Epitaph For Mean

This is the last post of a series which begins here.
Life was mean to Bernadine.

Bernadine on Lake Michigan

Bernadine’s mom did not understand children, nor, I think, like them.

Bernadines Mom

When she left for work each day, she locked little Bernadine into a room with the maid.

Happily, the maid had a skeleton key. Bernie and she would head for the shore of Lake Michigan and spend contented days there, returning before my grandmother.

At the age of nine, Bernadine was given the maid’s duties: She had to come home from school, dust every surface–including over doorframes–and then start dinner. When Grandma came home, she would run one white-gloved finger over a doorframe chosen at random.

Bernadine’s father hit my grandmother while she was pregnant with Bernie. My grandmother divorced him immediately and would never speak of him again. Bernie was frustrated ever afterward that she could learn no more about her father.

I liked Grandma’s second husband because he allowed me to pick out “boys” toys (a fun toy car and boat instead of stupid toy high heels), but Bernie said about him once “He was a real bastard.” She wouldn’t answer any questions about that comment.

I got the feeling something had happened with my grandfather that Bernie couldn’t talk about–or not talk about to her daughter. This may have been at least partly why, when Bernie turned fourteen years old, she secretly applied for, and studied hard for, a scholarship to a prestigious boarding school in a different state. When she won it, she moved away from house with no regrets.

Up through college, Bernadine had good and close girlfriends. She married a man she was crazy about.

Bernadine Marriage Photo

They seemed to be very happy, wed six years before having children.

Her old friendships dropped away, somehow.

And she, an only child, wound up with four children under the age of eight and a husband who was gone sunup to sundown, or months overseas.

She moved from a single-culture neighborhood where everyone shared the same values (and raised each other’s children) to a multi-culture one where everyone got along–but HER family’s culture was seen as different.

Yet on her first day, all her new neighbors did come to welcome her:

“What kind of mother DOES that?! We’re going to call the POLICE!”

While busy unpacking, Bernie had put her toddler in the shaded front yard wearing a safety harness. It was looped to a clothesline run, like a dog’s.

That’s what moms did in her old neighborhood.


Bernie’s husband was an expert in the bully’s trick of chip-chip-chipping away at every sensitive issue repeatedly until it reaches the point that the victim snaps–for no reason, to anyone not in the know.

Bernie grew defensive and paranoid and full of temper at him and the world. She became an expert chipper in her own right.

Warren also interrupted Bernie constantly, and jumped to correct her in front of family and guests.

This is accepted (or not noticed) by listeners more when men do it to women than the reverse. Over the years, Bernie became frustrated by her lack of voice.

She sought an audience and temporary society among strangers, striking up conversations while out shopping. With Bernadine so reluctant to give up the floor she so rarely had, these brief exchanges evolved over time to monologues. Until her eyesight went, and Bernie gave up pleasure-trips, one could locate her in stores by looking in corners for her trapped, glazed-eyed prey.

Poor Bernadine had lupus, and an undiagnosed parathyroid problem that made her bad temper worse. I also believe that in the worst years of her yelling, menopause was a major contributor.

So, basically, the woman was working against a stacked deck.

Does that entirely excuse the abuse she inflicted? No.


This past week, Bernie was admitted to the E/R due to high potassium levels–an indicator of kidney failure–and died less than 12 hours later.

She was very good at Scrabble. When I was a child, I enjoyed playing with her.
She taught me the basic back-stitch in embroidery. We made a little teddy bear.
She told me once a new dress didn’t look bad on me like I thought it did. She said “I think it looks nice.”
She was an excellent cook. She made cookies for us.

You would not do that for children you only hated. Would you?

I have always been an orphan. If I cry at some point, it will be because my life and Bernadine’s life intersected in such a sad way. I do feel love for her–because the anger is gone about this: That she didn’t move past her hurt child to take adequate care of the children she was hurting. I hope she is healed at long last.

