I am trying to let go and abandon the negative things my mother said to and about me when I was a child. Her most common combination of attributes she ascribed to me were: “fat, lazy and asinine.” I knew what “fat” was, so I assumed I was grotesquly obese. I knew what “lazy” was; it meant I never did any of the work she demaned from me as quickly as she wanted. “Asinine” was a word I never heard in any other context. I knew it was bad, simply because the other two were negative. I was afraid to find out how terribly awful it meant I was.

My child brain never related that word to the animal that is a mule, or an ass. Stubborn, or stupid as an ass, is the connection I made as an adult. In her context, it meant I didn’t automatically know how she specifically wanted any job carried out, nor could I accurately anticipate her whims and desires (which she considered to be, “needs”) and I fulfill them with no words from her.

She was not content with a task being completed in a simple way. For instance, folding bath towels. In the bathroom there were two drawer spaces, but only one drawer. My dad had built the unit, but never finished the other drawer. The one drawer went into the bottom space and that was the drawer for bath towels. We had more towels than would fit into one drawer, so the others were simply piled on top. The drawer was more of a shelf than a drawer.

When she would get a towel, she wanted to grab one fold of the top towel through the open space and pull it out. If that one fold did not pull the entire towel, and the towel unfolded while she pulled it out, she would begain screaming that the towel had not been folded properly. To fold it “properly” it had to be held up the long way and folded in half the long way. Then, the bottom and top edges were brought together and the entire towel was encased in one fold. That process works fine – if you are taller than the towel is long. I was not. Nether was my sister when we were expected to fold the towels. I don’t know how old we were, but we weren’t very tall. Folding the towels, that were as long as we were tall, was very nearly impossible (and all the corners had to come together, so the folding could not be sloppy). It was hideously difficult. The effort required of us did not matter.

She made other jobs similarily difficult.

Washing dishes meant scalding them with boiling water before they were hand dried with dish towels. This might have been fine, except she expected us to pick up the scalded items while they were still hot from the boiling water. The towels weren’t very effective at drying, they weren’t very absorbent. And, they often were not dry to begin with. They were kept in a drying rack that was part of the stove, beside the oven. If the oven had been used, the towels were more likely to be dry. But, we seldom used the oven in the fall or spring, and NEVER in the summer, because it heated the kitchen too much. In winter, we used it to heat the house (we had no furnace, just that and two other, small heaters).

Not only were the towels perpetually wet, but, being children, we often dropped them on the floor. We were a farm family. There were chores to do in the barn and chicken house. We never imagined taking our shoes or boots off when we came into the house – that took up too much time. Therefore, we tracked in whatever from the floor of the barn or chicken house into the kitchen floor were the wet towels were dropped as we were trying to dry the scalding hot clean dishes. That did not make sense to me! But, I was not the one making decisions. She refused for us to let the clean dishes dry by themselves in the air.

I never dry dishes now. I let them dry in the drainer by the sink, and I seldom put them away, because I use the same items all the time.

I’m also a wonderfully bad housekeeper now. It would take nearly all day to empty (except for the kitchen table), then sweep, then wash/scrub, let dry, then wax, and let dry, the kitchen floor before moving everything back into the kitchen. I now only sweep the floor if I feel something with my bare feet and wipe up only the spots that are sticky. The rest, I don’t care.

I have taught myself that it is not only a reasonable occupation, but a necessary one, to look out the window (I have placed a chair to easily do so) at the flowers blooming outside. They need to be watched! And, I will sometimes (gasp!) watch the clouds. In Kansas, on my land, we have sky 360 degrees around. Often, there are clouds. They not only move, but change shape, forms, and (during the best evenings) colors. Sometimes, different layers of clouds move in different directions from each other. That, and the colors, are the most fascinating!

My priorities now, are my own. In addition to these occupations of watching, I am also now free to write. That is not easy with my dyslexia/ADHD/chyclotymia and PTSD, but it is what I’ve wanted to do from time before I could read, or even knew the alphabet. Now, I have written so much it is becoming complicated just to keep track of what written pieces have seen sent where. I have a Submission Log where I try to track what is sent where when and any response. Then a separate list of “ACCOMPLISHMENTS.” That one is the most exciting.

The first version of the latter had six items. I was hesitant to show it to an older member of a writing group, assuming I would be laughed out of the room. I’d never been there before. She said two things that changed my entire perspective.

“That list didn’t happen by itself.”
“Not everyone here has a list like that.”

I was so stunned by the second, that I couldn’t process the meaning of the first. That list only existed because of my dedication, determination and effort. I DID IT! I was A WRITER!!! Even if I had only a few things published.

That turned my head upside down.

That list now, with a line between each entry, is nearly thirty pages long. Because of computer accidents, it’s in three pieces, with one of them lost forever, so I don’t know it’s exact length. One line/entry might be one poem, or it might be a book, so it is difficult to guage what the list actually represents. I don’t know, and can’t keep track of the number of individual poems in their separate publications, but I know I have some work in over a dozen anthologies of prose and poetry. And I have seven collections of poems over fifty pages, twice that many chapbooks, one sci fi novel, one history book, another on fasting, and I’ve been the ghostwriting for three memoirs of others. I guess I’m some kind of writer now. The reality of what I see tht I’ve accomplished is so different from what my mother told me all those years when she was the most dominent person in my life.

Yes, I could lose some weight, but I have nothing hanging over my belt, and I’m more slender than most of the guys my age I see. I am not lazy, or I wouldn’t have accomplished anything at all – especially not the house I built. I’m asinine only to the degree that I stubbornly pursue a goal that I’ve set for myself. My life is a constant process of my mind battling my brain for what I want it to do. That, I’ve come to see is the best way to describe my mental process.

She’s dead now and I’m sorry she never really got to know me.

2 thoughts on “What I’m Trying to Leave Behind by Duane L. Herrmann

  1. Not only did she not get to know you, but you didn’t really get to know her. Why was she so angry – how had she been treated to treat you that way? It’s a long history and I’m glad you’ve broken the pattern. Love the chair to watch the day, and the list.

Leave a Reply