough, I think.

PhilipH said...

Hi Alane.

What a story. Very well told of course; your trademark all over it.

Family trauma; and there are millions like over the years and they live with you forever if it's YOUR family involved.

My dad frequently lost his temper with my poor mum and I still hear some of her screams as he hit her late in the evening. I would be in bed (I was 4 when I first experienced this scary event) and would try to shut the noise and cries out by hiding under the bed-clothes.

Thanks for such a terrific tale.

Amy said...

Alane, Good for you - to write that down had to have been almost too painful. As you know, I too, have had some traumatic events in my life, most of them before I was 18. And, like you, after working many, many years, have attained what I call happiness. I'd say, both of us have "broken the chain" of dysfunction, loneliness and, yes, abuse and violence.

I'm not ready to write as you are. I admire your courage to share in order to help others. If and when I ever share my stuff, I'm definitely going to think of you. You are a model for me, Alane.

Jo said...

Alane, reading this was cathartic for me, because I too grew up in a troubled family. My mother and father used to have a lot of "rows" but looking back at it now, I realize it was domestic violence. Both my mother and father were well-educated, intelligent people, and I believe they ended up hating each other. We bury the trauma of seeing our parents like that, but it really does shape who we are.

I think this story explains why you are such a remarkable, larger than life person. You inherited your grandmother's genes!

I'm glad you shared this with us, because I think there are a lot of folks out there who can relate to your story. Writing about it helps you, but it also helps all of us too.

I am not comfortable with easy familiarity, but ((((((((HUGS)))))))) to you.

Cheers,
Jo

Nicole said...

Hugs, hugs, and more hugs to you! And it sounds cheesy but I am so proud of you! Plenty of people would let a childhood like yours be their excuse to live a less than stellar life. You have taken your past and used it to make a beautiful life for yourself.
It has taken me a while but I have finally gotten that it is not what happens to us but what we do with it that matters. Does that make sense?

Good for you!

And I have been wondering this for awhile since I read it in one of your responses to a comment on your other post...Do you think Richard the 3rd was guilty? I love to read everything about the Tudors and their history has its beginnings around Richard. I read a book by Allison Weir about the Princes in the Tower. I would love to know your take on it all!
I will stop now as I am rambling and I'm not sure I am making sense.

ds said...

There are no words. Thank you for this brave telling. You are a remarkable person.

JoMo said...

Yes, you won! Awesome.

Adults often don't seem to realize how their actions (or inactions) affect their kids. They just don't. And their words. Shouted words or words overheard. If grown ups could be grown ups, what a different world...

Making peace with all of this and finding love there too, you're just amazing for that.

Cheers,
Jo

Nancy said...

Oh yeah, there definitely is. Your story is similar in some ways to my own. Only the abuse was with my father and stepmother after my mother died, when I was six. But I will never forget the feeling of helplessness you expressed here. Little children should never be put into that position. But our lives go on and we love those that caused us pain, because in most cases they loved us, just not enough to not hurt each other.

Your grandmother was brave. Broken, but brave. And you are the strong, vibrant, intelligent person you are because of all that you experienced. Most of us try to give our children the childhood we didn't have. Our way of healing, I suppose.

Thanks for sharing this very personal and heartbreaking story. We readers are better for it, I think.

Pauline said...

That you can recall all this and still be forgiving is a tribute to your spirit. I am always of two minds about the inherent goodness of people. We often say we have no choice but to do what we do, yet we make those choices all the time. It's heartening to see that you've seen the worst and have still chosen to believe in the best.

Land of shimp said...

Hi Jeanette, again, you're another person I thought about writing this. I think, and judging by the comments this is accurate, that this story is far more common than it should be. Common not being the same thing as boring, by a long shot.

Sometimes people just knowing that they aren't alone in something can help them continue on and get through. It also feels odd, in many ways, to be a forty-two year old woman and to have struggled to write this out. It's so far in the past, for me it is ancient history and my life is a good one.