Now I Lay Me Embroidery SectionIf I Should Die Before I Wake

Epitaph For Mean

Life was mean to Bernadine,
So she began to pout;
And when she grew,
Although she knew,
She should not take it out,

By doing unto others,
What had been done to her,
She didn’t care;
It wasn’t fair;
(So few things in life were).

To her own children, Bernadine,
Herself became the child;
She falsely blamed;
She often shamed;
She yelled like someone wild.

Her own four tried to kill her;
(They thought they would be freed);
And yet at times,
Despite her crimes,
She’d give you what you’d need:

You’d be surprised by kindness,
She’d shock you with a smile,
(It shouldn’t be:
We all agree:
That these were rare was vile.)

No point; no point in poems;
For no more Bernadine;
She had we four,
To love… Adore–
Instead, she chose the mean.
Mommy Jekyll and Babe
Part 7 of a 7-part series that was posted daily. Following this, the focus will shift away from my mommy issues.

I think my mom’s yelling was caused by the ‘pause because it happened to me. Once I got a hormone patch, my yelling ended. My own was never constant, and it lasted only a couple of years, but the harm had already been done. If you find yourself post-40 and screaming: 1. check hormones; 2. take drugs.
Begin here:
Hateful Mommy Hyde–Part 1
Or read ’em backwards:
Joyful Mommy Jekyll–Part 6

Joshua Dog

Outside, mostly schnauzer; inside, mostly love.
And gross guts and stuff.

The moment I stepped out of our house to leave for college, my entire family heaved a huge sigh of relief. Finally, the Allergy Queen was gone, and they could get a dog!

Here’s Josh:


Miniature Schnauzer or Josh After a Shave

This is EXACTLY What Josh Looked Like. If You Shaved and Shrunk Him.

Some of his Josh’s long gray hair hung over his eyes, which helped him a lot when he was leaning his nose on your knee and guilting you: “But I’m so cute! How can you not want to play with me?”.

Schnauzer With Sunglasses

Schnauzer Pity Stares Are So Effective That Extreme Means Are Sometimes Needed To Preserve Owner Independence

Joshua did not like dog food. He did not even like meat all that much. His favorite food was spaghetti. He was in doggie heaven when he could get this treat, and would look up at you with a big doggie smile, long sauce-y strands dripping from his mouth.


Dog With Spaghetti Sauce

Don’t Judge Me.

Everyone loves their dog, and everyone thinks their dog is special. Well, does your dog do this?:

When he couldn’t get spaghetti, Josh lived on cat food. The two dry food bowls sat side by side in the kitchen, one with dog and one with cat food.


Schnauzer and Cat Food Bowl

“I just need that one… perfect… piece.”

Joshua would walk into the kitchen and ever-so-delicately pick up one tiny piece of cat chow between the tips of his front teeth, pad quietly with it out into the dining room, and gently place it down on the dining room carpet. He’d examine it carefully, at last eat it with great crunching gusto, and then go back for another piece.

Dog and One Piece of Dry Cat Food

Josh Said This Stuff is Da Bomb. I Don’t See It.

One by one, he’d work his way down the cat’s food bowl, making trip after trip from kitchen to dining room and back, carefully carrying his precious cargo, one crisp morsel at a time.

Of course, this would drive the cat absolutely crazy. Which perhaps was the whole point.

The cat survived by eating dog food. (Oh, hush, now. Both cat and Joshua lived long.)

My brother and Joshua had a very special relationship. Paul used to grab Joshua’s wet doggie nose, put his own lips over it, and blow hard. The air would shoot out of Josh’s mouth, making him go “Huhmmpff!”. He’d pull free, stepping backwards and shaking his head quickly. Then, he’d step up again and poke his nose at Paul, ready for more.

It was their love dance.

Arnaut Blowing Smoke In His Dogs Mouth

Blowing Love Into Your Doggie’s Nose Is a Long-Standing Tradition

One day, I met Josh’s future best friend. I was walking near my friend Maria‘s house when a little white blur came racing out the screen door of a neighboring house. I had been carrying a tapestry shoulder bag. Hanging from it now was a tiny white bulldog. I had never had a dog hanging from my purse before. I lifted the bag up to my eye level, and the little white puppy came right along with it.


