A yellow towel

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I sit beside my mother on the blue Ventura bus. It snakes its way through the back streets of Box Hill. We have been travelling for nearly an hour. Already the trip is long, from Mentone beach into Surrey Hills. We did not have time to think or to decide on the clothes we might wear, or the books we might bring to read on this long journey. We could not stay a minute longer.

It happens like this. On Friday nights my father drinks himself into a stupor. Most times he falls asleep on his chair in front of the television. He leaves us in peace, but sometimes the drinking starts earlier before Friday. It might begin on a Wednesday. On days like these, my father does not go to work. Instead he drinks and sleeps, sleeps and drinks, and in between times he looks to us for company and for fights.

He looks especially to my mother, but she pretends she does not notice him and the more she pretends the more angry he becomes until in an explosion of rage he throws a radiator at her, as he did this morning, or he rips off her dress, as he did last week, or he tears out her hair.

Last week we left to stay with my big brother and his new wife in Hawthorn but we have overstayed our welcome there. This week we visit a friend of my mother’s who has said that my mother and the two little ones can stay the night with her, but we older ones will need to fend for ourselves.

And so it was decided. We older ones will catch the blue bus back to our home, but we will not go inside. We will sleep in the garage if we are brave enough to sneak into the backyard and otherwise we will fend for ourselves in the outside world.

The bus drops us off two stops before our house. We do not want our father to see us from his front seat in the lounge room. We walk around the block and approach our house from behind. Even from behind, our house does not feel safe. There is a vacant block behind the grey paling fence that divides the back of our house off from the next as yet unbuilt property. We will spend the night there.

My brothers climb the fence and sneak into the back yard to collect three towels off the washing line. We left them there the day before, after we had been swimming. We will use the towels as blankets.

Mine is a yellow towel. It is summertime. A hot night. I do not need a blanket. I use the towel as a mattress, a thin mattress that cannot cushion me from the rocks and rough bits that stick into my body every time I try to turn over in my sleep, but it is a comfort nevertheless. The two boys offer the towels to us three girls as an act of gallantry. They are strong boys. They can do without.

I look at the stars and imagine myself far away even as I marvel at the idea of my twelve-year-old self as this homeless person. How they would marvel at my school. How shocked they would be. Families from my school do not sleep out of doors at night because their father is drunk.

The next morning we go to Mass. The priest in white and gold vestments raises the host to the altar in the Hosanna chorus and I look down at my dirty fingernails, dirtier than usual for all the grit of my stony dirt bed the night before and I marvel at the way life can seem so very different from the outside.

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74 Comments on A yellow towel

  1. Kass
    March 12, 2011 at 1:17 am (7 years ago)

    Chilling. Absolutely chilling. My heart is breaking for this family.

    I've been going to a 12-step program for adult children of alcoholics even though my parents didn't drink. The dynamics are all there because my mother was raised by an alcoholic father any my father was an extreme workaholic. The literature I've been reading talks about reparenting ourselves. Have you come across this in any of your research? What you went through is so much worse than what I lived with. I'm amazed at your composure and emotional health.

    Also amazed at the great clarity in your writing.

    Reply
  2. The Elephant's Child
    March 12, 2011 at 1:58 am (7 years ago)

    So true it hurts. Right down to the veneer of normalacy.
    'Families from my school do not sleep out of doors at night because their father is drunk.' Though of course we never know. How much of it is like calm placid ducks on the water – with their legs going hell for leather unseen.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  3. KleinsteMotte
    March 12, 2011 at 1:59 am (7 years ago)

    My religious upbringing did not help me. As I was in charge of the family at the age of 16 when my dad died and my mom turned to alcohol, I was on my own to deal with her. I once lifted her after she fell head first into the bathtub across from the toilet and I carried her to bed. I made sure all cigarette buts were out too!! She carried on like this for 16 years and then decided to get sober. Two years later she had to bury her only son, by Roland, and I loved her for her braveness because she never went back on the bottle. One day maybe I should write about it, right??

