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Paula Sophia Schonauer, LCSW, continues a serial memoir. If you haven’t read the earlier parts of this series, follow the links at the bottom of this page.

Not long before you died, I dreamt about Kenny. He was nestled in a thicket of branches deep in a forest, exposed and vulnerable, crying. Though I had never seen him in life, I recognized him, and I reached for him, cradled him in my arms, trying to soothe him. He would not stop crying, and I realized he was hungry. I held him against my breasts, and I felt warm moisture oozing through my blouse. My breasts ached like they had a mind of their own, demanding immediate relief, and nothing would relieve the pain but the satiation of my brother’s hunger. 

That’s when you appeared, Mom. You stared at Kenny, a look of longing on your face, eyes glistening with tears. Without a word, you held out your arms, beckoning me to hand over your second child, the one who lived a mere thirty-five minutes after birth, the one who lay in an unmarked grave for more than a decade because Dad refused to buy a grave-marker. He had no name but in memory and in documents, two of them: a certificate of live birth and a certificate of death, bookends to a short life – a life of deprivation, a life without nurturing, without cuddling, without a lullaby. 

I did not want to give him away, not even to you. I did not want to continue the cycle of dysfunction and abuse. I wanted to spare him the pain of watching you being abused. I wanted to keep him away from Dad and his robotic sensibilities, his rage, and his perversion. I wanted to save him from your abuse, your withholding of warmth, your deep sadness, and your subtle manipulations. I wanted Kenny to know what it is to be loved and nurtured, confident that he belongs in the world, more than an extension of yourself, a dynamic human being without restraint, without rebuke, without shame. 

Paula Sophia
Paula Sophia (provided)

Mom, there are some things I wanted to know. Most of all, I wanted to know why you said, “I love you,” like a question. I wanted to know why you told me I could be anyone I wanted to be, but you could not see me as your daughter. I wanted to know why my achievements threatened you, why you never heard me preach, why you never read my book, why I had to fight you to play baseball. 

Remember that time when I came home from school, dropped my book bag at the side-door staircase, and ran for my bicycle? Remember when you chased me down the driveway, belt in hand, demanding I come back as I told you I was on my way to baseball practice?

I kept riding, dread overwhelming my thoughts, knowing I was going to get it when I got home, the whipping of my life, but I needed to play baseball. I did not understand it at the time, but it seemed baseball was a rite of passage for me, an embrace of my boyhood, and it did seem you wanted me to be a boy, your boy, devoted to you, loving you for the rest of your life and mine. 

Well, Mom, I did love you for the rest of your life, and I will love you for the rest mine, but it is an ambivalent love, a love of what could have been had you yourself grown up feeling loved, a love not stifled by the abuse you suffered as a child, a love unbridled by pain and ridicule, unconditional and unmitigated. I know you gave me the love you could, but it could have been better, so much better. 

If you have wondered where you lost my devotion, it was that day after baseball practice. I came home with you waiting at the top of the side door stairs, belt in hand, fury on your face. You beat me again and again. You sat me down on a kitchen chair, screaming at me. You wouldn’t let me stand up or go to the bathroom. You wouldn’t listen to me, and I soiled my pants. I don’t think you realized what had happened because I was too ashamed to say.

“I hate you!” I yelled, and I meant it in that moment, my hatred pouring out of me in tears and sweat, fear and truth. 

And you beat me again, slapping the belt down on my arms, down my back, and on my legs. Then I kept saying, “I hate you! I hate you!” defiant, determined to be my own person from that moment on. 

I realize, now, that my individuality frightened you, that you were afraid of my differentiation from you, that my independence would mean your abandonment. All you wanted was love, but that desire translated into fear, the fear into rage. I realize that my beating that day was your attempt to keep me from growing up and away from you. I wish you had known the enduring impact of motherhood, about your goddess light in the eyes of your children. We would always love you. We always have. I wish you could have known that back then. 

In my dream, Ron, your second husband, appeared. He had his hand on your shoulder, and you looked at him. He was young again, like that photo you had of him from before he went to Vietnam, posed next to a light brown 1963 Chevrolet Impala two-door coupe, cocky with cigarette in hand. The smile on his face conveyed that he owned the world, or at least, in that moment, his own life, the master of his own destiny. 

Mom, you were the best woman you ever were when Ron was in your life, and I know it was because he loved you for real. Those notes he wrote and hid all over the house before he died, they told me he knew you would feel the deficit of his loss, that you might not feel loved like he wanted you to feel, and he wanted you to rediscover him again and again, sustained in his love. 

Ron nodded to me, assuring me that Kenny would be okay, and I handed the baby to you, Mom, crying, realizing this was heaven and that your heaven was with Ron and Kenny, a renewed chance to have a family the right way, enveloped in love and free of abuse. 

Mom, I often think of you and Ron and Kenny, and I hope your idyllic heaven is all you ever wanted, and I am glad he was your husband until death did you part. I am glad you are buried with him, united forever. 

Love, Paula

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Last Updated December 17, 2021, 7:37 PM by Brett Dickerson – Editor