I was, by all admissions, my father’s favorite child. His blatant favoritism incited hatred in my siblings and, worse, my mother. To be fair, I can now see that their hostility was misdirected anger toward my father for neglecting them, for choosing to spend the bulk of his free time with me. They were denied attention that was so liberally bestowed upon me, and they despised me for it. I think they loathed my father as well, but were blinded by their want of affection from him and saw me as the sole reason for the absence of it. My father and I were a pair. Inseparable. Neither my mother nor my siblings were ever doted upon by him, not in the way that I was.
My father held a position within his company that required a good deal of travel. He was often gone for several weeks at a time, stretches of days in which I was vulnerable to matriarchal attacks of both a verbal and physical nature. It was a joyous day when he would return, unknowingly offering me protection from my tormentor. With him, I was safe.
But one day he was gone, permanently, and there would be no more shelter, no more rescues. Although I still had one parent who remained above ground, to whom I was legally bound, when my father passed away I became an orphan or, more accurately, a step-sibling with a story that rivaled that of Cinderella.
My mother, who had been left a widow at the age of 40, who had four children to care for, was as devastated as she was bitter and angry. Her rage was largely directed at me, the easy target, in that I was constantly seeking her company and – desperate to the point of pathetic – her approval.
It didn’t take much to get it, to get her, started. Sometimes it took literally nothing at all. Soap scum remnants on a scrubbed shower door, a towel hung in an incorrect location, a tone or a look that she’d imagined she’d heard or seen — these infractions were dealt with an extreme severity. Pulled hair, slapped face, a belt, a hairbrush, a fist. But it was the words that did the most damage. It was the loathing and disgust behind those words that formed the deepest wounds. The hatred behind their formation was palpable, cutting in places that refuse to bruise or bleed, places that take years to scab over and heal, if they ever really do.
It would almost always begin the same way. It got to be so that I could gauge by the slam of the car door whether or not it would be a peaceful night, nights which, sadly, were few and far between. Night after night, my mother found a justification for her attack. Night after night, she came.
“Get on the scale. Let’s see how fat you are today.”
I was not a petite child, and was well aware of this fact. Weight was not a subject that failed to touch me; I detested my appearance and the excess fat that I carried. I knew that it was vile – that it was ugly. I didn’t need to be told that I was grotesque – I lived with that knowledge with every waking moment. But my mother was adamant that I would not forget this repulsive appearance, taking it upon herself to remind me at every created opportunity.
“You’re disgusting. Look at you! Fat slob. You can’t even walk up a flight of stairs without panting. You pig. It’s pathetic. You’re pathetic.”
These critiques were often punctuated with a smack or a pinch in an offending area and would end with my backing myself up into the nearest corner, hands and forearms raised to shield my face, midsection hunched naively in an effort to protect as much of my person from the strikes that would arrive. When the blows struck no longer, I would open my eyes to find myself alone in the bathroom, red and welted – reduced to little more than a broken heart and a shredded ego, surrounded by a fatty shell.
Yet, despite this, despite these horrors to which my mother had subjected me, I adored her, and wanted for her to love me; I wanted this desperately. I prayed for her love as often as I prayed for the return of my father. Each night for months and months and months, each night I would wait until she fell asleep, and would gently ease myself under the sheets and into her bed, lying quietly, stretching my toes carefully toward her, until they softly grazed her leg – toes to calf providing me with the physical contact that would allow me to find the comfort needed to fall asleep
I would be gone when she awoke, back in my own bed, hoping that the night before would be the last of its kind.
Sadly, it was not.