When I was a child, I heard the message that I was on this earth to suit the needs of my mother. The burden was subtle, for a narcissist is not a fool, but a cunning and crafty manipulator who usually is the victor in any battle. This notion carried me a long way through life, and caused a great deal of heartache.
The cracks in my family structure widen as the effects my mother’s narcissism overtook my life. I was forced to shoulder adult responsibility as my younger brother relied on me to take care of his needs as well as my own. I unwillingly became my brother’s keeper.
“What strange creatures brothers are!”
My mother was married three times. First, to my father whom she married when she was a freshman in college. Then, she married my first step-father with whom she bore my younger brother when I was not yet two. When she married her third husband, she rewrote our family history.
She pretended that she had been a great mother all along. My older brother had been killed in an auto accident by this time. Years and years of abuse and neglect, coupled with the tragedy of losing our sibling had such a negative impact on both of us, especially my younger brother. In spite of this, my mother had been a lousy mother at best.
She allowed her second husband abuse me and my older brother. She neglected all three of us by leaving us alone without adult supervision again and again and again. We were often times left hungry and fed junk food when we were fed. Our clothes and linens were frequently unwashed, yet we were forced to wear them without an alternative. She yelled at us, called us names, and threatened to kill us. Some swore the day we were born and often wished within earshot that we weren’t. By the time she married number three, we were teenagers, and she was a willing stranger.
Before the marriage, I rebelled at everything my mother stood for. I did many things in order to receive her criticism only so I could return my feelings for her actions with disdain and contentment. I used my actions to provoke her and planned them well. When she remarried and feigned the life I’ve always wanted, I happily went along with her actions. My brother, however, did not.
My younger brother was remarkably upset with her marriage. The two of us had been free to an extent. We had been on our own for over ten years with the exception of the times that my mother showed the slightest bit of interest in being at home with us. We had grown accustomed to having things our way, doing what we wanted when we wanted. She was upsetting the apple cart that she cared so little about just years before.
Not only did my brother have my mother as a parent. He had his father, who beat her, who beat me, who molested me, who stole from people, who dealt drugs, who cheated on our mother, who had illegitimate children while he was married to her, and the list goes on. My heart hurt for my younger brother because this man was his father, and I had to live with that fact. And he had to live with that, too.
My brother tried at first to accept the situation. But he was often in trouble because of his friends. His friends did typical things that boys their ages did. They drank and smoked marijuana. He did, too, but I knew it was mostly because of the pain he felt. It was because of the lack of a good role model. It was because of the lack of nurturing he got from the person who bore him. It was because he was reaching out for help from a mother who was never there. He was testing the waters like me, but only in a self-destructive way.
Often times, I covered for my brother when my mother was upset at him for the problems he endured. One particular time, I remember my brother and I were out with our respective friends. We both liked to hang out at the same places. In the 80’s, without desktop computers and PlayStation’s or XBox’s, we went to video game arcades to spend all of the quarters we had manage to save during the week. When they were out of quarters, my brother and his friends left. I didn’t ask where he was going but I knew what he would be doing. I stayed until it was closing time, then came home. My mother asked me where my brother was. I didn’t know, but I lied.
I told my mother that my brother was with some friends that she approved of and had left with them after the hang-out closed. I told her that they had to take some girls home. My mother didn’t buy it, perhaps because she was all too familiar with being unaccounted for. Perhaps she was such a great liar that she could smell a bad one a mile away. After calling me a few obscenities, she dismissed me to my bedroom. Much later, my brother returned home, apparently inebriated.
She confronted him with her suspicions, and he confronted her with her own lies, abuse, and neglect. Her husband and I were there, witness to it all. I believed my brother wholeheartedly, but her husband did not. He chose to believe my mother. But the confusion in his eyes told me that his wheels were set to motion. Perhaps he was mulling it over. Still, as an outwardly appearance, he said he believed her. This set my brother over the edge. From there, he reeled out of control, throwing and smashing, tearing and breaking, until my mother threatened to call the police. As usual, I was the peacekeeper, the soothsayer. I put everything back in its proper place.
I calmed my mother, talked her into hanging up the telephone and going back to bed. I assured her husband that she was truthful, that my brother had far too much to drink. I took my brother to his room, helped him get his shoes off and under the covers where he could sleep it off. When all was quiet, I sat in my room, let out a deep sigh, and cried.
The next day, it was as though nothing had ever happened. Everything was back in order- not just the broken items, but our lives. My mother was back to her fantasy of being the best mother, her husband was back to believing her, and my brother was gone again, probably with friends cursing her actions. This is when I realized that my brother was affected much worse than I was. I saw the pain had reached in and changed him. I knew from then on, I could no longer protect him, for he was already spoiled by the evilness of dysfunction. He was on his own. From that day forward, I knew I had to take care of myself.