    Reply
  4. Penal-Colony
    March 12, 2011 at 2:07 am (7 years ago)

    O Lord, this disease that has cursed generations of my people to perdition. Nothing is worse. The number of families that have been ruined is inestimable.

    This was heartbreakingly and powerfully told.

    Reply
  5. steven
    March 12, 2011 at 2:26 am (7 years ago)

    elizabeth – it's the veneer and its construction and maintenance that is so difficult to be inside and then to present as afinished work in the world! my goodness. thankyou once again for the teaching contained within the painfully truthful unpacking of your life. steven

    Reply
  6. angryparsnip
    March 12, 2011 at 2:54 am (7 years ago)

    A extremely sad story and you wrote it with such clarity without any overwrote emotions.
    I never know anymore if this is from your life or fiction but it doesn't matter as it is as Kass said chilling written.

    cheers, parsnip

    Reply
  7. just jane
    March 12, 2011 at 3:05 am (7 years ago)

    Life can seem different from the outside. A true statement, indeed. I remember nights like that, terrifying nights that haunt you forever. It is remarkable how we still love those people, who terrorized us. We knew nothing else, I suppose. It is unsettling now, in the present.

    You were not alone. Your family was not unique, in that. It made you the special, talented, amazing person you are today. You and I know that in our hearts, but it doesn't numb the pain. The little girl, you were, was in despair. For that I am truly sorry. Peace, Jane

    Reply
  8. Anthony Duce
    March 12, 2011 at 3:30 am (7 years ago)

    I am taken in by your writing of these times, thinking of kids I hung with who had a parent or parents who were out of control. It is so different from the outside, seeing, knowing of this.

    Reply
  9. rraine
    March 12, 2011 at 4:29 am (7 years ago)

    this is told so dispassionately, it tears at the gut. i am continually amazed at what human beings are capable of doing to each other, and what we are capable of surviving.

    Reply
  10. Windsmoke.
    March 12, 2011 at 5:28 am (7 years ago)

    What harrowing story. I suspect this situation happens every night some where because of alcohol abuse or binge drinking which is getting out of control big time especially amomgst teenagers who aren't old enough to handle the alcohol :-).

    Reply
  11. Glenn Ingersoll
    March 12, 2011 at 6:26 am (7 years ago)

    Wow. Well drawn. I like the dirty fingernails. The strangeness of the escape bus that travels in a loop right back to the place one seeks refuge from.

    Reply
  12. Zuzana
    March 12, 2011 at 7:44 am (7 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth,
    I hope this piece is a fiction.
    But it is a very well written and chilling post and reflecting the reality of so many kids.

    I come from a very loving home. My childhood was carefree and I always felt safe. Of course there was some struggle through my teenage years due to being a child of immigrants, but as a family we were a unit and my home was my haven.

    Your story though brings back a recollection of two days almost 40 years ago, which me and my sister spend with my moms co-worker, when we still lived in Slovakia. My parents had to leave town and we were placed there over the weekend. It was in the country side and we were city girls.;)

    The father in the house was an alcoholic and I recall I was scared to death when he came home drunk late at night, all rowdy and loud, demanding attention. I did not see him abuse the kids or his wife, but I did not sleep at all those two nights, worrying about my and my little sisters safety, missing my mom and dad,as I never before have felt so alone
    .
    With that said though, during the days I had the best time of my life, spending them running outside with the kids, as this was a farm with many animals as well and you know how much I love nature and already did then.
    I also realized that at the core, both he man and the wife were hardworking and good people only marked by and suffering from the hardship of life. We were after treated very well – still the fear I felt late at night has stayed with me forever and I realized how blessed I was that I never had to go to sleep scared as a child.

    Sorry for this long comment.;)
    Have a lovely weekend dear friend,
    xoxo

    Reply
  13. jane.healy
    March 12, 2011 at 7:54 am (7 years ago)

    Behind every facade there lurks something Elisabeth – life is hardly ever what it seems.

