Hurting people Hurt people
A true story by Kathleen McElwaine
My mom was the most beautiful person in the world and my dad was the most important person in the world. Both of them so full of love that our family was perfect. My older sister was just like my mom and my little sister was little and cute and I was well, I was the middle and still looking for my place in the family. I was often told I was clumsy and needed to learn to sit still and listen. My mom would say I did not apply myself like my older sister did and if I tried harder I could be more like her.
I stayed busy, always motion. The motion could be as simple as pencil in hand scribbling on a piece of paper or drawing lines and circles with my toe in the dirt. I just needed something to do. If I was with my dad I was happy. We had horses to take care of in our barn at the house and being in the barn with my dad was my happiest of places, but regardless, I could not please him. I think he wanted to teach me things but at this stage of my life, I must have been unteachable, because he would try and quickly I would do something wrong that would cause him to say he was disappointed. He never raised his voice or spanked me…he just ignored me. All of a sudden I would realize he had stopped talking to me, and knew he had given up on me learning what he had been teaching. But still…I would rise early in the morning to be sure I could watch out the back porch door to watch him as he walked through the barn door. Once he was inside the barn, he would not hear me because he was busy feeding the horses and he did not tell me to go to the house, because I was already in the barn. I loved being with my dad, mainly because we had a secret together, a secret that has formed me more than he could have ever known.
My dad was the most important person in my world.
After breakfast I would get ready for school and line up with my 2 sisters to walk the 1/2 mile to school. On cold days we rode a bus, but I remember the walks the most. Walking into the school my sisters had friends, they would walk through the front door and see someone and soon I was walking down the hallway alone.
I remember one day on the playground, Sheryl was picking her team and for some reason I was standing in her view as her eyes searched who she would pick for her tetherball team. I pictured myself being good at tetherball and since she was my dads good friends daughter we had played in each others backyards lots of times. Our eyes met and she said I could be on her team. I ran to stand beside her and then it was her turn to choose someone else, she chose and the person did not want to be on her team…this continued every time she chose someone they would say no they did not want to play. She looked at me and said she did not want me on her team and for me to go away. I was accustom to the rejection and I did as she asked and then she was able to build a team. I was so hurt. It was wrong for her to ask me then decide she did not want me. I’m certain I kicked everything and tore up my scribbles and frowned all the rest of that day. When I got home I remember lying on my bed crying and being mad at my sisters and wanting to hurt them if they talked to me.
When daddy came home and I appeared in the barn as he was feeding the horses he spoke to me I must have said something too loud and startled the horse he was feeding. The horse jerked his head up from the feed trough and pushed my dad against the stall gate. He did not get hurt but it made him ignore me.
After dinner and daddy was sitting in his chair I went to him because I thought if I told him about what Sheryl had done to me at school maybe he would tell her dad and she would be in trouble for her meanness. I told daddy about it all, I cried too, so it took a long time, he was patient and listened until he understood and then he said, I will keep your secret because I know “anytime I am hurting as bad as you are hurting right now I can always be sure I need to forgive someone” and if you will think about our secret you will know who you need to forgive.
I did not understand who I needed to forgive but he just kept on saying the same thing over and over again, saying each time that he would keep my secret. Then he said I needed to call Sheryl and talk to her, but I should not mention what happened at school, because by now she would have forgotten all about it and I needed to do the same thing. I did as he said and he was right, she never mentioned it, so I did not.
I spent a lot of time wondering what he meant when he said “anytime you are hurting as bad as you are hurting right now you can always be sure you need to forgive someone” and I wondered what the secret was that he was keeping but I felt special that we had a secret. I pondered our conversation often, trying to understand.
My first day at a new school in 7th grade, a girl with friends standing all together pointed to me and made fun of my clothes. I fought back the tears all day and when I got home I cried on my bed until I decided I should tell my mom about the mean girls at the new school and how they had made fun of me when actually they were the ones that did not know how to dress or act and I was not like them and did not want to go back to that school.
I thought my mom would understand because it seemed like “girl talk” like she had with my older sister sometimes. I started to tell her about it and it made my mom unhappy with me. She said I was gossiping and I needed to consider how hurtful what I had said was. She said I was selfish and needed to learn to think about others rather than always thinking about myself. I heard her words, but I did not understand why she had said that to me and I did not know what she was telling me to do. I kept asking her what she meant and after several days she told me she wanted to find volunteer work for me to do, maybe that would teach me to think about others and make me stop being so selfish.
On Saturday she drove me to a place that looked outside like a hospital but it was all single story buildings and it had lots of little houses all around it. We walked through the doors, one at a time. Each time we had to wait for a door to be unlocked. When we finally got in a lady met us and started talking to me about being a volunteer. She said I could learn how to make crochet dolls for some of the children at the hospital. I was not very good at crocheting so I did not know why my mom had thought that could be a good thing for me to volunteer to do. Then the lady asked if I wanted to see some of the children that might get the gifts I made.
We walked into a large room, it had steel baby beds that had sides and a top that made the bed a cage. The walls were white and hard, the ceiling was low and white, the floor was worn and the noise was loud with echo’s of sounds I did not recognize but I knew the children held inside were making the noises that echoed through the room and bounced off of the walls. I was terrified of what was happening. We walked down a hall with windows in the doors and more sites like I saw in the big room, it seemed endless and I was glad I did not look into any of the children’s face. Because they were not looking at me. Then we followed the women through doors waiting each time for the door to be unlocked and finally we were outside. Then we went to see one of the small houses standing separate from the large hospital like building. She opened the door to the house and I could see a couch with crocheted dolls. She said children lived in this house with one of the workers and that the children were at school right now. She explained that the children that lived here were not as ill as the other children we had seen.
We got to our car. My mom said she knew crocheting dolls for those children was not a good volunteer job for me, because I did not want to practice and learn how to crochet. All I could do was cover my face and cry. My heart was breaking for the children I saw, I did not understand why my mom kept saying I was selfish because I wanted to help the children we had seen, but I did not understand how if I was good at crocheting dolls for them would help them.
It was not long before she found an organization that needed volunteers my age to help with field trips with blind or deaf or crippled people my age. I loved doing this volunteer work on Saturday afternoons. The place was called The Recreation Center for the Physically Limited. My favorite thing to do was to go bowling. I found that when I worked with the blind people when they were getting ready to drop the bowling ball for it to roll down the floor and knock over then pens that I could get so excited about the possibilities of the ball making its destination that I could have everyone laughing about my description. I would say now throw that ball as hard as you can from between your legs and it will roll right down the middle to the wild blue yonder and knock every pen over so you and I would call the bowler by name will be the best bowler in this whole place. Everybody always clapped when the bowler released the ball so nobody ever heard the ball as it went into the gutters. Everybody was a winner including me.
Each time I got my feelings hurt I thought about my mom and how she said I was a selfish person and how I needed to think about others and how daddy had said “anytime you are hurting as bad as you are hurting right now you can always be sure you need to forgive someone”