Smiling White Bulldog Puppy

Would-Be Purse Snatcher. And He Looks So Innocent.

I walked up to the screen door and knocked on the wall next to it. When one of the family answered, I held up their tiny pet, still glommed on to my purse.

“I believe this is yours.”

“Oh, thank you! That’s useless!”

Puzzled Baby

Isn’t That Wuuuude?

All became clear after I learned that Useless was the little dog’s name–after his formal name, “Ulysses”.

Useless grew into a waddling, drooling bulldog, with short bowed little legs. Like my sister Meg’s hamster, Wilbur, Useless had a knack for escaping. His family always knew where he could be found.

Our family would be sitting down to dinner, or sleeping in on a Saturday morning, when there would come a scratch-scratch-scratch at the front door. We’d go down and open it, to find Useless sitting there somewhat impatiently, saying silently, but perfectly clearly, in his doggy way:

“Can Joshua come out to play?”

Joshua was born to be an outdoor dog. He’d joyfully lope through heavy underbrush as smoothly as if he were on a putting green. However, when my siblings first picked him out at the pound, Josh was still a tiny puppy.

Schnauzer Puppy

How Cute Am I?

That first week, my dad and Paul took him up to the woods. It was winter, with snow deeper than a puppy’s legs. And on one of his first runs, Josh chose a pond that hadn’t yet fully set. Crack! He fell through the ice into the dark water underneath, and couldn’t scramble out.

If you grow up ice skating on ponds, you learn what to do if someone falls through ice, and you know you have to do it fast. Before my dad could stop him, Paul had spread-eagled himself to distribute his weight, and carefully ooched his way forward on the crackling surface beneath him until he could grab the collar of the poor little ice-puppy.

My brother risked his life to save Joshua.
People who’ve never had a dog might not understand that.

Thank you, Paul, for saving that dog we all loved, who loved us all back.

Schnauzer in Snow With Head Tilted

Shoot, Did You-All Think I Needed Help?


Before the first break of my first college year, when my mom told me by phone that the family had gotten a dog, I felt…unwanted, unwelcome, left out, and hated by my siblings and parents–all things which were true. But more importantly, there was a practical matter:

Me: Can you have one room professionally cleaned and then keep the new dog out so that I won’t get sick when I come home? (Back then, I got asthma very quickly from exposure to dogs or their environs [living spaces].)

Mom: No I’m not closing off any rooms from that dog! He’s more a part of this family than you ever were!

So when I came to town at Thanksgiving, I stayed at a friend’s house instead. My mom got furious at me for not staying at “home”.

(Where was my good guy dad during these exchanges? Endorsing these actions of my mom’s–I explicitly appealed to him also about the dog-free room issue.)


When I met Josh, I fell in love with him, of course, and he with me. I became glad the family had gotten a dog, even though it meant I had to stay away or outside most of the hours I visited. When home, I would pet and play with Josh until I had to go use my inhaler and change my clothes and wash.

Because who can resist the schnauzer-ish breed?


Schnauzer With Schnauzer Toy

I Know I Can’t.


Sst! Buddy! Wanna See Pics of a Girl Fight?

Every morning, while we big kids wait for the school bus, Lauren walks up to the tiny kids waiting and stomps their lunches flat.

Paper Lunch Bags

From Happy Bags Like These…

Crushed Lunch Bag

…To These


We keep telling them to hang on to their bags and not put them down, but they keep forgetting. They’re only little kids.

Lauren picks on older kids, too. Luckily, I don’t know Lauren, and she doesn’t know me (she’s two grades ahead of me). This day, though, Lauren and I are introduced.


