When you are the child of a mother whose reality is as fragile and easily shattered as were those of our respective mothers, so is your own reality. Thus it was, like many other children with no fathers and minimal mothering, we survived this period, during which numerous adult authority figures entered and exited our lives like so many characters flickering across our life movie screen. And just like the fictional figures in movies, all these people were real only for a brief time before quickly fading out of sight again, always on a stage just beyond reach, devastatingly untouchable. The legacy of untouchable images; images blowing in the wind like characters traversing a stage, people coming and going in all manner of colorful customs, thus binding our self-images to a life- time of relational uncertainty.
The fragility of our mothers and grandmothers passed a pervasive sense of obligation and bondage from one generation to another at a visceral level, along with many other twisted traditions and confused values we were born into. I didn’t understand until I was much older why we felt so obligated to our mothers. There is no greater wound embedded into the core of a child than to be unloved and/or abandoned by their mother. Dr. David Celani, in his book The Illusion of Love, cites the work of esteemed psychiatrist W.R.D Fairbairn, who noted “that abused, neglected, and abandoned children were, paradoxically, more attached to their parents than were normal children.” There should have been loving eyes reflecting self-worth back to us when we were infants and young children, but instead there were only eyes of emptiness reflecting the tenuousness of mental illness.
I think of how my experiences might have been parallel to those of Marilyn Monroe. How many and which kind of scary eyes did Marilyn have to experience in her beginning and formative years? Certainly she did not have the loving eyes of a father, because hers refused to acknowledge her as his daughter. Nor did she have the loving eyes of her mother or grandmother, for hers were both ravished with mental illnesses, their eyes left with vacancies begotten and compounded by way of institutionalization.
As widely reported, Marilyn’s mother, like her mother before her, was unable to maintain employment due to her frequent lapses into mental illness and accompanying “medication.” And so it was that, including Marilyn, three generations of women in her family were only able to get through the circumstances of their lives in large part because of the drugs they ingested. The drug prescribed for almost any kind of female nervous disorder in those days, with virtually no thought of its misuse or outright abuse, was Valium. I know, because for part of my childhood, and well into my high school years, my mother lived in a Valium-induced fog that left me emotionally motherless. In both cases—for Marilyn’s mother and mine—the use of Valium was probably the only reason that someone didn’t die at their hands. My beloved grandmother, herself having been raised in an orphanage, escaped into a continuous haze of Kool cigarettes and her religious obsessions. (P.g. 3-4) To be continued…..
Ragdoll Redeemed: Growing up in the Shadow of Marilyn Monroe