    Reply
  14. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:45 am (7 years ago)

    Kass you're too kind. I have heard about the business of having to re-parent yourself in the absence of good enough parenting, but I suspect you can only do it with help.

    I've heard of a few people who go to AlAnon meetings as use the twelve step program, despite the absence of alcoholism in their immediate family.

    If it helps, it's worth it.

    Thanks, Kass.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:47 am (7 years ago)

    I hope it's not too depressing, Laoch. I try for a little redemption trough the writing, though I suppose this is only a part of the story.

    Thanks, Laoch.

    Reply
  16. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:48 am (7 years ago)

    The veneer of normalcy is quite a feature of many people's lives, I suspect, Elephant's Child. How else do we manage in a world, which admires competence and has little room for vulnerability.

    Thanks for your kind words here.

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:51 am (7 years ago)

    Oh dear, Kleinstemotte, when I was a child the only thing I thought worse than an alcoholic father would be an alcoholic mother.

    At least it seems your mother managed some of the time. It's so sad.

    I have enormous compassion for any one driven by drink, including my father and all those other addictions we see around us and struggle with ourselves.

    Thanks, Kleinstemotte.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:53 am (7 years ago)

    It's an endemic problem in Ireland, is it not, Penal Colony? The sourge of Catholicism, I'd say. The scourge of poverty, the scourge of those long cold winters and that tough indomitable climate.

    Thanks, Penal Colony.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:55 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks Steven again for your kind words.

    I like the notion of 'unpacking' a life. I think it is what we do most often when we write however fictionalised or not.

    We unpack aspects of ourselves in our writing and our art.

    Thanks, Steven.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 10:57 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Parsnip. I write as I remember, but in the process, as Steven says I unpack and when I repack it changes ever so slightly in the telling.

    But it is certainly how it felt to me, and that's about the best I can do.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:03 am (7 years ago)

    It's clear that you too have suffered as a child Plain Jane and that you know the terror of those long and dreadful childhood nights.

    It's the fear I remember most, the not knowing what might happen next. But as you say, our lives go on, and mostly they improve such that these events are memories to write about and difficulties to transcend.

    Thanks not so – Plain Jane.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:04 am (7 years ago)

    Sorry Jane, that was an error in transmission, not 'plain' at all, but Just Jane. There's a whole world of difference here.

    Judging from your profile you are anything but plain.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:06 am (7 years ago)

    What we see on the outside is often very different from what goes on behind closed doors, as you say, Anthony. When I was a child I often wondered what my teachers might make of our family life if they could be like flies on the wall.

    Thanks, Anthony.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:08 am (7 years ago)

    As humans we can be very resilient, rraine, as you suggest. But our struggles invariably come at a price. Sometimes they improve us but they can also make things much harder, as you can imagine.

    Thanks, rraine

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:10 am (7 years ago)

    I suspect alcohol abuse has been a problem for centuries Windsmoke, but you're right in so far as people seem to start drinking much earlier these days and perhaps more young people turn to drink as a way out of their struggles, which is very very sad.

    Thanks, Windsmoke

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:12 am (7 years ago)

    Dirty fingernails have always been an issue for me, Glenn, though these days I manage to keep them clean. And thanks for alerting me to the bus loop. I had not seen it myself. I enjoy it when people see things in my writing that I had not noticed.

    Thanks, Glenn.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:17 am (7 years ago)

    Please Zuzana, never apologise for a long comment. To me they're among the best.

    The story you describe here: those two frightening days with your sister away from your parents living with the troubled family and their alcoholic father must have been harrowing. You were fortunate to have good parents to go home to.

    I sometimes think incidents like these, one offs and with strangers, can be far worse than the day to day difficulties which become so familiar to us as children,however horrible they might be.

    It's all in the expectation. Not that I'm saying it's okay. I'm just saying it's less terrifying when it's familiar, which of course is not necessarily a good thing.

    Thanks, Zuzana.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    March 12, 2011 at 11:20 am (7 years ago)

    Jane Healy, I couldn't agree more about what lurks behind the normal facade.

    Sometimes the most seemingly benign families house the most terrible of secrets.

