My biggest trauma pre-puberty was a parental misunderstanding.


Misunderstandings launch a million melodramas. This was a classic.

         Because in the nearest small city, at age 10, short and sharp-eyed, I walked with my head down > I found stuff. I found dropped stuff.

         The routine: I got out of my trumpet lesson at 4 PM. The medical theory: blowing a horn might help me overcome thorn-bush asthma; doctors agreed: couldn't hurt. Mom left her office at 5 PM. Then we rode the bus home together, sharing a fat seat. That bus ride wasn't life. It was love: her and me.

         So I had an hour to kill. I walked the blocks with my head down.

         And this autumn day I found five wet dollars, maybe 10? Some big amount of currency in the gutter, mixed into fallen leaves. I proudly brought my newfound fortune to mom, at her office. She was the head bookkeeper at a daily newspaper.


      and yet but


   Mom didn't believe I'd found the cash I eagerly, proudly handed over. My beloved, perfumed, sainted, fierce and girdled mom assumed I'd stolen the money from a five-and-dime cash register while some gulled clerk wasn't looking.


      Mom was firmly convinced.


When we got off the bus at our house, 45 minutes later, she immediately sat me down in our tiny over-stuffed, wall-papered living room ... and interrogated me.

         Then she threatened me, over and over. She intended to drag me from cash register to cash register, through that department store, until my mother found out who was missing this money I'd stolen/"found."

         Dad looked on, supporting his wife. If sister Alice (Tootsie) was around, she was gloating and sympathetic. No blame, by the way ~ I would have done the same for her: gloat, then sympathize long, long, long after.


Mom was wrong. I had found the money in the gutter. I didn't steal it.


      yet but and


An organ, some compass, died inside me.

         Mom's disbelief in me cauterized nerves, too.

         Faith in parents? I don't know where that went; to the dump? A few jars of personal empathy spoiled that day. I used to be so much better at empathy. So I thought; another self-delusion?

         The child-rearing guru of my mom's day was Dr. Benjamin McLane Spock. His 1946 Baby and Child Care became the second-best-selling book of that time, after the Bible. He spoke to the Boom just as it boomed. Mom read him. Don't know what he had to say about such situations: "Your son finds lost money in a city gutter ... or so he claims. What is your best move?"

She didn't make good on her threat. I was not dragged through a department store next day.

Here's what DID happen:

         Mom unwittingly murdered part of me that evening. Something never came back: that small part of me that was sweet and trusting and loving. That small hoping-for part of me disappeared that night, into that customary wallpaper; into our cramped living room; my, me steamed, demeaned out. I was now excluded.

         Trauma isn't a moment. It's not a screen door slamming; the crack of a baseball bat hitting the perfect home run.

         Trauma is a lifetime of response. When mom killed herself less than 10 years later: I was devastated. Yet I also remembered that night she reduced me to nothing worth living....



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