I bet you got pushed around – somebody made you cold, but the cycle ends right now, cause you can’t lead me down that road.- Taylor Swift, Mean
A friend posted a list of ways to make your child safe around you and other adults. One of the ways to make sure they’re safe is to always trust your child when they express bad feelings about another adult, to always choose them and play it safe. It’s funny how things can strike a chord you didn’t expect them to years after you’ve become safe and struck out on your own.
My mom’s best friend is a hairdresser. Let’s call him Claudius. They talk about everything together. (I later found out….everything about me, as well, even as an adult.)
Claudius verbally abused me from a young age. I can’t remember how young, but I do remember that my brother and I got our hair cut from him – my parents made a big deal about the fact that he never cuts kid’s hair and he was making a special exception for us when we were still in the single digits.
When asked ‘well, what did he say to you?’ I can never remember exact quotes. I can remember snippets of diatribes about how I’d be more beautiful with makeup, but that I was ugly now. I can remember little from the early years, only that I thought for years that I deserved the crappy feelings I had when I came home. When I was little, this included shutting myself into my room and surrounding myself by imaginary friends who didn’t so much think I was ridiculously ugly and in need of haircuts and make up.
I later developed imaginary friends as a coping skill well into middle school to compensate for long-term trauma and abuse. My natural tendency away from long episodes of socialization interacted with the need to feel okay in scary situations made a completely imaginary world that had me shut in my room. Family friends tried to pull me from it on Christmases and other social gatherings.
I know that he gave me endless lectures on personal appearance, tying a woman’s general responsibility into makeup wearing and hair fashioning and talked to my mom a lot about my personal appearance. I know that I hated make up and it was only worn for formal occasions if my mother forced it upon me and made a family fight about it. Me not wanting to wear make up was a big, big issue for a long time when I became a teenager. When I did it, I did it completely wrong and brought shame upon my mother. When I preferred to wear t-shirts and jeans because they were comfortable, more shame.
What a shock adulthood was when it turns out that womanhood exists outside of the makeup industry, and that people still love you if you brush your hair and go, and that it’s ridiculously okay not to express your femininity in the way that’s sold to you on magazine covers. People wonder why this was such a big issue for me- this is why. Because I’m not imagining this. This was very much a thing.
A few years ago a friend of mine who my mom doesn’t know got married and I went to the wedding. This was right before I went no-contact. Apparently we had a mutual friend, and she commented that my mom asked her if I looked okay. Not how I was.Not what I was up to. But on my friend’s wedding day, when most of us were generally concerned about her and how beautiful her dress was, whether I looked okay.
If I get married, she’ll frantically try to figure out if I looked good enough on my wedding day. The last time she told me I was ugly was the day I firmly decided that she wasn’t invited to my wedding dress fitting or wedding. I mean, I will face ridicule for that, as I face ridicule for going no-contact in the first place, because apparently my birthday is a bigger deal for her than me. But I just got to the point where that kind of stuff is not something I’m going to fill my life with. And I’ll be the decider of how I look on my wedding day and frankly damn anyone who thinks their opinion on my dress matters because it’s not their wedding day.
If I ever win an emmy for a screenplay or something, she won’t be primarily concerned with congratulatory thoughts but will be really worried that I look okay. I realize being from the South carries an idea of womanhood around that has everything to do with how womanly you look and not so much about what you do with your brain, but there comes a point where the people you love will let you go once you have nothing to ask about other than ‘does she look okay?’
Given the chance to respond, my mother would probably promptly remind me that not wearing makeup regularly and being a proper lady is costing me a lot of friendships. She gave me this lecture when I went through my emo-punk phase with short blonde hair, lots of hats, and generally punk clothing. Looking back on it, my style was kind of genius, but back then I thought I really had an ugliness issue and wasn’t going to be loved unless I really got it together.
Back to Claudius. My mother’s attitude toward me and the way I look was informed by her and Claudius having regular talks and discussions, so I find the incidents relevant and the attitudes enmeshed.
I do remember two separate incidents very clearly while the majority of the time I spent with him is blurred. One time, at an after-school hair appointment with him, I was feeling quite soothed by the hair massage. (I think we can all agree that the shampooing-hair massage thing is the best part of getting your hair done.) I closed my eyes because it was comfortable. Apparently it was some kind of faux pas that now is slightly uncomfortable to think about, because world war 3 broke out when I got home. I remember being in a lot of trouble for treating friends with disrespect, and did I know that all of my parent’s friends just thought I was really rude?
