Monday, August 10, 2015

Childhood Memories: A Cousin's Question

Mum, you're not going to like this post much.  Just saying...

Like many people, I use Facialbook to occasionally communicate with family.

In my case, some of my family are very far away.  As my mum is from Scotland, fully half my family is there.  For many years, we didn't keep in touch.  However, thanks to Facialbook, I was reunited with my cousin Anne and her delightful family, and through her, to my Uncle John.  I wrote about this a couple of years ago.  Find that entry HERE.

My father is one of six children, of German/Polish descent.  My grandmother was Polish.  Dad is pretty much in the middle of the group, age wise.  The youngest of their generation died of cancer a few years back.  None of their fore-bearers lived extremely long lives (my paternal grandmother died in her 50's of cirrhosis; my paternal grandfather in his 70's of cancer) and that whole generation are already longer lived than their parents.

Right.  So all of my dad's siblings had multiple children: my cousins.  I saw a bit of them as I was growing- usually around holidays, but other times occasionally as my dad stayed close with them, and all lived relatively nearby.  I got along with pretty much all of my cousins to a degree.  There are some I haven't heard from in decades.  One example is a cousin who, the weekend before my wedding, wished to invite as a "plus one" some guy she met at a bar the night before.  As our wedding was small and on a tight budget, we said "no."  And she didn't come.  Aside from the courtesy invite to her wedding (which Wife and I attended), we haven't spoken since,  That's over twenty years.

Others are, as stated above, Facialbook friends, and our amount of communication varies.  Lately, one of my cousins and I have struck up a wonderful dialogue.  Brenda is older than me, and is the daughter of my Dad's older sister.  She has two sisters and a brother, all of whom are wonderful people.  (Note to any other relatives reading this- don't read anything into this as a slight against you if you're not mentioned.  This entry will be long enough, and do you REALLY want me to bring you up?)   She was among the first to send her support to me when I announced my transition (but far from the only one.)

Brenda and I share memories, and I answer her questions about being TG.  Recently, she brought up a memory that made me smile.

Some background.  My parents are now retired to southern Delaware on the north shore of Indian River Bay.  But before that, my grandfather had a house down there as well, and we would go down there occasionally for vacation.  Sometimes, my cousins would be there. as well.  I don't know the full history of that house, or why he chose that location, but my Aunt married a local down there as well, so there is a history.  In any case, around 1977 I think, my parents bought the house to which they would eventually retire, across the street from my grandfather's.  And Brenda's parents bought a house there as well.  My Uncle, the current family patriarch, bought a motel in Rehoboth Beach.

ANYWAY, I saw a LOT of Brenda and her family, as they were always down the shore.  When my would go, we'd go in my dad's pickup truck, with a cab on the back.  It was me, OB, and the 2 dogs riding in the back.  Despite the oak benches my dad built, it was a lonnnnng ride.  And when we'd take the 20 minute trip to the beach, my cousins would ride in the back with us.  Got all that?  Still there?  Is this thing on?  *tap tap*

So.  The following is re-posted unedited (except to redact a name and add links) with Brenda's permission.

Brenda: I'm listening to Cher n had a flashback of riding home from the beach on the back of a truck w/ u n [my older brother: OB]. We were singing a Cher song and he did not like her..... Do u remember that?

My reply:  Was the song Dark Lady?  :)

Brenda: Bwahahaha. Yes!!! Lol.

Oh wait. Cherokee nation....

It's was Cherokee nation... So proud to proud to die. Eeeeeeee (high pitch squeal). Lol

Me:  that was by Paul Revere and the Raiders. I hated that song. [OB] would always use it as an excuse to beat up on me. He claimed he couldn't help himself as the music made him do it. (He said the same thing about the Joker by Steve Miller Band) And my parents smiled and let it happen.

Brenda: Do u have any good memories from growing up, Sophie?? I can't imagine growing up in an environment like that. It makes me sad for you

Me: That's a very good question. Most of my childhood I've blocked out. Many of the good memories I have I was either alone or with the dogs. Actually one of my favorite memories was one time when my parents were REALLY fighting, they sent me to live with your family. I remember it as a wonderful time. And I remember being stung by a bee. I think I was like 6 or 7 and it was summer.

The exchange continued.  A few posts later, I wrote:

Me: That was a good memory. I liked seeing most of my cousins. I always felt like an outsider though. Like they knew something I didn't because they all seemed so happy

Brenda: Interesting....we were happy cuz we were kids. Never had a care back then, really. In thinking about feeling like I was in the wrong body, that I'm not right, that's just a lot for anyone to comprehend. Let alone a child.

Me: At first it was a strange feeling of longing. As I got older I figured out the what of it but not the why. I knew if I said anything I'd be in deep trouble. You see boys are taught from birth that we are "superior" to girls. And my dad demanded we be "men" from a very early age. I really thought I was a freak - that I was the only one in the world like this. So I learned to avoid people and never let them see inside.

A couple of posts later...

Brenda: It really does explain a lot. Don't take this the wrong way when I say it but you always were kind of I don't know standoffish maybe. Your own insecurities I suppose....

Me: Standoffish is a polite way of putting it. Withdrawn. Introverted. Angry at the world- lashing out as a reaction to a pain I couldn't understand

Brenda: Heartbreaking really. You went through all of this for a reason. You can now help others. Let them know it's gonna b ok

So.  I thought more about it, and told her I'd like to bring this up in my blog.  She gave me permission to reprint what I did.  

