Friday, December 18, 2009

Bad Mothers

I saw the movie Precious this past Thursday with Nick. I came out of the theatre sobbing and when I calmed down enough to tell Nick that yes, the performances were stunning and powerful, but it was my resemblance to Precious, the wounded child, that made me so sad, my experience of childhood in an upper middle class white family of extremely attractive people, where I was a sexual object at six for my mother's husband, my adoptive father, son of a well known surgeon, member of the Country Club, where no one saw the pain, the isolation, the destruction going on in full view of everyone. Nothing ever disturbed my families picture perfect outward appearance, but my parents pathology certainly did create madness in me. They did pass it on. I was not impregnated by my father, but if I had been, my grandfather would have quietly made that little problem go away. It was an educational opportunity that got me out of my family home when I was seventeen, a bit like Precious, only I got to skip my senior year of high school and go to the University of Utah and live in the dorms. Otherwise I'd have probably been a run-away living on the streets of San Francisco.

A lot of men think the stories of my childhood are hyperbolic and too lurid to be believable. I promise you that when I was in group therapy in Santa Barbara in a group of fifteen women who all had been sexually abused as children, some of us had children who had also been sexually abused, we were all white. Some of us were the well educated progeny of well off parents, but the cost to each of us had been sanity, safety, any sence of security, a profound saddness, and a series of suicide attempts. Many of these women had lives far more brutal than mine, yet we all felt worthless.

I'm writing a novel about the life of one such woman. You know what they say: write about what you know. So that's what I'm doing. If writing my story makes only one woman feel less alone, I'll feel like a success.

A woman I greatly admire, Melissa Harris Lacewell, has written an article for The Nation called Bad Black Mothers. I think it's important to our understanding of each other that we pay close attention to all these stories. The one thing they all have in common is the bad or absent father who is never mentioned, never blamed for the aftermath, never suffers the real consequences for the destruction he causes. No, we as a society blame the mother and/or the child. More of our famous Family Values.