In any case, there was a clear line drawn. Claudius was on one side, standing there with my parents, and I was on the other, very much alone.
I remember bringing this up to my parents quite a few times as I got older and gave less of a crap who of the social elite thought I was rude, especially Claudius.
‘Yes, well, that’s just how he is,’ they would say. ‘We put up with it because he’s so good at cutting hair.’
I mean, yes, he was good at cutting hair, but he also has a general reputation around my hometown for being a verbally abusive asshole. I don’t know a lot about hair politics, but I do know that his clientele wasn’t that big, and reputations matter in small towns. I’ve actually found beauty in seeing other people about my hair. I wanted to cry the first time I got compliments from someone who cut my hair. I literally didn’t know that hairdressers don’t exist to cut you down and erode your self confidence. I didn’t know they exist for the opposite reason.
Doing this to anyone is bad. Doing this from childhood to adulthood is damaging and abuse.
Another time also counts as the last time I ever sat in his chair. I was getting my hair permed and during the course of this attack almost left the salon with the curlers in my hair. (Retrospectively I could have and should have done so.)
I’ve blocked out most of the exact words that he said. I do know that he went to my car without my permission and got inside it, and didn’t apologize. I know that he talked about what a piece of shit he thought my brother was. I know that he flew off the handle insulting both of us and alternating between that and praising me while insulting him. I remember wishing my dad was there to hear that. I remember the panic being so bad because I wanted to leave and not being able to.
I got home from that, and my mom had undoubtedly found out about it. She asked me in a cold voice ‘did you thank Claudius?’
No. I hadn’t. I really hadn’t. I’d been the rude bitch her friends always complained about and left the salon without a single word as soon as it was done.
I remember asking my dad if it made him mad that Claudius said such horrible things about my brother and I. If it didn’t piss him off to hear those words.* He got angry at me and said I was asking him to choose between his best friend and his family. Essentially, I guess I was, but I was expecting it not to be a difficult choice, because it would not be for me, if my kid was the one being hurt. A counselor implied that I advocated for myself, so everything was fine, but I still felt a pit in my stomach when I realized what implications were left.
*My brother has a reputation among the girls he went to high school with as being generally horrible to me in his high school/jr high years and this reputation has nothing to do with anything I’ve said. The way I was treated in those years didn’t phase me, except to hurt, and I didn’t know that something was grievously off. Once I got out, I realized that a lot of the physical abuse happened through him, because he was stronger, and that my mom told me to either get over it or fight back, which just meant I hurt worse. A church mentor of mine met one of my brother’s old high school girl friends, realizing they had me in common while they were both in nursing school. That person who knew my brother apparently brought up how my brother treated me horribly in high school. That was the first I’d ever known anyone else acknowledge it. It’s a casual sidenote in the girls who grew up with him and noticed me. It’s not me making it up anymore. I asked my dad one day what he thought of this and he got angry and said ‘well, maybe your brother thinks you’re a horrible sister?’ This was confirmed a few Christmases ago when he said he didn’t love me on Christmas eve when I wouldn’t let him watch tv.
Claudius was one of the reasons I moved away. It’s a really small town, where I’m from, with 2 wal-marts within driving distance to each other. I refused to see him ever again after the last catastrophe while my parents continued being best friends with him. I kept running into him, and he kept trying to initiate contact. He can keep doing that now, but good luck. One of the last times I saw him was at my parent’s house. I was sitting on their couch using my dad’s iPad. (My dad and I retained a loving relationship until I went no-contact.) I didn’t know he was coming over (he regularly made that place terrifying by just dropping by) and I looked out the window to find him looking in through the window, staring at me with a hostile glare on his face. It was evident he’d been watching me for a while.
I immediately put down the iPad, exited the house, and drove away. That face continues to be in my nightmares sometimes.
I posted this because abuse thrives in silence, and in silence only. And because I’ve realized I’m safe now, and am never going back. I also realized I can tell my story to literally anyone I want to, and I am not bad for telling it. That includes here. Explicitly. Where people read it. Abusers don’t deserve comfort.
I focus on this again because a terrifying situation you spend over 20 years of your life in doesn’t go away the moment you move away. It’s far from that easy. It takes years and years of processing and realizing you’re safe again, and realizing the parts of your past that were abuse.
I also post this because when someone close to your parents abuses you in any way, they are an unsafe person. And it’s okay to speak out about that and make sure your parents know. Parents, there are costs to choosing the people who abuse your kids over your kids, especially and even when they grow up. Specifically, you’re accountable regarding how you react when someone violates your child in any way.