GOOD childhood memories.  Wow.  As I said, I really blocked out a lot of my childhood.  What I remember was being terrified of my father, who was the disciplinarian of the family.  He was always angry at something, and that something was usually his kids.  

In his defense, he worked VERY hard to provide for his family.  He worked swing shift for Philadelphia Electric, and so he would often be asleep during the day... when his young children (during summer anyway) were the most active and noisy.  I learned my work ethic from him- bust your ass and do your best.  And he learned how to raise children from HIS father, who I am told was incredibly strict and physical with his children.

My other prominent childhood memory was that feeling that something was wrong with me.  At all times.  I was skinny and disliked in the neighborhood, so I was alone a lot.  And then when OB was around, well he liked to beat me up when he was bored.  I guess he took out his frustrations and anger on me.  But it was always me who got in trouble for it.  Kind of like the NFL- the person who retaliates gets the penalty.

OB meets his sister for the first time: Christmas 2014

One memory I have was early.  It was before my dad renovated the house so I had to be around 6 or 7.  My mum bought me a little stuffed cat which I picked out.  It was orange and rather feminine looking.  I called it Linda.  I remember I had it maybe a week when it suddenly disappeared.  I thought maybe I'd left it in a closet at the base of the stairs that my dad subsequently boarded up and plastered over.  But now I'm not so sure.  You see, Linda was my first attempt at manifesting my femininity as I understood it.  And for a boy to show ANY outward signs of femininity in the early 1970s... well that was absolutely a major issue.  I will never know, but I'd bet my parents disposed of that stuffed cat.

Let's see.  A good memory.  Well, when I was 5, in the summer between kindergarten and first grades, my mum took my brother and I to Scotland.  My parents had been fighting a lot, but I'm not really sure if that's why we went.  In any case, I remember the time in Scotland as being a very good one.  That's, to date, the only time I've seen most of my Scots family, including my late grandparents.  I've seen pictures of that time- faded Kodak prints of a child wearing a Phillies jacket at Edinburgh Castle come to mind.  My parents have all those pictures.  When we returned, we found that my dad had been busy fixing up the house, and had built a dog pen for our German Shepherd: Sheba.

Another good memory.  I don't remember which birthday it was... maybe 6 or 7.  My mum was taking OB and I to the King of Prussia mall to get me birthday gifts.  The sun was setting- it was after school, and we were passing Cromby Station, where my dad worked.  On the radio was Chicago's Saturday in the Park.  I remember feeling at peace.  For whatever reason, that small sliver has stayed with me.

I remember when I was, I don't know, maybe 10, my parents let me take a friend to the shore with us.  I've written about him in this blog before:  DrD.  We goofed around as kids will, and tortured OB, as for a change it was two on one, and he couldn't beat us both up.  I remember one night in particular, when my parents friends were over along with some of my aunts and uncles.  The adults were playing pinochle and getting drunk, while OB, DrD, and I all tried to sleep in a nearby bedroom.  The adults were loud, and none of could sleep, so we started quietly making fun of them.

As stated above, most of my good childhood memories were solitary, or with the dogs.  But as far as my favorite childhood memory that involved family.,. the one that makes me tear up a little to this day...

It was Christmas morning.  I was maybe 8 or so.  My brother and I were still young enough to be in PJs.  OB was sitting next to a wall, unwrapping a gift.  My parents did their best to provide us with as good a Christmas as possible as far as gifts go, and I appreciated that to the best a child could.  Anyway, OB REALLY liked what he received. (I have no idea what it was now.)  He was so happy.  I remember his smile, his laughter, the flash in his eyes.  I remember even then thinking that seeing him happy (when he wasn't beating on me- he always smiled when he did that) was such a rare thing.  And it made me happy.

Despite all that has happened between OB and I over the years... all the thrashings and pain, anger, and later the Silence... that day is how I like to remember him.  A Child... a Happy child on Christmas.  I saw that happiness in my daughter's eyes back when I was allowed to be there on Christmas morning.  My God, I miss that.

I so miss that.

Being trans... and the fallout... hurts so much sometimes.

I try not to think about my childhood.  I prefer to think of things over which I had SOME control.  I think of where my life is headed.  And I wonder how my situation affects my Daughter's childhood.  As I stated at the top, I know my mum reads this blog, and she will definitely have words with me about this entry.  But the thing is- these are my memories I retain of my childhood.  I can't help that.  There are flashes and images of other things- impressions really.  But most of my childhood... blocked out.  Pain.  Violence.

My brother still rarely smiles.

This makes me acutely aware of how I treat my daughter.  What will SHE remember?  I want her to have as many good memories as possible, especially given the circumstances in which she currently lives.  Maybe, someday, I'll see her again on a Christmas morning; see her happy and smiling.  I'm missing too much of these magic years in her life.  As my father missed mine, but for a different reason.

I hope she never has to look back on her childhood and say "I blocked it all out."  I pray to God she won't.

.Daughter.  Christmas morning 2013.  The Last Christmas we shared.

So Brenda, I hope that answers your question a bit better.

This entry certainly went places I didn't expect.  I've been crying the past half an hour as I typed it.

May all your memories be happy ones, dear readers.

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