Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday’s Child - Questioning My Existence

From Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I didn’t say anything when I was young about Dawn hitting me.
“Dawn? Do that? Nah. She’s smart and popular." I’d imagine them saying.
I’d look a around my life and see that my parents ignored it. If it ever did come up it was laughed off.
"These kids never get along," I remember my dad saying once.

Dawn was very smart, no question about it. She was top of her class each year and popular, too.
I was withdrawn, my shoulders were hunched up, and I was quiet and managed average marks in school. Today that might be a signal that’s there’s something wrong. Forty years ago sibling abuse didn’t happen.

I could have done better in school but I didn’t try. It’s a small Gr.1-12 school and we had many of the same teachers. I had an irrational fear of being compared to my sister. No teacher ever said it to me, but I still thought it.
The last thing I ever wanted was to be anything like her. So I was an average student, didn’t have many friends, and I was a tomboy. But more than anything I was a virtual non-entity.
Despite being social opposites, I’d go to family reunions and she’d stay home. Some family member would greet me by her name, as happens to everyone with a sibling, and I’d correct them.

Their response?

"Oh, how is Dawn?"

So I’d say she’s okay and that would be it. Unless I asked, “How are you?” or something the conversation would end.
No “Oh, I’m sorry Leah. How are you?” or anything. No acknowledgement of my existence. Just a question about Dawn.

It wore me down. My parents ignored what was happening which made me feel like it didn’t matter. Outsiders mistook me for Dawn and then just wanted to know about her. I felt like a non-entity. I was sure I wasn’t Dawn, and I made sure I didn’t act like her, but beyond that, nothing.

Which brings me to my point: Why would anyone believe someone who doesn’t exist?


Crabby McSlacker said...

Such painful memories--hope the autobiographical writing is helping you find some peace with these awful experiences.

Leah J. Utas said...

It is, Crabby.

the Bag Lady said...

Sheesh, the Bag Lady feels bad - did she do that to you, too?

Leah J. Utas said...

Not you, Bag lady. It was mostly the adults.

Michael said...

That's rough, Leah. I had difficulties growing up, but at least I always felt like my family cared about me. I was pretty much the same in school and had few friends, and my brother was immensely more popular (in fact, he made me jealous sometimes). On the other hand, he got upset when he heard about some of things my peers did to me and would often go out of his way to set things straight. I grateful for that.

I'm glad the memoirs are helping you to work through these painful memories, Leah.

Terrie Farley Moran said...

df Leah,

I am so joyful that you are able to find peace with these terrible childhood issues. You have turned into such a wonderful, caring adult, which is proof that your true self emerged, no matter what.


Leah J. Utas said...

It's good your brother stood up for you, Michael.

How very thoughtful and kind of you df Terrie.

Reb said...

I would like to think I didn't call you Dawn. To me the two of you were so different in so many ways. I am sorry you grew up feeling like that, but am very glad you have come into your own.

Dawn said...

Any chance your sister would like to change her name?

Leah J. Utas said...

You never did call me by the wrong name, Reb.

Dawn - That would be interesting.

Penelope said...

Wow. That is by far the saddest story I've heard in quite a while.

Isn't it amazing how the travesties of childhood evolve into the albatros of adulthood?

You are strong. You did survive.


Leah J. Utas said...

That's very kind of you, Karen.

The Merry said...

My mother keeps pushing me to move back in with her. There's plenty of room, sure, but it would also mean coming into daily contact with my asshole/bully of a brother. She still can't see why that's an issue for me. Well, okay, so he does break down my door, kick my dog, smash everything I own and verbally abuse me. But he hasn't laid a /finger/ on me since that night he came home drunk and I thought he was going to kill me, so why am I complaining?

Oh, sorry, was that TMI?

My real issue here is: that night when he was so drunk was over 20 years ago, and I still don't ever want to put myself in that situation again. Somehow when it's familial abuse, it's a lot harder to disassociate yourself from all the crap. Often times, you'd have to be willing to step away from your family as well. They tend to see this as a choice between loved ones.
Parents especially can't see these things clearly. My brother was expelled from Catholic school for punching a nun. He was 7. Granted, at that age it would be appropriate to try to work with the child and deal with his anger management issues, but hell, that's also an age where a rational adult would start to think maybe the child had a problem.

Funny how this stuff stays with you well into adulthood.

Leah J. Utas said...

Merry, thank you for telling me your story. And no, not TMI at all.
I totally get it.
It is difficult for parents, and I think most of them want to live in Happy Fuzzy Bunny Universe, but it does make things difficult.