But...things like that do impact a person. How they view other people, love, trust, etc. It's also just not a thing to treat with a sense of shame. I think sometimes people with that kind of bad childhood think that saying anything about it is akin to saying, "the people who produced me were bad folks" ...but it's not that simple, it's no reflection on the person who grew up, and out of that situation.

Unhappiness, trials and tribulations wear on a person, wear them away. For instance, if my dad had lived in a time where it wasn't some gigantic mark of shame to have a recurring mental issues brought about by trauma (I think he considered it a sign of weakness) ...maybe he would have gotten help. Impossible to know, but not talking about things bred that situation. Trying to hide his problems -- which he could not do -- that was the architect of so much.

The thing is, it wouldn't just have been about me, or my mother, or even my half-brother: He deserved a better life than being tormented by his own mind, we all do. I don't know that the help available at the time could have helped much, but I do (I found this out after his death) that it was something of which he was deeply ashamed. Gosh, that was never going to help anything, for him, me, anybody.

Anyway, thank you so much :-)

Land of shimp said...

Cricket, I think my feeling of awkwardness about it stems from the sense that...that's a sad story, no doubt about that. I can see that, almost as if it is the story of someone else. I think the point of it may be..."Although I am a happy person, with a good life, here's something that went into making me...I had to try my best to unmake it, and found that I could do exactly that."

The other point is to try and encourage people to reach out and get help if by any chance, at all, they are in a similar situation. I didn't magically heal myself, I went to therapy ...where I learned I had a specific form of post traumatic stress disorder. Evidently that's extremely common in children who have seen extreme violence.

In a way I lucked out in the "no uncles, aunts, cousins" thing in that...I hit adulthood fully aware that I had no healthy role models. When you live with someone who drank all day long, and someone else who leveled the lawn for the last three years of his life (uh, long story, but essentially my dad, when overwhelmed would try to concentrate on very mundane things -- I think he likely learned it in some occupational therapy thing back in the day -- and he'd just shut off reality)...and then when I lived with my mom for a couple of years after he died...and she was clearly still struggling with what I represented. To this day, I just make my mom deeply uncomfortable.

So...yup, I knew "Wow, I don't really know how to do anything with human interaction well...I'd better do something about that." and I did.

There's nothing magic about me. I knew I had a problem, I went and got help to fix it. Doesn't mean I was a basket-case, or weak...but I got lucky. I knew the only chance to have a good life, was to go and purposefully learn how it was done, because I really hadn't seen it.

That's the point, I think. There's no shelf-life on whether or not a person deserves to live the best life they can. Even if a 79-year-old is reading this, if they've got something that still haunts them? It's not too late to change the story, and if someone needs help with that? Well, we all need help with something, and we don't judge others for needing it, why judge ourselves?

Man, I should have known even responding to this subject would be epic in length. I'm so sorry folks. Some subjects are easily addressed with brevity. They're too complex.

Land of shimp said...

Philip, it does stay with you. I wish this wasn't as common a story as it clearly is . You did better, your children learned better, but it does stay with you.

You know, whenever I see your name, I think back to when I started this blog, before I'd even told a soul that it was there, you left a comment for me. I always think of you as being so kindly encouraging.

I think it can go many ways, but I have found that many of the people who truly value simple kindness, have seen what the lack of it can do, and are very aware of its power. Kindness, and unkindness. You show kindness to people, Philip. I see you out there, leaving comments, being kind.

It is a powerless feeling to be that small, and to hear, or see something going down that is wrong. As adult, there's power in kindness. Putting stuff into the world that is good. It doesn't undo the stuff that stays with you...but it combats it. It's a good act of defiance of the past.

Amy, I know we've talked about this before. It wasn't painful as much as it was difficult...and what was really surprising? If you've ever been sharing a funny memory with someone, and started laughing just at the memory...recalling the hilarity recreates the hilarity...well, I found writing it to be a bit like that. I was scared. It was just an echo of the real fear, but ...my goodness, I'm 42, I'm safe as houses, my husband, son and I laugh every darned day of our lives ...and my chest felt tight just trying to type that out. My cell phone rang and almost gave me a heart attack.