Putin and Obama Shake Hands

It’s Always Nice to Make New Friends


I’m sitting on the bus in the next-to-last seat, next to my friend Vicky. Lauren is sitting in the last seat: The bench seat. The troublemaker’s row. Suddenly, right through the back of my spine, her giant fist is introduced to my breastbone.


Punched In the Back

I Remember Exactly How It Felt


Once I manage to straighten up and resume breathing, I wonder what to do.

If I ignore her, she’ll just punch me again. If I punch her back with my puny baby fist, she’ll just bite it off, and still punch me again.

So, tapping into my autistically-intuitive people skills, I decide that shame might work. I turn around and slap the meanest bully in school right across her face.

She goes CRAZY!! Lauren LEAPS over the back of my seat and starts punching me with the Volkswagens at the ends of her arms.


Breaking Bad Hank Punches Walt

We Had Surprisingly Little Hair, For Girls in Grade School


“Fight! Fight! Fight!”

I draw strength from the hearty encouragement of my classmates and curl up into a turtle shape, protecting my soft squishy center. Vicky, my wonderful, loyal friend, jumps on Lauren and pounds on her back, trying to distract her from my fragile shell.

Vicky can hit hard, but Lauren doesn’t feel a thing. She’s built like a long-distance trucker.


Girl Bully

Lauren’s Idea of a Casual Hello


The bus reaches our stop. The driver, responsible adult that he is, makes us get off. We’re not HIS problem!

As soon as we hit the ground, Lauren knocks me down to it, and starts kicking the h#ll out of me with her steel-toed work boots.


Boot Above Scared Ant

Guess Which One I Am.


“Ooh–she got in a GOOD one!” “Kick her again!”

Who is it who decided a direct kick to the privates doesn’t hurt girls as much as boys? Again wonderful Vicky jumps in gamely, but Lauren instantly flips Vicky on her back, too, and is able to use one hand and foot to fight each of us.


Girl Fight With Gentle Hair Pull

Yeah, Girl Fights Look JUST Like This (“Oh, What Silky Hair You have…”)


Suddenly, the clouds open! A ray of sunshine breaks through! Actually, the crowd of cheering kids opens, and a big ole’ station wagon careens through:

Vicky’s tiny German/Russian/Polish (depending on which year of the war you pick) mom comes riding to the rescue. She crashes the front tire into the curb, jumps out leaving the door wide open, and brings the full wrath of her four-foot six-inch body down to bear upon Lauren.


Angry Badger

A Wee Woman Wi’ A Wee Bit of Temper


“WHAT do you think you do!? (Swatting her with her purse.) “Are you CRAZY girl? Go home right NOW!”

Then, she gathers Vicky and me under her full skirts and into the car with her. Once home, we tell her the terrible tale while she repins and smooths her coiled braids, loosened during battle, and clucks and fusses and smooths us over, too.


Braids Around Head Back View

At Night, She Unwound Them and They Reached Her Hips


We tell our story again to Vicky’s professor dad when he arrives. The two of them share our outrage, and blanket us with their warm sympathy. Then, they call Lauren’s mom and have an extended phone conference.

Afterward, Vicky’s folks sit us down seriously, and take the time to explain to the two of us girls that Lauren’s mom has recently divorced her dad. That her brother joined the Marines. That he has been teaching Lauren Marine fighting moves when he’s home on leave. That Lauren’s mom now understands that this isn’t appropriate, and she will do something about the bullying, but we should try to understand that Lauren has a lot of anger.


Mom and Dad Arguing

Anger That Has Nowhere To Go


I feel proud that Vicky’s parents speak to us like we are almost grown up.

Feeling Proud Peacock

These Wonderful People Turned “I Was Beaten” Into “I Feel Proud”


Then, I head for my own home.

I tell the story of the attack to my mom. Her sole unsmiling response? “Tell your Dad when he gets home.”

Deflated Balloon on Asphalt

When my male parent arrives, he sits on the ottoman, and points me to the floor at his feet. I get to only the very start of the story—to where Lauren punches me for no reason—before he interrupts:

“What did you do to her first?”


