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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

I had to keep myself safe.

Even though my dad was a highly abusive alcoholic, and a pedophile, he was still my best parent. My therapist asked me one time why I thought that was. Thinking she had hit on some big insight, but this has never been a mystery to me, he was predictable, my mother was not. I could tell days in advance that he was going to go on a bender. He would start getting agitated and easily annoyed. Within two days I could count on him coming home drunk and beating the shit out of everyone.

I learned how to hide, I learned how to become invisible. I learned that if you slept in a pile of blankets, clothes and various crap, (we had a very messy bedroom most of the time) that no one will see you there. I purposely camouflaged myself in blankets and toys, and let’s face it, probability garbage. When I got old enough to take care of myself, about 4 or 5 years old I did so.

I would get up early in the morning, eat if there was any food, and head out into the “woods.” A group of trees basically. I stayed in barns, sheds, and haystacks, and built forts made from junk in junkyards, or sticks and branches in the trees. I had hiding places all over the farm and all along the river. When I saw him get pissed off and storm off to town, I knew it was time for me to go. I would hide out all day long, then when it started getting dark, I would start making my way home. When I got home, I would sneak in the back door, and go hide myself in a blanket pile. I would repeat this until I saw the indicators that it was over. The tension lifted from the house, mom and most of my siblings would be gone, and it would be me and my dad, eating vanilla milk shakes, talking, and laughing at a stupid joke that probability came from a bubble gum wrapper 20 years ago.

On the other hand, I never knew what my mother was going to do or how she was going to act, or how long her crazy was going to last. There was never a solid indicator she was about to lose her mind on you. And, this is just the reality, I never felt safe around her, for as far back as I can remember, and it just got worse over time. As life and stress piled up on her, she got less and less able to cope, and her choices seemed to become more and more questionable.

I had to learn how to advocate for my own safety at a very young age. I remember one day while I was quite young, I am going to say 3-5. My mother would take me out with her to do the farm work. She would have me ride all day in the hot sun on the farm equipment. My therapist had a fit about this, and she was right. She should have left me with a family member, but for some reason she did not, and I kept getting into bad accidents. I don’t remember this personally, but I was told by multiple members of my family that I was run over by a beet truck as a toddler. My mother used to drive beets from the field to the sugar factory, and she would take me with her. And apparently, she was not paying attention and it is not clear if she ran over me, or it was someone else.

But this is not that story, and this story is about the second time getting ran over by farm equipment. My mother would run the swather, basically a big lawn mower for hay and other animal feed. Very sharp blades pulsed back and forth to cut the hay. A giant twirling reel and counter-rotating augers fed the hay into a crimper, that crushed the stems for quicker drying before being organized into tidy windrows. I would usually ride up front by my mother, but one day she decided that I should ride on the back on this tiny triangle of metal. I objected, there was no place to hold on to. She insisted, and sure enough, I fell off and got ran over by the back tire. I got up, covered in hay, but I seemed okay. I brushed myself off, and I got pissed off. That is the moment that I decided that my mother was not capable of making good choices about my safety. I marched myself back to the house and announced to everyone that I was no longer going out with my mother to the fields. I would take care of myself. And I absolutely refused to go with her again. Maybe I was safe. The blades where in the front, not the back. That is not the point. I had said no, and she did not care. I had told her that I did not feel safe. She did not care. I told her I was afraid of falling off. She did not care. Her complete disregard for my feelings is the point. As my counselor said, there was no good reason to have a small child on dangerous farm equipment in the first place. And I proved it, by never going again, and taking care of myself. My mother on the other hand proved to me over and over again, that for what ever reason, she did not have my health and safety in mind, and that I was better off taking care of myself. I was pretty good at keeping myself out of dangerous situation, my mother was not.

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