Then afterward...I felt much better. I hope someday you get to the point of writing, or talking specifically...clearly these situations still have power long, long after they are done. But it felt good, even though I was scared, to ultimately have power over it, not the other way around. Yeah, it was difficult to write...but when I'd done it? I knew that essentially, I control that memory, it does not control me.

You have a good life, I know you've struggled with various things, but you're a really neat person to know. A valuable person, an asset. Even if you never get to the "there" of writing, or talking specifically, that will be true.

Land of shimp said...

Jo, Hugs right back to you, and I'm also not a casual hugger. Do you know, and please don't take this the wrong way, I actually had wondered if there was something like that in your childhood...and not for any bad reason. I just noticed a while back that whereas you tell stories about your mom, and your dad...and it is very clear you loved them both...you rarely tell stories that feature the two of them together.

I think it's particularly hard to look back and realize, "Wow, that really was difficult." Particularly when you like, love, and admire the people involved...and rightly so. Their marriage dynamic, while really a difficult memory, is not wholly definitive of your parents. It's just a difficult aspect, a sign of unhappiness that had many factors.

Your poor parents. It must be so difficult to start out in a place of love, and end up in an entirely different emotional space. You know the other thing...even though I know intellectually that domestic violence knows no socio-economic boundaries, and no educational ones either...I always point out how well-educated my parents were, because it still somehow surprises me. It's a funny reaction, where intellectual knowledge conflicts with emotional knowledge, isn't it? I always feel as if I'm saying, "And if anyone should have known better, it would have been these two people!"

I am sorry, Jo. I know you have very treasure memories of both of your parents, I'm sorry they go hand-in-hand with some of the sadder aspects.

Nicole, thank you...I'm actually going to do a separate reply to you in a bit...I have a fun book recommendation for you :-)

ds, thank you sincerely...but the thing is, I'm not a remarkable person. Don't get me wrong, I don't think I'm particularly run of the mill, but there's nothing ....hmmm....how to say this? Part of the reason to tell the tale is "This could be anyone, and if it's you, or someone you know? It doesn't have to rule an entire life, and it doesn't need to be ignored, either."

Weird balancing acts we do in life, eh?

Land of shimp said...

Thank you, JoMo. I'm always astounded by how amazing all the people I know are, when I get to know them. People are amazing, and resilient. We define ourselves with our choices. I'd make a terrible misanthrope, wouldn't I? I like the vast majority of people I meet. Aside from a few truly broken-at-the-core people I've known? Almost everyone has something amazing within them.

And here's to win, no matter the battle, as we all have something we must triumph over. Another one of those, "You know what unites us? We're all in a struggle to overcome something." and it's not a contest, you know? It's something that we all share, on some level.

Nancy, thank you...and do you know...you're another person I had put that piece together on, without truly knowing it. Not to that extent, but it was the fact that you have a very keen interest in possibilities within life, and within people. Usually people who do that kind of spiritual exploration throughout their life, are searching for answers...not just about the world we live in, but the people we have known. So I didn't come up with the "I bet it was a similar thing" but I did think, "That's a lady on a quest."

Which is just another way of saying, have I told you recently I just think you're neat, and interesting? That sort of pleasing complexity we encounter as we travel through life, you've got that.

Ahhh yes, we've discussed this in the past, Pauline. That we approach human nature from different standpoints, but with the same information. I think we are both right, for whatever it is worth. Human beings can you let you down, and break your heart...give you hope beyond the telling of it, and inspire you to believe in true goodness, and love.

We're a mixed bag. I marvel at how hard we try to be good...and there's a reason.

Long ago I was at a party and this very subject came up. I'm good with one-liners, everyone is good at something, and someone was talking about the failings of human nature. I popped out with:

"Well, the way I look at is that Anne Frank said, 'in spite of everything, I still believe people are good' , I figured if she could believe that, I could at least give it a shot."