Indignation Gif

“I Didn’t Do ANYthing!”


“Don’t give me that! She didn’t just punch you for no reason! What did you do to her to make her punch you?!”
I repeat my denial. He repeats his disbelief and accusation. We go back and forth.

He just can’t accept the truth of what I am telling him, and his voice gets louder and louder as he repeatedly seeks the trigger incident. Terribly frustrated at my refusal to provide “the truth”, he finally moves on, yelling at me,

“And THEN what did you do? After she punched you, what did you do BACK to her?”

By this point in his third-degree, I am stressed and flustered, and extremely worn out—let’s face it, I’m nine years old, my adrenaline has been pumping hard all day—so, suddenly, my mind goes blank, and I yell back:

“I don’t know—I don’t remember!” and burst into tears.

Stressed Girl Doesnt Remember

It’s All Too Much

My father (yelling loudly): “WHAT DO YOU MEAN, YOU DON’T REMEMBER?!!”.

After a few moments, in the middle of his yelling, the light dawns, and, with great relief, I say, smiling through my tears, “Oh—I remember now! After she punched me, I turned around and slapped her!”

Which is when…

…my father slapped me. As hard as he could, right across the face.


Gasping With Disbelief Gif

Just Like I Had Done To Lauren


“Don’t you lie to me! You’re going to tell me she punched you as hard as she could, and all YOU did was SLAP her?”

I repeat the truth. And am slapped in the face again for lying.


Crying Because I Want to Punch You But Cant



Thank you, Mom and Dad. By being the worst parents you could possibly be, you taught me how to be the best parent I could possibly be.

All I had to do was the opposite of everything you did.


Repeated Face Slaps of Man By Woman

Today’s Mantra: “Let It Go… Let It Go… He’s 90 Years Old Now… Let It Go… The Next Time You See Him, Let That Hand Go, Right Across His Face…” (Darn! Time To Get a New Mantra.)



Like our Mr. Hickey did, schools CAN decrease bullying. One effective way is by challenging bystanders to do more than just STAND BY.

Joyce Ott of the research-proven “Olweus” anti-bullying program: “Bystanders…are one of the most important groups to reach…they can [otherwise] look like [the bully’s] supporters.”

In one implementation of the program, bus drivers were told to report any bullying they saw on their buses, or as students entered or left them. Students in grades 3 through 12 filled out questionnaires with items such as whether teachers interfered to stop bullying.

Victim rates dropped (at one school) by 27 percent.

This information comes almost verbatim from here.

Isn’t it interesting that it never occurred to any of us kids to tell an adult about Lauren? Why didn’t we?

1. Kids Don’t Tell Because They Don’t See Adults Helping

Like that bus driver.

2. Kids Don’t Tell For a Buncha Reasons

I would very much like to know what happened to Lauren. She never bothered me again, and I heard no more about her after that year, so my guess is that the bullying calmed down. I hope she and those around her found happiness.

I really hope those little kids stopped having their lunches squashed the rest of that year. (I can’t remember.) They were so sad every time that happened!

Thank you, Vicky. If I know the girl I was then, I never thought to thank you then. I would have been badly beaten that day–possibly even bones broken–had it not been for you. Thank you, my friend.

Tiny Heart Beating Gif



Credit For Not Being a Psychopath

Like It Says.

This is the second part of a multi-part series on bullying

Dinner For Seven

My parents had three daughters. One was wanted, and has always been cherished:

Their Macy’s girl.

Guess It Was a Florida Macy’s.


We other two are their dime-store daughters.

Pecked From the Nest.


I am now close friends with my fellow dime-store outcast. Surprisingly, her own daughter has been accepted as a good friend of Macy-Girl’s daughter. The nonexistent sins of the mothers are not visited upon the daughters.

Lawrence Block and Ruth Rendell Wrote Versions, Too, But Using Either of Those Would Have Classed Up This Blog Too Much.

