“What floor are we on, Papa?”
Jarrod stood there, in the elevator, one hand on the door making sure it stayed open, other hand poised over the buttons, index finger extended and ready to press the floor we needed to access for our stay.
“Fourteenth,” Tyler responded.
“Technically,” I replied, “we’re on the 13th floor.”
All three kids looked at me quizzically.
“Well, it’s supposedly bad luck for hotels to have a 13th floor, so if you look on the elevator button panel, there’s a 12th floor and a 14th, but no 13th. Technically, though, the 14th floor is the 13th. So, we’re on the 13th floor.”
“Huh.” Amelia said, “That means that we’re in room 1313 because our room number says 1413 but if the 14th floor is actually the 13th floor, then we’re in the most unlucky room in the building.”
“But, only if you’re a Templar, Amelia.” Heath stated.
“I need a drink.” Tyler muttered.
You always told me that you worked the hardest during our summers in Lewisburg. That it was you who did all the canning and the summer garden work around my grandparents’ house. You always made sure to point out that my aunt, your sister, did nothing, that she was lazy and acted like a princess, making sure to do just enough to stay in your father’s good graces and make you look like the bad guy.
Except, that wasn’t it at all. Turns out, you were the daughter who needed reminding that in order to reap your share of the bounty, you needed to sow. You were the one who acted disgruntled every time you were reminded to get up and do your share. Your sister was the one who was always there, ready to throw in a lending hand and willingly do her part. Meanwhile, you did just the absolute minimum while telling everyone the opposite.
“You know what drives me nuts?” Tyler asked one morning, feet propped on the ottoman, enjoying his last few minutes of freedom before work.
“What?” I responded.
“The fact that the Chick-fil-A hash browns box can hold 16 hash browns but they only throw in like 12. Sometimes 10!” He held up the open box to show that he had lined up the offending rounds of browned potatoes with a large space to the left where five hash browns should have been.
“Well,” I looked at him over my reading glasses, “they’re not actually counting them. They just throw handfuls in there. They’re in a hurry because every high schooler in Towne Lake is running there for breakfast in the morning and the crowds are horrendous.”
“Doesn’t matter,” he harrumphed, “if it can hold 16, there should be 16 in here. Bunch of liars.”
“Bless your heart.” I muttered for the 1,000th time.
“Your father always made fun of anything I ever did.”
“What?!” I exclaimed, not believing I had just heard what she said.
“He did! Any time I made anything, he made fun of it.”
It was the 20th anniversary of my father’s death, always a hard day for me. And now she was remembering him with a lie.
“He did no such thing. He was always proud of everything you did.”
She grumbled under her breath and nothing more was said.
“Lying is the worst,” I’ve always said to our children. “Don’t lie to me or to your Papa. We will always tell you the truth. Even when it’s difficult or uncomfortable. We expect the same courtesy from you. If you lie to us, that is worse than anything else you could possibly do. A lie is a betrayal of self and of our ties as a family.”
I try, really hard, to make sure they don’t lie. But, I know they do. It’s in our nature as humans to lie in order to cover our butts.
Did you practice piano? SURE!
Mom face activated. Teenager skulks into the living room and actually practices.
Did you do your homework? UH-HUH!
Mom face re-activated. Pre-teen heavily sighs, picks up his backpack and pulls out his homework folder.
Honestly, though, those lies don’t bother me. It’s the big ones that would kill me. If they ever lied about loving me, I would die, and I know I feel that way because of the lies of my childhood.
I looked into the stands. I stood in the center of the football field, my last band festival as a senior and as drum major. I could see my mother and my father, but not my grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins. We were in Lewisburg, at the local high school, where they all lived. But, none of them were there.
You chalked it up to none of them liking us, especially me. I got it. I was the weird grandkid. The odd niece. The strange cousin. I was used to it. But it still hurt.
Later, though, I found out that no one was there because you never told them about it. For six years, they asked and you never responded, never let them know. They never saw me out in the middle of the football field. They never witnessed me win a trophy, salute the crowd, or conduct until my arms ached. You purposefully lied to them and removed them from my life. I still can’t discern the reason for it.
Gaslighting is a term I didn’t hear until I was an adult. According to Psychology Today,
Gaslighting is a tactic in which a person or entity, in order to gain more power, makes a victim question their reality. It works much better than you may think. Anyone is susceptible to gaslighting, and it is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders. It is done slowly, so the victim doesn’t realize how much they’ve been brainwashed.
Gaslighting is lying. It is projecting. It wears you down. It confuses you. It makes you dependent. It makes you feel crazy. It’s manipulation. It’s abuse.
In the above quote, it talks about cult leaders using gaslighting and I remember last year telling Tyler, “I’ve been a member of the Cult of Mom my entire life.” The cognitive dissonance was strong and I had a horrible time reconciling my experiences to what was actually true. I don’t like to throw around PTSD because there are so many people out there who suffer from awful forms of PTSD. Soldiers, physical abuse victims, victims of violent crime, those are the people who have PTSD. But I’ve discovered that my depression and anxiety are milder symptoms of PTSD. Those are my reactions to having been gaslit my whole life. I always wondered why a ringing phone sent me into a state of panic, why an authority figure in my life wanting to talk to me freaked me out, why I was constantly negative about myself and didn’t feel worthy of love or good things.
Slowly, but surely, I’m healing. I don’t expect it to happen overnight. It’s been over a year and I realize that I may never be “over” any of it. I’ll just be able to deal with it in a more healthy manner. There are still moments that will make me pause. Like last night, watching a woman out to eat with her mother, having easy conversation and enjoying each other’s company. I know I’ll never have that, and that’s OK. But it still makes me stop, think, remember, mourn, and move on. Each and every time.
My whole life, I lived on the 13th floor. Instinctually, I knew it was the 13th. I could count. But the most important person in my life kept telling me it was the 14th floor. And I gave her the benefit of the doubt. But not any more. I know it was the 13th. I’m proclaiming it was the 13th. She can stay on the 14th floor without me. I’m done.