    Thanks for visiting here and sharing these thoughts. I'm very grateful to you.

    Reply
  29. Two Tigers
    March 12, 2011 at 1:38 pm (7 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth! What perfect timing for this beautiful piece. I have just written a post that was a bit of a rant against writing (and other arts) so reliant upon shocking or troubling content to have an effect, and give its creator a career, that elements of craft and style and a beautiful presentation have been lost. And here you have offered what I consider the ideal balance – this is well-crafted prose that is not memorable only because stories of addiction and abuse appeal to our sympathies (and guilt) and are quite popular, but because it is good clean clear writing that sings off the page, period. It could have been a description of a rock garden and still brought my mind and heart to attention. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    Reply
  30. Jim Murdoch
    March 12, 2011 at 1:47 pm (7 years ago)

    We do not know. None of us know. We think we know but we look at the world though me-tinted glasses. As a child I was quite lucky I suppose in that I got to visit lots and lots of different people’s homes. Most were members of the congregation to which we belonged or neighbouring ones but there were also the homes of the neighbourhood kids and then kids from schools. From a very early age I found all these variations-on-the-theme-of-family fascinating in much the same way when I got older I would become fascinated by abstract things like beauty. Some men go for the same type over and over again until one finally takes an interest but when I look back over the women I’ve been attracted to over the years I can see no common factors bar the obvious ones: possession of two eyes, a nose, a mouth and a nice pair of breasts if you don’t mind.

    It’s surprising that I’m not more mechanically-inclined than am which is not very. I like for there to be a way for things to work, a right way of doing, a right way of being, of thinking and my assumption was if we could just get all those things right then we might be happy or content at least. I knew my family didn’t work right. Unlike the families of the neighbourhood kids and the boys from school we had a rulebook that told us how to make a success of family life. We had no excuses. The Bible said that if we did x and y and refrained from doing z that our family would work. The problem was that the components that made up not only our family but all families whether they believed or didn’t believe or believed something completely different were faulty, imperfect – it’s all Adam’s fault – and over the years I watched one family after another struggle to hide the level of its dysfunctionality.

    Of course I saw the cracks in our own family first and felt our hypocrisy the earliest convinced that ours was the only family that wasn’t living up to its expectations. (Boy was I in for a surprise!) More disappointments followed. Eventually my siblings and I all left home and started our own families all of which failed. I swore I would never make the same mistakes as my father and I never did, at least I didn’t make the same mistakes as the ones I was aware of at the time but there were things I didn’t learn in time to avoid them.

    In later life my father developed a drink problem. He wasn’t an alcoholic but he did lean a little too heavily on it and it took a long time for him to admit he had a problem after which he quit but I did see him take an occasional drink after that, at my sister’s second wedding and once when some of my mum’s relatives came up for a visit. Both my brother and sister drank to excess in their teens and early twenties but only my brother was prone to violence when drunk; mostly he just wanted to be left alone though. I’ve been drunk but I never enjoyed the experience and quickly started to shy away from the stuff; I need no help getting depressed.

    Your story raises and age-old problem: how do you escape the family? As we get older and realise that everyone else is also a part of an imperfect family that certainly helps but most of the time there is nowhere to go than back. Even my dad had to go back. Once when drunk he decided he wanted to run away and got my brother who was probably about twelve at the time to drive him but the next day the car was there and they were both in their beds.

    Reply
  31. jabblog
    March 12, 2011 at 5:11 pm (7 years ago)

    To be a refugee from your own home must be one of the hardest things to cope with. Returning to live there as a family was surely most difficult and yet I think that's what you did. The uncertainty of such a life leaves an indelible mark and writing it out is a good way to deal with it.

    Reply
  32. Leslie Morgan
    March 12, 2011 at 5:49 pm (7 years ago)

    Ouch. I guess it doesn't matter which continent or which parent – it's all the same. This made the hairs on my arm rise.

    Here's another plug for the wonderful Adult Children of Alcoholics!

