It was an early fall evening when the light lingered in the promise of chilly weather. My brother and I escaped the schoolbus and ran down the hill to our family home as fast as we could. I was in 3rd grade so 7 years old. My 5-year-old brother was in 1st grade. The house was dark, no sign of life. Our parents were not home. There was no latchkey to be had. This was 1977.
This wasn’t our first experience with empty house so we knew not to go to the neighbors house unless it was a very real emergency – being alone, hungry, and uncertain of what to do was not an emergency. It wasn’t cruelty in their minds, just a boundary they set because they had their own kids to manage.
Sometimes a window was unlatched and we could ‘break in’ to the house. If we were lucky, it was the living room so we could step over the edge. Sometimes it was the dining room which meant we had to find a way to launch ourselves on the ledge and then carefully climb over my mother’s buffet without knocking anything over. Then we could open the door for the other one. Once it was a second floor kitchen window and my brother insisted on dragging the ladder over to climb in as I held my breath that he wouldn’t fall.
Brothers falling from second floor ladder probably would be an emergency though.
We cobbled together a meal, usually peanut butter sandwiches (this was pre-microwave) or whatever snacks were not hidden away. We watched tv. Mostly, we waited for our parents to come home.
We knew where they were – on a drive because it was my Dad’s day off from work. They had stopped for a doughnut and then hit the road. They might look at new cars or fancy houses or visit childhood stomping grounds, fantasizing about a better life.
To our immense relief, they would return eventually. I would feel angry, hurt, often hungry, and still slightly scared this time they wouldn’t come home.
I didn’t want them to abandon me, but they already had.
Emotional abandonment is a subjective emotional state in which people feel undesired, left behind, insecure, or discarded. Wikipedia
Abandonement issues, as they say, are at the heart of so many struggles survivors of trauma endure.
I could list endless examples of being abandoned, from literally sitting on my front porch waiting for someone, anyone, to come home and let me it to the much more horrifying realities of the adults in my extended family abandoning me to the care of sexually violent man.
There’s a certain set of ways that my parents abandoned me and my brother. But there’s an entirely different level of indifference from my aunts & uncles, adult cousins, and people who knew better. There was certainly abandonement by the Catholic Church which allowed predators to staff our parish for nearly 30 years. Our school district didn’t protect the bullied kids or give any of us much direction for our post-secondary lives.
All of these make my relationship breakups feel like childs play. But those hurt, too. They were supposed to hurt, but all that came before just decimated any chance to walk through a relationship ending with resiliency.
So most of my encounters have an underlying current fusing both the expectation of abandonement and a thin bit of hope that maybe this time …
This leaves me susceptible to predators of the adult variety, namely groomers. They ply me with presents and attention until they don’t. This is why I loathe anonymous surprises or gifts. I can’t allow myself to want or need or even use an anonymous gift because I might be playing into the hands of someone who wants to hurt me. Or someone who doesn’t understand that it’s never enough.
But I digress.
This is a blog post about the opposite of being abandoned. I don’t know what the word is.
I’ve been working on the #ManchesterCatTrap for months and things were going pretty well if not perfectly. Then I became physically sick with too much pain to do anything. Then I was struggling with a sense of failure and depressive thoughts, bordering on suicidal, because the pain was derailing my ability to get things done. Then someone reported us to Animal Care & Control which is pretty ironic considering what I was doing.
I was just done. I couldn’t move, I was gripped by this horrible sense of failing. Until …
People showed up. They took on tasks. They arranged alternative plans. They brought cookies. They hauled stuff. They texted me. They helped me figure out the final steps.
The did the opposite of abandoning me.
Some are my friends and some are strangers.
When we released the cats, I pondered this feeling. I wasn’t upset about the cats. I wasn’t upset about sitting in the rain for an hour. I wasn’t devastated that some of the donated pet food got wet when the tent collapsed. I just felt okay. Everything worked out.
I asked my therapist if this is how it feels to experience the opposite of abandonment. She kept pitching words at me – accepted?cherished? supported? comforted? – and I deflected. I am content to bask in the idea of not being abandoned. It feels real enough without too much sentimentality.
Obviously, it also shows how far I have to go if I can only accept a negative rather than a positive, that the absence of abandonment is sufficient to comfort me. And it is because I have no real experience of this state of mind.
What’s more is that my processing of this on my own is a big step forward in my trauma processing. I have a taste of how life can be.
I want to clarify that my parents are not monsters. The demons and beasts in our families were part of their childhoods, too, and they both suffered mightily at the hands of our family predator and his apologists.
I wonder if they ever found the opposite of abandonment on their jaunts? Or just endlessly pursued what they couldn’t have?
My therapist suggested I write this post because the cognitive process of documenting something so momentous is helpful and hopeful.
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