Memoirs and Diaries of a Marked Woman
1955: age 2 1/2
When we were living in Annecy, when I was approximately between 2 and 4 years old, I noticed there was something over-emphatic about the way my mother hid her body from sight. Let's say her bath-robe belt came undone, she would hurriedly drape herself again as if something terrible would happen, should I catch a glimpse of her skin. It made me wonder what it was about her body that had to be hidden at any cost. I felt that she hated her body because if she took such precautions to hide it, she must think that it is horrible. I know it irritated me that she didn't trust me enough to relax in my presence, and the more she hurriedly covered herself, the more I wanted to see what she was hiding. Now I wonder if she wasn't doing all this on purpose, maybe to teach me modesty, because there are ways to secure a belt, whereas it seems that her belt was coming undone all the time and it always interrupted whatever she was doing. Like with the ca-ca, she was calling my attention to the shameful thing.
Now, this happened before I had realized that people came in two kinds, male and female, and before I had realized that me and my mother were of the same sex. After I had realized that, I wanted to see my mother's body to know what I would look like when I was grown up. Once, while she was talking with "les grandes", “the big ones”, my three older sisters, and paying no attention to me, I crawled on the floor to peek under her bathrobe and see her pussy but she caught me and I didn't see nuthin'. I believe this became an obsession to see my mother naked because years later, when I was around 8 or 9 years old, the lock of the bathroom broke and went unrepaired for weeks, and I entered the bathroom while my mother was taking a bath to see her breasts, pretending that I didn't know that she was there.
If she had not acted this bit of prudishness to begin with, but had behaved naturally instead in our mother-daughter relationship, I don't think I would have paid attention to what she was always failing to hide, but being of an inquisitive turn of mind, and curious just like any of Blue-Beard's wives, I wanted to see more than anything else what was hidden from sight.
And because what she was hiding were her breasts and her pussy, she concluded that I was a born pervert. I suspect she might very well have pushed this game of peek-a-boo to some extremes where I tried to rip the damn robe open in a fit of frustration, and feeling rejected that she would not trust me enough to let me see. And it made me very unhappy too that there was something horrible about her body, particularly when I realized we were the same sex, it was bad news for my body too.
SMELL, SHAME AND OBSESSION
But there is more to the bathrobe-wrapping-unwrapping than met the eye. There was an aspect to this that, like with my toilet training, involved the sense of smell. Because at the same time my sense of sight was stimulated by the peek-a-boo game, it also happened several times when, standing next to my mother level with her crotch, I could smell a horrible stench wafting through her skirt and this terrified me. From the smell, I imagined that her pussy looked like a devil, some kind of monster with a malevolent smirk that was threatening to jump out at my face.
At the same time that she refused to show and that she impressed the quality of "bad" to that part of her body, she put me in a double bind because while I was thinking about something quite different, the smell of her pussy irrupted into my train of thought and the sense of shame which had been inoculated was activated by the smell. So I had to suffer in silence because I knew it shouldn't be talked about.
I have been thinking again about my toilet training and some more details have emerged. I remember that when I had to take a shit in the potty after my three sisters had already used it (we always did everything in descending order of age), there was so much shit in the pot that I was afraid it would touch my behind and stick to it when I sat down on the potty, and it wasn't even my shit, it was my sisters'.
Another thing was that Madame André, the woman who took care of us while mom helped at the store, didn't empty the pot after the four of us had used it, but put it underneath a dresser in the living room, and the smell fouled the air in the area. That's why none of us liked this woman. But there's more.
The vagaries of our games and movements would always take us, at some point, in the area where the air smelled of shit and instantly the spirit of the game would vanish and the thought of shit would impose itself. Now considering that my mother had attached a lot of shame to the shit, smelling it was enough to feel a burning sense of shame right in the middle of a game. And then one didn't feel like playing anymore.
There came a point, after I had crossed the invisible limit into the foul smelling area one time too many, when the mental suffering caused by the shame became unbearable and my reaction was to sit near the potty, bathed in shit smell, and not play at all. Smelling shit continuously was preferable to being reminded of it unexpectedly in the middle of a game.
That was a perfect double bind: the thing that is shameful, you are not allowed to forget about for one minute.
Madame André was a woman who was rough and in a constant bad mood. But I cannot think that she left the potty full of shit under a dresser unless my mother had told her to do so. I know we complained about it to my mother but it didn't make a difference.
Around that time I had a nightmare about Madame André: I dreamed that she was slicing carrots on a board, and that after she had reached the end of a carrot she kept on slicing, and now she was slicing her finger under my horrified eyes, and she didn't have any reaction of pain. It shows how inhuman and insensitive she was. It also shows that at the time I didn't know there were bones in fingers.