    When I was a young married woman, we lived next door to my mother, a woman 5'3" and about 95 pounds who was putting away about 1 gallon of wine every day. In the middle of the night my husband would wake me and say, "Go get your mother out of the pool with that bottle of wine." Not wanting to engage with her in that condition, I'd ask him to go pull her out and get her inside. "No, she's always naked out there." She's been sober now for 25 years.

    Reply
  33. Kirk Jusko
    March 12, 2011 at 9:43 pm (7 years ago)

    Growing up, I had a similarly unstable family life. We lived in the suburbs, and I just assumed we were the only ones like that. As I get older, I meet more and more people with such experiences.

    I like what you said in response to one of the comments about having enourmous compassion to those driven to drink. They're hurting, too, it's just a shame that the hurt gets passed on.

    Reply
  34. Bear's Editorial Committee
    March 13, 2011 at 5:50 am (7 years ago)

    Powerfully written, Elisabeth. To the point of being terrifying. And too close to the truth for many people.

    Reply
  35. Kath Lockett
    March 13, 2011 at 6:26 am (7 years ago)

    Oh Elisabeth…. the rawness and the pain and yet also the simple acceptance of a still young child!

    Your writing is heart rending and how I wish it didn't have its roots in truth.

    Reply
  36. Frances
    March 13, 2011 at 9:12 am (7 years ago)

    You have mentioned the catholic angle, but not the contraceptive angle.
    Men were once locked into miserable, soul destroying careers or jobs, in order to feed the family. Normal, affectionate sexual relations were forbidden by the catholic church, and were only likely to lead to another mouth to feed: another link in the chain of the father's life sentence.

    Men embraced contraception well before women did. Was this what your father's anger at his wife was about? She wanted to embrace what "the father" said, rather than commonsense?
    I wouldn't like to have the responsibility of 9 children, Elisabeth, and nor, I would think, would you. I would not like to think that an affectionate adult embrace of my partner would lead to the responsibility for 10 children, and so on.
    These men were put in an atrocious position. Many, like the father in "Angela's Ashes", skipped through. Your father didn't.
    And he taught your brothers some concept of gallantry.

    Reply
  37. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 9:50 am (7 years ago)

    I've just come from your post, Two Tigers and I'm most grateful for your praise here, given wat you have written there.

    It's high praise indeed, especially as I fear I do not follow form at all. I am of the loose prose school. It comes as it comes, but I have practised my writing like you Two Tigers. Over many years, I have practised and practised. I do not expect anything to come without practice and on that we are agreed.

    Thanks Two Tigers.

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 10:05 am (7 years ago)

    What's Tolstoy's saying Jim? you know the one, from Anna Karenina: 'Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.'

    That's the way of it, but when we are little we tend to think our family is the way of it.

    When I was a child I imagined that every other child who went to my school came from a well functioning and happy family, only mine was troubled, but still I was proud of my family because we came from Europe – Europe from what my mother told me was the seat of 'culture'- and most of my school friends in those days, not friends I should say, but companions, were 'Australian', of English, Scottish or Irish descent.

    It took until my late teens and early adulthood to realise otherwise, that others came from troubled families, too.

    I have a thing about the notion of alcoholism, Jim. It's a symptom sure but there are other things that go with it.

    Again as a child I hated the way my mother emphasized my father's drinking, as if that were all there was to it. Even if my father were sober there would have been problems. His drinking was his way of getting pain relief. But it only made things worse.

    I'm always amazed at how much our difficulties reverberate in life. At least someone else knows something of alcoholism and someone knows something of miscarriages and at the moment we're all rattled by earthquakes and tsunamis.

    We have so much in common, despite our diversity, and that to me is one of the greatest joys of reading and writing, the sharing of experience and ideas such that we begin to realise we have more in common that not.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 10:08 am (7 years ago)

    Writing is a good way to deal with life's difficulties, Janice, at least it has been so for me.

    And the idea of my being a refugee as a child is humbling, especially when I consider the actual plight of refugees the world over, who do not have a home to go to at all, and who are not sure of their welcome elsewhere.

