In the Shadow of Narcissa
An Intimate Memoir of Childhood
I can separate it out by houses; the ebb and flow of my mother’s turmoil.
She was my adoptive mother. In the forward-thinking times of the early 1960s, it was thought best that I be told from the beginning that I’d been adopted.
“We were very excited,” my mother explained to me when I was barely two. “We got that phone call that we’d been waiting for. The Agency. Saying there were baby girls ready to adopt if we still wanted one.” The Agency was a place similar to the Pick ‘n Pay supermarket (as I understood it). She picked me out from among two other baby girls, like a head of lettuce, and brought me home.
I knew even back then, it was random. I had ended up somewhere random.
“We picked you because you were screaming your head off. We thought you’d be more interesting.”
In the first house, my mother’s turmoil overcame her at around the same time: when I was barely two.
It was a grueling morning in the bathroom. I was still in diapers. She was fed up with diapers. That morning was the morning that she decided she was done dealing with diapers. She would not let me leave the bathroom that morning. I was planted on the toilet, naked, for hours. For the entire morning. If she caught me trying to move, she would scream at me to sit still. Her anger filled me with anxiety. I begged her to stop scaring me, to let me leave the bathroom. And because she couldn’t stand the sound of anymore crying, she exploded.
“Fine. You want to leave the bathroom, missy? Let’s go.”
A toddler can look like a ragdoll when you’re thirty and she’s barely two and you toss her around. Try to shake her to pieces. Slap the stuffing out of her because the sounds that are coming from the ragdoll need to stop.
And now there was baby powder everywhere because the only thing I could grab hold of before she’d erupted was an open canister of it. And now there was baby pee everywhere, too, because I was naked, I was frightened, I wasn’t potty-trained and I didn’t know the difference. Knowing the difference would have changed everything.
In addition to being a stay-at-home housewife, she was a fastidious house cleaner. Everything was always scrubbed clean, dust free, in its place. Nothing could be touched by children or rearranged. Except the furniture – by her. She was always rearranging the furniture. The inside of the house was her only kingdom. Her domain.
It needed to remain spotless, with that un-lived-in look. She was a tireless cleaner. She was judged by it. And now I had flung baby powder everywhere. And I had peed on things. Her rage erupting only made her angrier. A dam that had finally burst. No going back. And now I was just a ragdoll; a thing. A receiver of blows. Eventually, I just blacked out…
Text © Marilyn Jaye Lewis