Mother never taught me about hygiene, even less provided the toiletries and instruments for self-care. It was one of my sisters who taught me to brush my teeth, and this was not before I was about 7 years old. At that time (55-58) I touched my vulva in my bed at night, but it was not to masturbate, it was because of the strong smell. It was strange, it was the only part of my body that had a smell. After touching myself I smelled my fingers, and sometimes made Sophie smell them too because I wanted to speak about it but we never spoke about it. We weren’t washed like we should have been, weren’t taught. Maybe we took a bath once a week, in descending order of age as usual, and I would use the same water my three sisters had bathed in before me. I remember quite well my sister Elisabeth telling me many times “Tu pues d’en-dessous”, meaning “You stink from underneath” when I was eight or so.
Instead of teaching me hygiene and body-care my mother taught me to despise, neglect and disrespect my body, as if the body was the bad part of a person, worthy only of contempt. But she didn't like my mentality either since she punished me, frustrated me and deprived me all the time under pretense of correcting my mind and behavior.
It became a Pavlovian reflex into my teens that each time I would smell (or see) either shit or sex (or any similar smell) I would experience so much shame I was near fainting, even if the shit was only an old dog doo in the park.
It was like an artificial obsession, as if a foreign thought imposed itself, and a shameful and guilty thought at that, but it didn't come from inside my brain, it came from a smell outside of me. But since I had to pretend that what smelled did not exist, and since you can deny smelling anything because you can't see it, it was all very confusing.
But there is still more to this thing. Now it is clear that my mother established dominance over my mind and emotions by manipulating the air I breathed. By releasing specific smells into the air she induced shame and guilt which knocked me out and diminished my will. But she went one step further. She made me feel ashamed even to smell, to use my nose as a sensory organ:
SNIFFING LIKE AN ANIMAL
The four of us girls slept in a room, and mom had made us nightdresses from the same fabric. On the other hand our nightdresses happened to be in a heap on a regular basis, instead of each being put under the pillow, and the only way to tell them apart quickly was by smelling them. I could tell which sister owned the nightdress by sniffing it, and when I didn't smell anything it meant that the nightdress was mine.
I remember that once my mother was looking at me while I was performing the sniffing routine, and there was contempt and disgust in her smile. So using one's nose was wrong? That's what I understood. I learned later that it was animal-like and primitive at best to identify things with one's nose and that human beings did not behave that way in life.
So on the one hand the smells that she released made me feel ashamed because they related to sex or shit, and on the other hand I was guilty for smelling them in the first place because civilized people didn’t use their nose. This way she was certain that I would never speak about what I smelled, the perfect cover-up for her odorous aggressions. I have learnt that the US Department of Defense is actively pursuing “malodorants” as non-lethal weapons for crowd control.
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I realize my mother has educated me in the most antisocial way: manipulating my emotions, particularly guilt and shame, deliberately creating situations that were emotionally damaging to induce neurosis and delinquency, so that I would always need her and stay in her power so that under pretense of helping me she would harm me further, destroying every project that led to my independence, making of me a social outcast.
My parents saw me as morally defective from the time I went to kindergarten one day without underwear and lifted my skirt to show my little comrades and the sister. From this incident my parents concluded that I was a sex pervert and no matter how harshly they treated me from now on, my crime was too great to purge.
But this does not explain why they treated me so badly before this incident. I mean in July of 55 when we moved from Paris to Annecy, I was 2 ½ years old and mother was seven months pregnant with Veronica, and she was doing the moving by herself with the help of the truck driver.
Now my father opened his electric appliances store and my mother helped him in the store, and while my older sisters were in school I was left alone in the apartment, sitting on the floor without a toy to kill time with. The only thing I could do anything with was mom's pair of adult-size scissors, that were very dark with patina and some rust spots. These were her all-purpose scissors. She used them to cut anything around the house including our hair and our fingernails. She had four then five little girls and she never invested in a pair of baby scissors! Instead when she wanted to cut my fingernails and I saw the big black blades snipping my tiny nails and felt the cold metal against my skin, I was deadly still, afraid that if I moved my mother would cut my finger off.
She also used these scissors to cut our hair, except Elisabeth's because being blonde, she had a right to wear long hair. But Agnes', Sophie and mine, she cut herself. I remember looking at her while she was cutting my bob. She put her tongue in one cheek and moved it and bit slowly on it. She looked at me just above my eyes and she never looked me in the eyes, except maybe when it was over. Generally she did this hair cutting before an identity photograph was taken, or before an important event. That's why on all the photographs, particularly the ID ones, it is very noticeable that my bob is grossly irregular.