    Thanks, Janice.

    Reply
  40. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 10:10 am (7 years ago)

    There are many more unstable families around than we give credit, Kirk, especially in the so-called suburbs. Behind those closed doors lurk all manner of horrors. It's not surprising that so many of us have so much to write about.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 10:12 am (7 years ago)

    My thanks to Bear's editorial committee.

    Do you know? – of course you don't – but I am part of a writing group with a couple of other Bears, legally so-named. I love the idea of a name like Bear. It cheers me enormously.

    And thanks for your kind words here, Bear.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 10:14 am (7 years ago)

    I appreciate your commiseration, Kath. It's funny how differently these things seem as I get older, and yet when I lurch myself back into the mind of my child self, I see things very differently again.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    March 13, 2011 at 10:18 am (7 years ago)

    Oh Leslie, there are so many sad tales to tell about our struggles with the demon drink – our own and other people's, or with gambling, or drugs, or work, or technology, or sex.

    You name it, addictions are attempts at killing pain, I think and should be respected as such. The only thing is they don't usually work as well as we'd like them too, and the side effects can be awful.

    Thanks, Leslie.

    Reply
  44. Jerry
    March 13, 2011 at 11:46 am (7 years ago)

    This is the first post I read this early Sunday morning, and the first I have read by you. My initial reaction might have been, "What a depressing way to start the day" — but instead I read with rapt attention and wonder. You didn't seek to shock or wrap yourself in the cloak of a victim but rather explained a horrid history in a kind and delicate way. You achieved an almost impossible balance here that grabbed me, held me, and then told me it was okay.

    Now I need to read your bio to confirm my certainty that you are indeed an accomplished, and intriguing writer.

    You stopped by to visit Gently Said, and by doing so, left me a trail back to here. Thank you for that.

    Reply
  45. Angella Lister
    March 13, 2011 at 3:55 pm (7 years ago)

    the way you tell this is stunning, such heartbreak, and yet the sense that children accommodate to what is, and make their way, and the world has no idea of the toll. beautiful and sad.

    Reply
  46. Ellen
    March 14, 2011 at 3:21 am (7 years ago)

    The mother in me leaps from my heart at reading this! The mother in me wants to hug each of you in that time you hurt.

    If we only knew what might be going on in the lives of children in the secrets of home that happen all too much. Drinking being the one that seems most obvious. Children..so observant of their mothers and fathers…parents thinking that children don't know or that they will not question.

    Your writing is a form of the healing and the release. Your openness may help many others who may read your blog that they too have suffered from. So let it out and share….

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    March 14, 2011 at 9:28 am (7 years ago)

    How lovely to see you here, Jerry of Gently Said. I'm glad my post was not too depressing a way to start your Sunday, which for me is now quite some time away, it being the end of Monday here in Australia.

    I suppose I hope that the writing redeems itself, however dreadful the content.

    It's amazing how much we can read that is depressing when it is 'gently said'

    Thanks, Jerry.

    Reply
  48. Elisabeth
    March 14, 2011 at 9:31 am (7 years ago)

    Resilience is the word, I think Angela and most children have it in bucketloads.

    I suspect it gets harder to be resilient as we age, although you'd think it would be the other way around.

    I suppose it all depends on who and how, when and where.

    Thanks, Angela.

    Reply
  49. Elisabeth
    March 14, 2011 at 9:36 am (7 years ago)

    Thank you for your kind words, Ellen.

    The mother in us so often reaches out when we read of childhood distress. It's so hard not to be able to help to lift their/our burden.

    Writing, as you say, helps enormously, Ellen, to offset the pain of the past. We can look back from a distance and get a different perspective, which we might then share with others like you who read our writing and help us to bear that burden.

    Reply
  50. Elisabeth
    March 14, 2011 at 9:43 am (7 years ago)

    Frances, I agree with you entirely. There is a long story to the business of contraception and my mother's determination to have babies and her sexual prudishness, alongside my father's horror at bearing the burden, as the so-called bread winner.