The person next to me replied, "Yes, but she wrote that as fifteen-year-old girl, before she suffered and died in a concentration camp at the hands of people. You really think she'd have said that afterward?"

Met someone a bit quicker on the draw, didn't I? I shrugged, but it bothered me. It bothered me to the extent that I was still thinking about it as I lay in bed that night. You see, I truly believed that. It wasn't just something I said at a party, as a kid, I'd been so impressed by that...and vowed to try and believe it. Yet, this guy had raised a decent point.

Then it came to me, the perfect comeback, hours and hours too late: I remembered who had her diary published, for the world to see. Her father, who had lived through the camps, who had seen the very worst that people could do. Who had removed some material in the diary, but had left that in there.

And I realized it wasn't ever about believing the words of a fifteen-year-old. It was that her father wanted me to read them, even after he lost her to evil. It still meant something to him, when it would have no understandable reason to.

If he could try to believe that? So could I.

And that still doesn't make either of us right, or wrong. People do appalling things. People do beautiful things, too. There's no right answer when it comes to human nature...but I'm so impressed that we keep trying, despite crushing evidence that we can't do it.

We are hopeful monsters, the lot of us.

Suldog said...

Wow. Hard for me to find anything useful to say here. I enjoyed the read, of course. You're a wonderful writer. But, the subject matter... Very disturbing.

I never encountered any sort of violence between people in my family. We had arguments, sure, and some pretty loud ones, at that, but things just never did progress to actually hitting someone. Lots of walls and chairs took abuse, but never people. Before it got to that, someone would always take a walk away from the argument and cool down.

Well, anyway, thanks for sharing the story. An amazing one it is.

Land of shimp said...

Nicole, thank you, and it didn't sound cheesy at all to me. What an incredibly kind thing to say to anyone, and I thank you for it.

You also make sense, by the way. It's almost a given in life that something bad, or tragic will happen to all of us. We'll have misfortune, someone will treat us in a way we don't deserve to be treated...and then that thing becomes ours, to do with as we choose. To figure out how to try again. I used to be angry about the situation, "The why? Why me? Why did other people get these lovely childhoods, did I do something to deserve less?" and then I realized, man, it was never about me. I hit the earth a cheerful baby, stuff happened, I stopped being as happy...but if I carried that anger on, long after it was over, the only person I'd be weighing down would be me.

Plus, my goodness, people can come through so very much. Far more than I've ever faced, even people I know, they've come through disease, and sorrow. We are not brittle.

I have known people destroyed by a great deal too. I don't know the formula for overcoming, but I do think it starts somewhere in believing that there's worth in the effort of continuing on.

Plus, we should all occasionally sing while unloading the dishwasher :-)

Land of shimp said...

Onto Richard III -- boy, I leave the oddest comments, but ...Weir is an interesting historian in that she doesn't shy away from definitively stating anything. She kind of cracks me up. She's wonderfully easy to read, and I've read a lot of her stuff. I did learn to make sure to never let Weir be my only source on anything, because that lady is one opinionated historian. All historians are, but she just lets that flag fly.

I laughed like a fool reading one of her biographies on Elizabeth I ...and not because she was inaccurate, but rather that when she gets a hold of a bone? Whoa. She was out to prove that Elizabeth I was an actual virgin...and the cartwheels she was preforming to maintain that were...almost admirable. I like a person who knows her own mind, you know?

But I am going somewhere with this: I also like to make up my own mind. Weir believed, wholeheartedly in Richard III's guilt. I mean, to the extent that she was manipulating source material to prove it. You can't pull in, as actual source documentation, the words of Thomas More as being gospel. His version of a historical account was a very Tudor one, for obvious reasons.

The fact that Weir presents the account More included had me rolling: She produces More's second-hand account wherein Richard III puts out what is essentially a hit on his nephews while in the midst of use the bathroom!! For real, she waves around, as evidence mind you, what was clearly propaganda. "Not only did he do it, he decided to do it while moving his bowels, the fiend!"