She never asked my opinion about hair style. If she had, I would have told her that I hated feeling hair on my forehead. The only time when I could keep my hair off my forehead was in the evening, at the time of undressing. Then I would keep the neck of my sweater just where a headband would have been and for a few moments I didn't have the ticklish feeling.
In my 40's I reproached her once that she had never told me that I was beautiful. She protested that yes, she did, didn’t I remember these times when I was wearing the sweater around my forehead, she called me “little beauty”? As if that were enough to inform a young woman about her attractiveness and give her confidence.
To go back to the scissors, I had watched her use them, and she always left them lying around within easy reach. But they looked very mean and I was afraid to use them when I was alone. I knew I could injure myself and if I did, mother was one flight of stairs down and several doors away. So I didn't touch them when I was alone. But when mom was around, I used them to cut houses from cardboard boxes. I cut doors and windows and dreamed of a happy family life inside. She never forbade me to play with her scissors. And I never injured myself.
I know I had no toys because I was always looking desperately for something to play with. In the store there were tiny brushes to clean the electric razors, and tiny flashlights but no batteries. At the front there was a labyrinth of huge white enameled cubes. These were the stoves and washing machines. I remember walking among them, the total absence of visual stimulation and how unhappy I was. In the back of the store there was a small room in constant chaos, and in the back of that room a small loft that could be reached with narrow wooden steps. The size of the place was good for me but it was filled with cascading piles of discarded order forms with carbons and copies and it was not something I could play with. So even in the store, although I was with my parents, I was bored out of my mind.
Once however, on one of these rare occasions I went to the store, a small boy my age coming from the street asked me to follow him and I went without my mother asking any question. He took me to a toilet in some courtyard nearby and showed me his penis. He pushed the foreskin back and what I saw reminded me of a bubble from a pink bubble gum. “Oh,” I remember thinking, “this is how boys urinate.” And to show him how I urinated I sat on the toilet and tried to make water. And that was all. I had no inkling there was such a thing as sex. Mother let me go, didn’t ask where I had gone when I came back so I suspect that this little episode was her idea.
When I was alone in the apartment and heard her step approaching in the hallway I vibrated with longing and happiness but I was always disappointed because when she came in she never looked at me and I followed her with my eyes, waiting for the blessed moment when she would deign to pay attention to me. But sitting on the floor, I saw her feet much more than her face. This might be the origin of my passion for shoes, the shoe as a mother symbol, where the sensual pleasure with a good shoe compensates for the sensual deprivation when instead of being in my mother's arms I was alone sitting on the floor looking at her feet.
FEAR OF GAS
In addition to being alone all day, there was the fear of gas. I had heard my mother talk to my sisters about how one could get asphyxiated if the pilot light in the water heater was blown off. The gas filled the room and you could die. So when I was alone I was afraid that the pilot light would stop burning and I would die and I climbed on a stool to check the light several times. The little blue flame looked very menacing to me. It told me "I could disappear any time and kill you". I solved the problem by going out on the balcony that looked on the courtyard. From there I could see the back door of my father's store and I spent hours, rain or shine, staring at it in the hope that my mother would appear. This never happened.
During the gas scare I watched everybody’s face at night, particularly my parents’, to detect fear in their expression but didn’t see it. After a few successive observations I stopped being afraid but I wondered why mom had spoken about a deadly danger that didn’t really exist.
My sisters who were going to school got a lot more attention than I did. Mother fussed with them, smiled to them, talked to them, asking questions about their day at school. I looked forward to going to school just so my mother would find me worthy of her interest.
But when the day arrived I was not prepared to deal with other children my age. In kindergarten I think I was fearful and withdrawn because I was unaccustomed to people not playing power plays with me. The lack of aggression threw me off. I was already accustomed to being the underdog, and without at least one top dog I didn't know how to relate with children my age. In the absence of a hierarchy, I was lost. Even the teacher seemed very strange to me. What? A soft voice? And she gave us fun things to do? What kind of a place was that?
I expected that my going to school would make me more interesting to my mother, but instead of getting more of her attention I got even less: now I had to dress by myself in the morning, and fast. Overnight I passed from being left alone for days on end to a regimented schedule. After doing nothing for months, every minute was filled with things to do, and at home things had to be done fast, and there was no way to alter the program. You had to pay attention to the orders and execute them immediately. Agnès, the first-born is four years older than me. Four years make a big difference at that age, but I don't remember my mother made any allowance for me and at home I was expected to follow orders as competently and as fast as my oldest sister. And since I was neither as fast nor as competent, I was made to feel ashamed and inadequate.
There was not much time to play at home, and even then, games were organized and you had to follow rules, there was an authority in everything. When there were competitive games I always lost.
