Today is Mother’s Day, that time of year when we all celebrate and honor our mothers. We send flowers, take them to brunch, buy them a gift, send them a card and a number of other great ideas. Those of us who are incest survivors and had our father as our perpetrator, at least had a mother. Hopefully, that mother was kind and caring, loved us deeply, raised us to be strong charactered, kind like she was, giving, be a role model of good parenting, have a strong work ethic, be family oriented, disciplined and a number of other great qualities. She was proud of us, affectionate with us; never let us forget how much she loved us. We were her whole world. Right?
What a wonderful portrait of a good mother. We didn’t ask to be born. Both of our parents created us, hopefully, in a moment of love. In the life of an incest victim, somewhere along the way things went awry. We all have different stories. We all have stories that are the same. Some were fortunate, if their father was their perpetrator, to have a mother who balanced the bad, the evil, with something that helped us to grow up with enough courage, enough insight, to get help for the damage done by our bad parent.
But what of us, whose mother was not kind and caring, did not love us deeply? What a double whammy─to have two parents with neither one caring about us. When I was little, I remember my mother rocking me and saying, “What am I going to do when my baby grows up?” At that time, she truly loved me. At the age of three, when I received my first book, The Golden Book of Words, she taught me about words and books and instilled a life-long love for both. I decided that when I grew up I wanted to be a writer. She instilled discipline in me when I offered to scrub the kitchen floor when I saw her on her knees doing such hard work. She looked tired. She had gotten terribly fat in her middle and always wore a large frock that was green and white striped. I was eight years old. She told me how to do it and from that moment, I was a hard worker. She let me wash walls, polish silver, polish furniture, fold clothes, do the dishes. I always pretended that ‘Eisenhower was coming to dinner’. It became a game and helped me to become a hard worker. She taught me about nurturing and loving when she gave me my baby sister to raise. I got up in the middle of the night and fed her, changed her diaper, rocked her back to sleep. When I vacuumed the floor, I always had my baby sister on my hip. She grew up thinking I was her mother. So I learned how to be a mother, how to give love, how to give of myself. I loved her deeply but I loved my father more.
He had delivered me in the middle of a blizzard in International Falls, MN. After that, we were so close that people used to say, “There’s where Bernie Leick lives with his daughter. He has four other kids in the house too”. If there was nothing else I knew, I knew for sure that my mother and my daddy loved me. I was happy. I was stable. Joy filled my life. My parents taught us about spirituality with nightly prayers and rosaries, Confession on Saturday night and mass on Sunday. We were a happy Catholic family.
When I was thirteen, I dressed up in my first store bought dress, put on my first nylons and garter belt for our Solemn Communion ceremony at church. I swirled into the kitchen to show mommy and daddy how I looked. My Momma said, “Look, Bernie. Our little girl is growing up.” She reached for my dress and pulled it up to show my daddy what my undergarments looked like. I was very modest and tried to pull away from her. I didn’t want my daddy to see my underpants, my garter belt. My mom kept chasing me around the room, pulling up my dress. I kept shrieking for her to stop. I was frightened of the way my daddy looked at me.
A few weeks later, my daddy came into my bedroom in the middle of the night and raped me. When I screamed and screamed for help, my mother, who was a heavy sleeper didn’t wake up until my father had left the room. As she held me I sobbed and sobbed, telling her somebody had done something to me that hurt so bad and I was so terrified, “Momma, please help me, momma please help me.” She told me I had a nightmare and no amount of denials and entreaties caused her to believe me.
It didn’t take long for my mom to figure out what was going on in the middle of the night in my bedroom. She had my daddy get me out of bed and bring me into the living room. There, she began her inquisition, “What’s been going on in the middle of the night in your bedroom?” “Nothing Momma”. I didn’t know what was going on. I knew nothing about sex, had never even heard the word. Despite being thirteen, I thought you bought babies at the hospital. That’s where we got my little sister. She told my dad to get the belt. He left the room and I froze with terror. The only punishment I’d ever had was getting my mouth washed out with soap if I was sassy, which was frequent. Sometimes I had to stand in a corner if I did something my mother didn’t like. But neither one of my parents had ever been physically violent. My dad returned with the belt and began beating me, while my mother questioned me repeatedly, saying “Hit her again, hit her again.”. I knew that if I described to her what was going on it would destroy my “happy Catholic family”. I kept saying I didn’t know. My Dad kept beating me as my mother continued her inquisition.
We had a large, framed copy of the Declaration of Independence hanging over our piano. The pain was so bad I started reading the words to myself thinking that if I did that I’d leave my body, “When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve………….” It hurt so badly. I couldn’t leave my body. Finally, I screamed, “It’s not daddy’s fault. It’s my fault.” The beating stopped. My mom told to go to bed. When I was eighteen, I ran away from home after a beating from my father that almost killed me.
From the time of the beating on, until she died from cancer, when I was twenty years old, my mother told people I was evil and no good. She said I lied and did bad things, that I could not be trusted. I knew she didn’t love me anymore. I knew I had lost both my mom and my dad. When she died, I shed no tears. I had none left. I had shed them all the night of the first beating.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom.