WHEN PARENTS FAVOR ONE CHILD OVER ANOTHER.
|(Wizard of Oz)|
My sister Kadey is a witch. No, not the kind that flies around on a broom and wears a black hat, but that’s how I think of her. In six decades she hasn’t given many reasons for me to change my opinion.
Our parents believed she was the perfect kid, the angel in the family. She patterned after them; she could be cruel in the name of God. They openly showed their prejudice and favored her over the rest of us.
There were six of us. She wasn’t the oldest kid. She wasn’t even a boy. She was the second in line and two years older than me.
(great swamp Baptist church)
Sharing a room with her caused me a lot of grief, many a night sleeping on the floor, and a crescent moon shaped scar on my left forearm.
When Kadey was around twelve going on sixteen years old, she wielded our father’s wooden yard stick, a piece of yellow chalk, and measured off the middle of our room. Half for her. Half for me.
We shared a double bed. She shoved it to the exact center of the back wall. Her desk went on her side, my desk went on mine. She used masking tape and stuck it to the marks she made on the floor, walls, and yes, even on the sheet down the center of our bed. She tore up the top sheet, gave half to me, and she took the other. If my foot, hand, or any other part of me accidently touched her side of the bed at night, she kicked me back to my side and onto the floor. I learned to keep a rug there. It served as a pad and helped to soften my fall.
My parents knew I slept there along with my dog. They said I was being stubborn and did nothing to intervene.
Kadey was a clothes hog. Our closet was the only thing that she did not divide evenly One-fourth was for me, three-fourths was for her. When she wanted to iron her clothes, she had me move my desk out of her way so she could set up the ironing board. Kadey didn’t want to mess up her side of the room with her pile of clothes. She also needed to prove she was boss. I was afraid of her so I usually did what she said until one time, I refused.
I was studying at my desk for a test. I had my books and study notes organized the way I needed them to be. If I moved, I would have to wait until Kadey was finished ironing and then start over again.
Kadey plugged in the iron and stretched the cord so it reached my side of the room. She flexed her talons and screamed, “Get out of my way!”
I cringed and felt fear rise in my chest but I declined to look at her. A cloud of steam hissed through the holes in the bottom of the bulky General Electric iron.
My sister waved the iron around, advanced towards me, and branded my arm. My skin sizzled. I smelled my flesh boil. A blister immediately formed. I screamed, jumped over my chair, out the door, and scrambled down the hall.
My parents heard the commotion and ran into the hallway towards us.
Kadey joined my father with the iron still in her hand. She had pulled the cord out of the wall. A tiny piece of my blistered skin stuck to the edge.
My father glared at me and said, “Stop screaming! What did you do this time?”
My arm hurt but my heart broke into a thousand pieces of agony. I had nowhere to run. I was wedged in the windowless hallway between my father and sister on one side and my mother on the other. The truth of their prejudice and favor towards one child over all of the rest of us killed the joy of being their kid. They scolded and yelled and accused me of being bad. They took turns yelling:
“Joyce, you are being stubborn - again.
Your stubbornness is from the devil.
You need to give your heart to the Lord and repent.
You are our worst disobedient child.
No one will ever love you.
You won’t have any friends.
You’re headed to having a terrible life!”
I was about ten years old at the time.
The walls of the narrow hallway closed in around me. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t see. I don’t know how long my parents took turns scolding me but after a while, their words sounded garbled. The anger and disappointment in their faces blended and faded into the color of paint. I shivered with grief and panic …
They did not.
Fear and shame became a migraine of pain. I shrunk into myself and withdrew into a tiny little box inside my mind. As an escape from their abuse, I experienced dissociation for the first time. It allowed me to survive. Nothing was real – it was just a dream – my parents weren’t cursing me – they were telling me how much they were proud of me – because of my good grades – because I tried to obey – but I was afraid.
I woke up as a pile of bones on cold squares of linoleum tile.
My sister and father were gone.
My mother allowed me to retreat outside and hug my dog.
Almost six decades have passed. A lot of things have changed. Some things have stayed the same. I understand more about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), the cycle of abuse, about the misogynistic personality of my father, and the pseudo Christian cult in which he raised us.
My father died of a global heart attack ten years ago. That’s the kind of heart attack from which no one recovers. I had a few precious minutes alone with him before he passed. I had time to forgive him and tell him I loved him because, well, because he was my father.
My sister? She never answers my phone calls. Why would she? I left the religious cult of our parents and am considered to be a heretic. She is the executor of their estate. Their will states she can make decisions about them without the notification or approval of any of the rest of their other five kids.
Favoring one child over the other is not the heritage I wanted for my children. I choose to teach justice and truth and live with hope and joy and the gift of salvation.
As Long As I Breathe is dedicated to:
survivors of emotional, physical, spiritual, or sexual abuse,
those who have had to bury a murdered child,
former members of a misogynistic religious cult,
children born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome,
and anyone who was falsely accused of a crime.
Joyce A Lefler is the author of
From Miracle to Murder: Justice For Adam.
She is a facilitator for Parents of Murdered Children,
a bereavement counselor, registered nurse,
and an advocate against abuse.
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