GOING TO KINDERGARTEN WITHOUT PANTIES ON
From my entrance in kindergarten, I was expected to be autonomous, I was expected not to need my mother. The worst part was that I had to dress by myself. This made me feel very lonely. She could have taught me to dress myself before school began, but no, everything new came at once. I knew my mother was exasperated to have to tie my shoelaces every day.
Before entering kindergarten I was toilet trained and this was accomplished by inspiring in me a burning sense of shame about my ca-ca and about this region of the body concerned with elimination.
So when I became unable to take the tension and the loneliness of my new kindergarten life, I wanted to send a message to my mother that she should pay more attention to me. But I couldn't just speak to her since she was not paying attention. Besides I didn’t have the words to express myself. And when she was silent and not occupied, which was rare, what with the new baby, there were often these two vertical furrows above her nose that meant “Do not disturb.”
It had to be an adult who would tell her to pay more attention to me, I concluded. And the adult who could do it was the sister at school, but how would I convince the sister to tell my mother? That was the question, and the answer came: if the sister found out that I wasn't wearing any underwear, she would certainly draw my mother's attention to it and my mother would pay more attention to me. Since the body parts covered by panties are so shameful, my bare buttocks would make a scandal. So one morning I didn't put my panties on and went to kindergarten. I had not planned how the sister would find out that I wasn't wearing any panties. I just hoped that she would find out accidentally in the course of the day. But I had not anticipated how uncomfortable it was to sit on a wooden chair on my bare butt. Plus I was cold and I knew I wouldn't be able to tolerate the cold and discomfort as long as it would take for the sister to realize. So at the first morning recess, in order to put an end to my misery, I went next to the bathroom door, stood against the wall and lifted my skirt to show that I wasn't wearing any panties. Some children saw me, and other children, wondering what the other ones were looking at, came to see too. When the sister arrived the whole class was looking at me with my skirt lifted, and I felt the excruciating pain of having to expose myself in such a shameful state just so that my mother would pay attention to me. But I knew deep inside that the shame was more my mother's than mine, because she would be ashamed when the sister would tell her I went to school without wearing any panties. If I could go out without panties on, it was the proof that my mother didn't pay enough attention to me.
But all I gained for my trouble was that before we would go out in the morning, my mother would check at the door if I was wearing underwear with that disapproving frown on her face. I felt humiliated. She never told me anything about the incident, but I felt that she was seething. From then on I was branded as morally defective, and it gave my sisters an excuse for tormenting me even more.
I believe it's a legitimate expectation for a child at that age that her mother help her get dressed, and in my case this need was not met, producing anxiety. But my anxiety was increased exponentially by the fact that I had to hide a certain part of my body but I didn't know why, but it was horrible and it looked like if I failed to hide it, all hell would break loose. I wanted to know why it was so important, so much more important than any other part of the body that is also covered by clothing, but she wouldn't tell me, and what really upset me the most was that she didn't seem to care what would happen to me if I failed to hide it, because she let me get dressed alone.
By going to kindergarten without a panty, I think I was also trying to provoke an explanation from my mother why exactly etc. I didn't feel comfortable having to do something without knowing why, particularly something obviously so important. Until my mother brought it up, it had been a matter of indifference.
Like the other incidents of the same nature, where I had “acted-out”, they were last-resort attempts to communicate with my mother regarding matters of importance to me, to obtain guidance and information, after all attempts at verbal exchange had failed. Particularly at that age when I was unable to express myself verbally.
But contrary to my expectation, there never was a little chat between me and mom, and my anxiety remained unrelieved. Yet this acting-out had cost me so much in added anxiety, physical discomfort and shame. And all hell did break loose.
My father and my sisters never said a word about it but from their attitude I could feel that they knew. It was contempt that they showed me, cold, distant contempt that colored from now on all their interactions with me, and contempt that quieted their conscience when they tormented me. They could always tell themselves "After all she has this character flaw so what I do to her is not really wrong." With this rationalization, they indulged their envy towards me because I was prettier, and later I was good at creative writing, music and graphic arts.
Maybe this was the incident that gave my mother the excuse to have the dentist drill my teeth.
From these early memories, I conclude that my mother used techniques of mind control similar to those used by the Nazis against whoever it was they didn't like, not only Jews but also intellectuals etc. etc., and that technique is called "rape of the senses", whereby the victim cannot escape conditions where the five senses are assaulted by detestable stimuli. And that the conditions of living I find myself in [NYC 1990-1999] can come under the same heading, and moreover it has been somewhat the same refrain all my life. For that reason I feel like calling this early period of my life "Little Auschwitz". Even the fear of death-by-gas was there, with the pilot light of the water-heater!
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Copyright 2003 by Brigitte Picart - May be printed for fair use.
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