Not too long ago, the two cousins, who live on their own in different states, met up at Macy Girl’s house. She served dinner to the young women, as well as to her husband and his mom, and our own mother and father. Dinner for seven.

The next day, my mother and I are on the phone.

“And your sister did an amazing job. She managed to put on dinner for ALL of us!”

EVERYthing Macy-Girl Did Was Always Awesome.

My mother has never praised either of her dime-store daughters for a single one of our accomplishments as adults. Many are significantly more impressive than cooking a meal. I couldn’t stop myself:

“Wait just a minute, Mom. What is so ‘amazing’ about her making dinner?

“Well, she works, too!”

True. Macy Girl does work. Two grueling part-time days a week.

Though, To Hear HER Tell It, Her Two Part-Day Mole-Hills Require Full-Time Mountaineering Skills

“Well, Mom, I worked, too—only I worked full time. And I had lupus. And I chaired the PTA. And I prepared Sunday school lessons. And I STILL managed to cook.”

Here’s how the woman who wombed me and birthed me responds to my own amazing accomplishments:

“Oh, yeah? Who’d YOU ever cook for?”

What I Should Have Said.

I open my mouth but no sound emerges. Unsurprisingly, I left home at 17. I relocated on the far side of the fifty States. I’ve had therapy. Despite this, there are times this woman still manages to shock me into silence.

She decides to fill this by adding, sneeringly: “…besides your family!”

I Gave Her That Sweater Last Christmas. I Thought It Brought Out the Red In Her Eyes.

And as if I, also, find my family insignificant and my achievements worthless, I (yet again) find myself spitting into that glacial unmotherly wind, trying fruitlessly to convince the unconvince-able:

“I also prepared meals for more than my family, Mom. We DID throw parties in the early years of our marriage. Until my abusive spouse succeeded in socially isolating me.”

Ever-nurturing Mom responds.

“I don’t need to hear this!”


“Don’t tell me any more lies about your marvelous ex-husband.”

Yes.  The Real Work of One of My Real Sons.

“I am afraid of the dark. I am also afraid of my dad.” (Written In 1st Grade By One of My Sons About My Marvelous Ex.)

She ends the call.

Only later do I remember that, although my two-faced spouse always jumped to impress most visitors,

Hurriedly lifting up a sponge or broom just as folks drove up,

Striving to do all the cooking whenever my parents or in-laws visited,

My parents did still savor a couple of outstanding meals prepared by my own terribly-inadequate dime-store hands.

Don’t Pictures Like This Always Make You Want to Either Run and Cook It or Run and Eat It?

But I understand why Mom was still not impressed by my skills in comparison to Macy Girl’s.

Around my dining table would have been seated my parents, my spouse, my two children, and I. Dinner for six, not seven.

All this time, I’ve been only one dinner guest shy of gaining Mommy’s love.

Born of the Devil… Never Fully Alive… Controlled From Afar… Be Afwaid!!!!

Next post in this Mommy Hyde series: Care For Some Crumbs?
Addendum Re: Emotional Abuse and Neglect
“That emotional abuse is more damaging than sexual and physical abuse may seem surprising, although they tend to go together.” [Yeah, our mommy and daddy whacked us, too. Meggie got her jaw cracked. You needed to be quick in our house!]

“A definitive analysis of the 41 best studies into the impact of childhood adversity on the risk of psychosis…broke down the role of different kinds of maltreatment. Emotional abuse meant exposure to behaviour such as harshness and name-calling from parents. Emotional neglect meant lack of love and responsiveness…emotional abuse increased the risk of psychosis the most (by 3.4 times), physical abuse and emotional neglect did so by 2.9, sexual abuse and bullying by peers by 2.4.”

“Similar findings come from studies of less extreme emotional distress. In the definitive one…90% of those who suffered early maltreatment qualified for a mental illness. Emotional neglect under the age of two was a critical predictor.”

Guardian article link
Next post in this Mommy Hyde series: Care For Some Crumbs?

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