Saturday, June 18, 2011

To Be a Protector...

I have a strong protective instinct toward the people I love, and I can get easily riled up when it comes to protecting my family.  That's easy to understand.  But what about when "protecting my family" means shielding them from other parts of my family?  That isn't easy at all.

My mother called me today.  That was my first clue that something was wrong, because in the last year, I'd guess she's called me maybe four times.

My second clue that something was wrong was her tone of voice.  Before I even registered her words, I recognized her tone.  It's the tone I used last week when a large stray dog was approaching me, Joel and Sophie on our way to the park.  I recognized it then as the tone my mother always used when she wanted to pull me in to diffuse a tense situation that was escalating quickly toward violence.

In the world I grew up in, those situations were plentiful.  I grew to know the tone well.

In today's call, she immediately started telling me that my brother was yelling and banging on her desk, and she'd just called because she didn't know who else to call and she wanted him to back away from her.  I heard my brother shouting over her that he wanted to tell me his side of the story, and something about having marks on him from something she had done.

It was a completely insane situation: Me being called in to referee a possibly physical and certainly verbally abusive situation between my mother and my brother, who live together in a house 700+ miles away from me.

I hung up and called the police.

And then I spent the rest of the day wondering if that was the right thing to do...
and if they had settled down and stopped their fight...
and what in the hell did she call me for, anyway...
and how long can their situation last before one of them really hurts the other one...
and how am I supposed to take my kids out there to visit them next week...

I have an answer for that last: I'm not.  As I see before me every single day, Sophie is sensitive and terrifyingly impressionable.  Being exposed to violence, instability and abuse at this age can leave lifelong scars.  I know this, because I bear many such scars.  And I will not put my children in such an environment.  I will do what I must to protect them from those realities until they are old enough to handle them.

My mother and brother live together in constant conflict, fueled by their poverty, their conflicting personalities, and by the mood swings they both experience as a result of bipolar disorder.  The situation is abusive, unhealthy, toxic.  And too, too familiar.  It echoes all of the unhappy, traumatic experiences of my childhood.

But I don't have to live in that anymore.  I got out, thanks to God's guiding hand, the Jester family's open arms, and a hell of a lot of determination to do so.  But even though I got out, I feel like I'm standing in a doorway between the realm of abusive relationships and the realm of healthy ones.  It feels to me, tonight, like my mother and brother are back where I was, and I am standing in a cleft that leads to the other side, where I live with Greg and our kids, and even though my life all happens "out here" where things are okay, I am still connected to "back there."

I feel like I always will be, and that the work of protecting my family requires me to stand here, like a barrier between two worlds.

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