    In theory my father wanted children too, lots of them perhaps, but so many? I doubt it.

    One of his constant complaints to my mother when we were children ran along the lines, 'nine children…I should have used de capotje,' meaning I should have used a condom.

    It's sad to think of all those loveless marriages bound by convention, the dictates of Catholicism in relation to sex, child bearing and rearing.

    Thanks, Frances.

    Reply
  51. Ms. Moon
    March 15, 2011 at 12:59 am (7 years ago)

    I wish I had no idea how this feels. I wish you did not either.

    Reply
  52. Phoenix
    March 15, 2011 at 10:05 pm (7 years ago)

    Ah, now, this. This I know very, very well.

    I know the humiliation of having the neighbors come out of their homes and knocking on our doors, asking if they needed to call the police – again. I know what it feels like to have the police show up and treat everyone as a criminal, and think to my nine year old self: I'm never doing that again.

    I know what it feels like to have the house not feel safe, not ever, not even years later when I am an adult and all my nightmares still place me squarely on that property. I know what it's like to have my oldest brother run away for over a year, with my mother knowing full well where he was, but also knowing he was safer there than at our home.

    I remember the public explosions that were so embarrassing, as strangers tried to step in, as people stopped and stared. And I know what it feels like to freeze when someone raises their voice, for fear of drawing their interest and making myself a target.

    I know these things very, very well.

    From one survivor to another – we learn to grow what others try to kill. And it is there that we get to exist with courage, grace, beauty, and forgiveness.

    My heart goes out to you, Elisabeth, even after all these years that have passed.

    Reply
  53. Mim
    March 15, 2011 at 11:22 pm (7 years ago)

    Dear Elizabeth:
    I admire the way you tell the story.
    Yours for sobriety,
    Miriam

    Reply
  54. Elisabeth
    March 16, 2011 at 8:37 am (7 years ago)

    It seems Ms Moon, you and I are not alone in the knowledge of this type of experience. As you suggest, that's sad.

    Thanks, Ms Moon.

    Reply
  55. Elisabeth
    March 16, 2011 at 8:39 am (7 years ago)

    Sobriety for those who can't handle it at all, Mim, and for the rest of us a balanced response. Thanks, Mim.

    Reply
  56. Elisabeth
    March 16, 2011 at 8:57 am (7 years ago)

    After all these years for me, Phoenix, and for you less, but as you say we never forget, the humiliation and the turmoil of living with such a parent, and such a life. Unpredictability and shame and trying to save face in the face of other people's concern and as well other peoples scorn.

    Thank you for your beautifully written and heartfelt response here.

    We are like comrades/sisters, you and I, not so much 'in arms' as with pen, or keyboard – our words. Thank you, Phoenix.

    Reply
  57. Studio Sylvia
    March 16, 2011 at 10:07 am (7 years ago)

    Man oh Man, Elisabeth. I popped over for a visit, started reading, then reread the beginning. I was trying to determine – fact or fiction? Having never experienced alcoholism in my family, I have to marvel at your strength and honesty. You have my admiration for your youth of endurance.

    Reply
  58. rosaria
    March 16, 2011 at 4:40 pm (7 years ago)

    What a gripping story, told so tenderly and soberly. If these are remembrances, they must be hard to retell, hard to forget.

    I too write memoir pieces, snips of truth making their ways into every little story I tell.

    Reply
  59. Elisabeth
    March 17, 2011 at 10:18 am (7 years ago)

    Sometimes I think that fact and fiction are very close cousins, Sylvia. This is how I remember it, but it was a long time ago. My siblings will probably vouch for it too, though whether they remember this night as I do is another matter.

    Thanks, Sylvia.

    Reply
  60. Elisabeth
    March 17, 2011 at 10:20 am (7 years ago)

    Our stories invariably weave their way into our writing, Rosaria, however well disguised.

    Though some write more closely to their experience than others. This is my way. Yours, too, by the sound of things.

    Thanks, Rosaria.

