From before I can remember, my older sister was constantly teasing me, provoking me, making fun of me, mentally torturing me. And it was always un-provoked. I never did anything to her to instigate her behavior. Lots of people have tales of “sibling rivalry” – that was not what my sister and I did. One time when I was in early high school, we were in the kitchen arguing, and she grabbed one of my dad’s chef’s knives from the knife block. Thankfully, I was faster than she was and made it to my room and locked the door. Another time, I ran after her with a shaving razor. Long before then, though, it started with words. Being about 2 1/2 yrs younger than she, I was no match for her intellectually (even intellectually as a 6 yr old), but I was always stronger. Always.
I was born strong. Literally. During that very early test the doctors do on babies when they move the baby’s arms and legs to make sure everything’s okay, the doctor could not get my legs to part (you can imagine how fun it was growing up having that story told and retold countless times, particularly during puberty). When I was three years old, I got a splinter under the nail of my middle finger that went all the way down to my cuticle (this is one of my first memories). It took 5 doctors, nurses, and interns to hold me down on the hospital bed in the emergency room.
So, that was how I fought back against my sister. Literally. I would kick and scratch and smack and who knows what else. And I would get in trouble. After they were finished yelling at me for beating my sister up, and when I eventually had the capacity to explain myself and tell them what she’d been doing, they had one piece of advice and word of comfort for me: Ignore her. Obviously, my parents were clueless as to physiological and brain development children undergo. I mean, you don’t have to be a pediatric neurologist to know that a 5 yr old doesn’t understand “ignore her” nor can she even begin to be able to do so.
I HATED that this was their “solution.” I’m still incredulous that this was their solution. Eventually, as I got older and my sister continued to pick on me, they figured out that she was the instigator and finally began taking my side more often whenever she would complain to them that I’d hit her. “You probably deserved it,” they’d say to her. But the damage had been done for me by that point. And I’ve only just started to put together what that damage was.
My parents taught me to ignore and just “take” someone inflicting pain on me. They taught me that my pain didn’t matter, that it wasn’t significant. They taught me that I would get in trouble or risk not being loved if I fought back against someone hurting me. They taught me that they did not care as much about me as they did about my sister. That my well-being was not so important that she be punished for hurting me.
They taught me to silence my voice.
They betrayed me in their role as parents, protectors.
In telling me to “ignore her,” they were really telling me to ignore myself. My Self.
I think back to the shitty friends I had in middle school and junior high, and my inability to assert myself to them. I think about the numerous romantic encounters which went further than I’d originally planned for them to go, and my inability to say STOP! I think about every guy who’s ever asked me for my phone number that I didn’t want to give it to, but did. I think about my sexual assault that took place a couple months ago and, though I’m glad I was able to get my STOP! out when I did, I think about my inability to have voiced it sooner.
See, I generalized that lesson of “ignore her” that my parents taught me some 20 odd years ago, and I have been fighting to reclaim my voice ever since. I never knew exactly how it was that it had gotten lost.
Now, having rediscovered the origins of that loss, I am armed to the teeth with rich, loud, ever-present, unable-to-ignore, attention-demanding, wild-woman, straight-from-the-yoni VOICE. And I will never be silent again.