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  • Writer's pictureDebbie Anderson

It was real!

Only half of me knows that this was very bad.

I need to start this one with a trigger warning. It is probably the most graphic and horrific of all my memories…to other people. To me, it is only one of many horrific stories. I have had to gain empathy for the people who hear it. If horror stories or movies bother you, this story may be hard to hear.

I woke in the night to the sound of a woman screaming. I got out of bed and walked over to the door. I opened the door and looked down. I remember seeing my bare feet, the ruffle on the bottom of my night gown, and a set of bloody footprints on the floor. I think I should have felt fear, but I was filled with curiosity. I remember following those footprints up the hallway and into the bathroom. I opened the door. The room was full of fresh, bright red blood. My mother was sitting on the toilet, her hair and clothing covered in blood. She was hunched over with her face in her hands. When I opened the door, she looked up at me, her face and hands were covered in blood. It was something straight out of a horror show, but that is not how I responded. To me, there was no emotion associated with it. To me, it was like watching a movie. I felt nothing, no fear…nothing. My therapist would say that I disassociated. A normal and natural response to extreme trauma. Fair enough, but to this day, I still don’t have any connection to any emotions associated with this event. Only my adult, rational mind knows this was a bad thing. To my child brain, it was just how it was.

She looked at me in the eyes. She said in a stern but gravelly voice, “Debbie, go back to bed.” And I did. I turned around without a word. I followed the bloody footprints back down the hallway. I climbed back into my bed and went to sleep. I woke up the next morning. The sun was shining. I got out of bed, opened the door, and there were no bloody footprints. I walked up the hall, no blood any place. I must have had a bad dream. I went about my day, and never thought about it again, until one day, much later in my life, I was talking to one of my older sisters. She said she had been struggling with nightmares about our childhood, a reoccurring dream about the night that my dad took the fireplace poker to our mother. She then went on to tell the story of my dream, and all the blood.

As the new information slid into place in my mind, the reality of what she was saying broke my heart. She began to talk about her trauma. She had to stay up all night cleaning it all up. “And Debbie, there was so much blood, it was everywhere. It took me all night. I cleaned and cleaned, and I was so tired. I just wanted to go to bed. That is why you thought it was a dream, because I spent all night making it look like it was just a dream.” This poor child. She could not have been more than 10-12 years old. I estimate that I was about 2-4, and there is about an 8-year difference between us.

No wonder cleaning the house makes her turn a little bit crazy. And there are so many other “housekeeping” traumas. She did her best, but the expectation on her was too high. From the time she was little, she was expected to do all the cooking and cleaning, and take care of a set of twin babies, who became twin toddlers, and then twin preschoolers and a baby (me), while my mother worked on the farm. ARE YOU KIDDING ME! As a fully functioning woman, I found being a mother extremely challenging at times. And my sister got a beating if she was not able to do it. Or more realistically, if one of my parents just wanted to let off steam, or blame her for things that she had no control over. Which happened all the time. Cleaning, was literally a traumatic event for her. This is the clearest example of generational trauma in my family that I can write about. Unable to process her trauma, (her continued nightmares bore witness to this fact) she made cleaning house such a traumatic event in her own house that all three of my nieces are deeply triggered by cleaning, or even watching someone else clean. You can imagine the problem it causes them. They must psyche themselves up to clean their own houses, and many times it is just too much to deal with, so they avoid. Clutter, hoarding, panic attacks, and general anxiety surround what we all take for granted and do easily every day. They all deal with it differently, but the damage done to the next generation is very evident.

It is really starting to sink in for me. Most of the monsters of this world are not born, they are made. My sister never intended to pass on her trauma to her children, but she could not help it. Triggered, she cleaned, and she cried, and some times lashed out in frustration and anger. And once again, “the sins of the father are paid by the son,” or in this case, the sins of the mother are paid by the daughters. My nieces have “housekeeping” trauma from their mother, and my daughters have a mother who is lacking empathy for what trauma looks like. They got a mother who can see that sort of horror, and tell them to “rub some dirt on it,” or get over it and move on. What was traumatic to other people, was so normal and natural to me, that I was unable to recognize the stress that they were experiencing. They got to grow up feeling that they were somehow lacking because they had normal and natural feelings of fear and distress. I gave my children a different mountain to climb.

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