It makes for an interesting, if amusing read. Not only was that my reaction, Betram Fields --an entertainment lawyer by trade -- was so incensed by her "sources" he took up his pen, and wrote a book called "Royal Blood" that I recommend...because he clearly wrote it to refute Weir. The lady had honked him off to no end, and he wrote a book in which he brings in other authors, but mainly he's just furious with Weir. It's fun, and startling balanced.

He decided to, as a lawyer, gather evidence and try Richard III, you see.

No one knows, Nicole. It would have been against many known aspects of his character. He was a good, loyal brother. He fought like hell to put his brother on the thrown, and I mean that literally. He was not deformed, he was not as Shakespeare depicted him (another "better please the monarch!" effort in Tudor times, when discrediting the House of York was...politic).

But he also knew what having a ruler under the age of majority had done to the country in the past, so it remains possible that he did it. He just wouldn't have done it gladly.

Land of shimp said...

There's also reason to believe that the boys died of natural causes, and he concealed that. There are two skeletons found that are widely believed to be the Princes, but thus far the UK has not availed themselves of DNA testing....and they do have sources for DNA. They opt not to do the testing, and settle the matter because, if nothing else, the wicked Uncle Richard doing in the Lily White Boys makes for a ripping good story on tours.

All that to say: I don't know, Nicole. I think it could go either way, but Weir loves the heck out of the Tudors, and she had a reason for painting Richard as a nefarious creep. He wasn't.

If I had to say one way or another? Yes, it's more likely than not...but Richard III was a pretty honorable man, and it's not quite as likely as Weir would have us believe. She tries to definitively answer a question that cannot be answered...because there isn't enough evidence. I go back and forth on it.

I did love one of Weir's other source documents: A bill of sale for lumber that she manages to flourish around as proof....and her logic strains the brain.

I understood why Fields lost his bird and wrote an entire book to try and refute her. Read that, if you like the subject, and I'd love to know what you think.

Hit me at my email addy if you can't get a hold of it:

stillshimpyATyahoo.com

I can hook you up with a copy...it's delightful fun. Dueling historians!

Land of shimp said...

Sol, I know what you mean on the "Okay, that was...thankfully different from what I knew."

I've mentioned MY HUSBAND here a great deal. He had a wonderful, lovely childhood. Truly, his memories are fantastic.

My kind of story is a little too common...but his kind of story, and your kind of story? There are many out there like that too. That's a very important thing, and a hopeful one.

I'll tell you something, and you are free to tease me about it at any time you like. Do you remember the "Kevin Found Mousey" post. Long ago, when I first met my husband, and eventually told him, "Yeah, about my childhood..." he responded with, "Would you like to share mine then? We can share my childhood memories, it's never too late to have a happy childhood!"

And the first story he told me was about that vacation. I kind of adore the stuffing out of that man.

Part of what brought this all to mind? Was my son and I laughing our heads off over things we remembered happening. I've got plenty of happy memories now :-)

Land of shimp said...

Also, Suldog? I joke around about this all the time. My son actually knows a little bit, but not much because...you know what? It's not his stuff to deal with, it's mine.

But he knows enough that I frequently tease him, "Now be good, or I'll tell you about my childhood." ;-)

Tabor said...

What a heavy story. Your insight into how complex we are as people with good sides and bad sides and demons that sometimes cannot be controlled must be what has made you the woman you are today. Your ability to write so clearly and passionately about this is amazing. You are very talented as a writer and I am glad I found you.

ellen abbott said...

The human story. My husband's mother abandoned him and his four siblings when he was 9 to a man she had to leave to save her life. she absolves herself by saying she knew his mother would make sure the kids got what they needed. The emotional abuse from that man continues to this very day. My own father was not physically abusive but he could/would corner you for hours telling you what a disappointment you were.