    Reply
  61. A Cuban In London
    March 17, 2011 at 12:21 pm (7 years ago)

    I don't know what I find harder to read, the damage caused, or the appearance of normality in your post. It's difficult to cope with situations like this. More difficult, still, to write so coherently about it.

    Many thanks. This was such a powerful post.

    Greetings from London.

    Reply
  62. Dave King
    March 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm (7 years ago)

    The story reads like it's true, so I am assuming that it is. Either way it's sad and special and at the same time every-day, but above all it's beautifully told and all the more moving for that. Is there to be another installment?

    Reply
  63. Ocean Girl
    March 18, 2011 at 7:38 am (7 years ago)

    You write so beautifully. I read most of the comments and your responses too and how well many of your readers could express their views and wisdoms and how beautiful your responses are.

    I can't replace the word beautiful with a more appropriate word, but if I have to, I think I will replace it with sincere.

    I think the only way we could read the story without the feeling of panic and the urge to rescue, is because we know of the happy ending to the story.

    We can't change the past but we certainly have so many blessings to be thankful for.

    Reply
  64. Tess Kincaid
    March 18, 2011 at 1:37 pm (7 years ago)

    You have a gift for writing. I will be thinking about this all day. It struck a chilling chord with me.

    Reply
  65. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 10:04 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks for visiting here, Tess, and for your generous comment.

    It's a comfort to think that you – whose writing I admire enormously – also appreciate mine.

    Reply
  66. Ruth
    March 20, 2011 at 12:39 pm (7 years ago)

    A huge emptiness opens up, Elisabeth, finishing this read. The feelings of a twelve-year-old. What does she think and feel? What capacities does she have? I thank god for those siblings, so strong, and present.

    That you are writing this tells me you are getting to the other side of it. And for that, I rejoice, quietly.

    I am sorry you suffered this pain, so vast.

    Reply
  67. Elisabeth
    March 21, 2011 at 10:38 am (7 years ago)

    Thank you Ruth for your warm response here. I am on the other side of this all these years later, but the memories remain.

    Reply
  68. Marylinn Kelly
    March 23, 2011 at 4:35 pm (7 years ago)

    Elisabeth, So heartbreakingly told, the truth, I believe, resides in the feeling, for which the details provide the frame. I have needed to flee segments of my life, though not at so young an age. Finding a way back to any sort of acceptance, compassion and even forgiveness is a long journey. Art is an ally in such work, as are 12-step programs, which I credit with saving my life at one point. Your writing grows stronger and stronger.

    Reply
  69. Elisabeth
    March 24, 2011 at 10:27 pm (7 years ago)

    Thanks again, Marylinn for your kind words and thoughts here. It is hard remembering the need to flee as a child but as you say it is also something I can now think upon with compassion.

    Reply
  70. Robert the Skeptic
    March 24, 2011 at 11:57 pm (7 years ago)

    My sister and I grew up in a household with an alcoholic father. I've never forgiven him.

    Reply
  71. Elisabeth
    March 26, 2011 at 11:46 pm (7 years ago)

    I'm sorry to hear that you too know about life with an alcoholic father, Robert. The exeriece certainly stays with you, even into old age.

    I hope you're feeling better now, not just physically but also emotionally.

    Do you ever write about your father? As a way of getting something back from the horrors of that experience, in sharing it with others, I find it helps. In some strange unfathomable way, it helps.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  72. Isabel Doyle
    March 29, 2011 at 2:05 pm (7 years ago)

    This is a fine piece Elisabeth, in spite, or because, of its grim subject matter. I think you have caught the feeling of separateness and endurance of the children very well.

    Thank you also for your kind comments on my blog.

    Reply
  73. Elisabeth
    March 30, 2011 at 2:55 am (7 years ago)

    The endurance of children is a good way of putting it, Isabel, better perhaps than using the word resilience, a word I notice everywhere. As someone said on a blog recently, too often adults talk about the resilience of children as if to convince themselves that children can cope, as if children can manage more than perhaps they can.

    Thanks, Isabel. It's good to hear your voice here.

    Reply

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