I have more to say. Jumbled, but I want to say it.
I made Olivier Salad—Russian salad, as it is sometimes called. It’s the kind of thing your Great Aunt Ethel might bring to a potluck. It strikes me as old-lady food from the 80s.
I have been wondering for years about a particular potato salad I feel like I half-remember. So I looked it up. I looked up a popular salad that was mayonnaise-y and called for potatoes and onions. I don’t know if that rings a bell for me or not. I don’t know if I even liked it. I did think it needed more pickles. Probably that is some of the problem with eating with other people: stuff gets called up and I can’t actually process it. I shut down the emotions to carry on a conversation.
But I did think it was interesting that this particular salad is a must-have for New Year’s for Russians, and here it is the fifth and I kind of have a craving for it.
The strength of my emotions sometimes, in my mind, seals my belief in what happened to me, or at least this kind of instinctive meander towards things.
We had Middle Eastern food last week for dinner and it made me want to cry. It brought up for me a very vivid memory of someone’s Arab mother bringing lunch for everyone at a preschool where I worked in college. It was the first time I had had Middle Eastern food, to my mind, and I remember it the way you might remember your first kiss. It makes me think Aisha or whatever her name was existed. Tabouleh has an impact on me I cannot otherwise explain.
Ditto for craving an old-lady salad.
But as I get closer to what happened to me, I have to also get closer to the emotions and perceptions that were part of that experience. I don’t think anything prepared me for that. I think psychodynamic therapy or my popular culture or my own biases or whatever prepared me to understand my mind as though it was a room sealed off from the world—as though my mind were basically just interacting with itself. But abuse occurs between people. Part of remembering abuse is remembering someone else’s mind—or at least one’s childish best guess at the perpetrators mind. If you’re a child, that will be stored as a perception not of that person’s view of you, but as a view of you minus the mind of the viewer as though the other person is an invisible actor in the social equation.
Traditionally, we talk about perpetrators as though they have no soul and no feelings. Of course, they felt things and thought things. As an adult who lived through childhood abuse, I don’t feel shame because it was easier to blame myself. That isn’t the reason. My parents abused me because they thought I had done something bad and wanted to punish me. Or at least that is what I thought they thought. My memory of shame is there because they felt—or I believed they felt—I was shameful. Behaviour communicates—imperfectly but still very loudly, and their punishing behaviour communicated a view of me as being bad or having done something bad.
Sometimes I see myself as evil, as hiding malignant intentions from myself. Yeah, that’s my mom’s mind. That’s my mom descending into her own trauma memories of someone bent on hurting her and seeing me in a way distorted by her past. She saw me as this enormous, malicious threat she needed to defend herself against. And that’s going to be a felt sense for me. I am going to remember that not as a conscious thought, but as a felt sense of myself.
One night recently, I couldn’t sleep because I felt so dreadfully shameful for caring about C. I felt like the world’s biggest chump. Well, that’s my dad’s mind. That’s my dad, growing up with a schizophrenic mother who probably tortured him, who cannot trust anyone, feeling contempt for and rage against someone who claims to feel warmth and presents themselves as altruistic. He believes, because of what happened to him, that trust itself is bad. Someone who makes you long to be able to relax and to trust is trying to trick you. His mother didn’t trick him intentionally, but her erratic behaviour made him feel betrayed. He punished the innocence in me because that was the part of himself—his own vulnerable child—who could not do other than to continue to reach, despite her unreliability.
That’s probably why he preyed on teenage, immigrant prostitutes. These were innocent girls who were “bad.”