We overcome. what else is there to do?

Nicole said...

Thank you for the book suggestion! I have ordered it and can't wait for it to arrive.
I agree Weir is easy to read and loves the Tudors. Thankfully I read her works first and because they read like novels my interest was peaked and I went on to read different authors. I, too, feel she had fun with facts to prove her points.
Poor Richard, maligned through out history. In his case no metter what he did or didn't do he was going to be wrong. I don't want to keep saying "I agree with you! heehee" but I do truely agree with your assessment of his situation. I am looking forward to reading a new book with a different perspective.
I noticed the other day that Weir has a new book out about Anne Boleyn. I was tempted to buy but I read reached my book limit with knitting books that day. I have read a lot of books about Anne Boleyn and I absolutely HATE the movie The Other Boleyn Girl. That was a load of rubbish! It's interesting that although each book presents the history that can't be changed they do inject their opinion of the players into it.
Darn...now I'm excited about the subject all over again and the next bookstore trip will end with one less knitting book but another Weir book heading home with me.

nicoleaw@hotmail.com

Katy said...

Wow. You have such a wonderful way of putting words together. Its not everyone who can write drama as well as they write comedy (and vis versa).

My mother grew up with an alcholoic and it wasn't pretty, but it was 1950, and like you say, things were different. I never new my grandfather, he died long before I was born, but my mom will always say that knowing him made her stronger.

And I think this is what these tramas can be, if we are lucky they are the things that make us stronger if they don't break us all together.

Major props for going to a place that is hard to write about. I sometimes ponder writing a post about my past, but I always decided that I'm not ready to go there. Thank you for showing such grace and strangth.

Kathryn said...

Wow. Life is . . . strange.

We are such a mix of things. Like you, i prefer to try & make folks laugh. I do tell my "sad stories" but always try to give them a twist so that i (& my reader/listener) can laugh at my mishaps.

That quality has been lacking this past year or so. Only once in my life before (after rape) was i unable to do such twist. I'm finding i really don't like the lack of my sense of humor in my current situation. But what that tends to do for me is to silence me rather than share "sad things without the funny twist."

I appreciate you & all that you share Alane. You are very courageous & have turned your life into something noteworthy. Thank you for sharing as you do.

Dave said...

A sad story Alane,told so personally. I wonder if this really describes your life, or is it "made-up?"

Land of shimp said...

Thank you on all counts, Tabor :-)

Katy, I think one of the most interesting things about people is how much they do come through. While fairly grim, the story of my parents, and grandmother is not unusual, particularly during a time when people tried to handled their problems in whatever way they could.

I've got several friends who grew up with alcoholics too, and it's a very destructive sort of disease. It's also a very sad thing to see happen to another human being.

Thank you, I do appreciate the kind words.

Kathryn, I know you also come from a family situation that was...interesting. Some people have childhoods wherein they really felt safe and protected, and others didn't. That sounds like such a bald thing to say, and I don't mean it that way at all. What I mean is, there's an awful lot of company in the "okay, that was severely messed up" camps of life. That's probably another reason to occasionally talk about these sort of things.

No, it isn't made-up, Dave. If anything, it's a very toned down version of the reality of my parents marriage.

Miss OverThinker said...

Alane, I am absolutely speechless.. What an incredible story, except it wasn't a story it was your life. Yet again I am amazed at your inner strength to share such a difficult part of your life.. you can't even imagine how it will touch so many people and give them strength and hope to deal with their own personal demons.. I am so lucky that I have got to meet you thru this blog world.. this world is a much better place because you are in it :)

Kyle said...

Alane, bravely and beautifully written.

People are complicated. Rarely are they all of what they appear to be on the outside or the inside. I'm glad you have that special lens called perspective. I'm guessing that is one of the things that makes you such an insightful writer.

Everyone has memories pleasant, powerful, and painful, but what we choose to do with ourselves and how we let those memories shape us is what is really important.

I'd tell you to take care of yourself, but you already have.:)

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