Over the Garden Wall

  1. How did emotional neglect play out in your childhood?

    1. I remember this one moment really clearly, I don’t have to dig deep for it. I had just cut my wrists, scratched my wrists really, and I was sick with guilt and fear and rejection and betrayal and humiliation, I hated myself. I was just so angry with myself and I was sick, physically ill, with guilt. And I asked my mom to check me out of school. She didn’t ask why, or say yes, I texted something like, ‘I feel sick, can you check me out early?’ and she said something like, ‘Are you sure? do you really need me to?’ and I said ‘yes,’ or something along those lines and then she was silent. I didn’t get another message. Then I got home and I went to her, crying, and I told her what I’d done. And she just looked at me like she hated me, like she was so mad that I was making a problem for her. And I asked her for a hug and she barely nodded, and I’ll never forget how it felt, her arms stiff and her hands barely touching my shoulders. I remember that despite how guilty and awful I felt I was like terrified in that moment, I was horrified. I knew this was wrong, that this wasn’t the way she was supposed to act right now and I just was like, humiliated and alone and terrified. It was so empty. I’ve never forgotten that. And I think that’s the most blatant, the most obvious one, because it was a moment where I, a child, desperately needed reassurance and affection and was just totally shot down. I mean it made me dizzy how aloof she was. I remember I was really cold and empty in my chest.
      A lot of the time it played out in, like, she’d forget to do things. Sometimes she’d forget to pick me up from school, or she’d forget what I was doing in school, or she’d forget me at church, or the store, or wherever. She’d forget if I was home at meal time, she’d forget what kind of food I liked and disliked.
      And honestly, there’s overlap there with how my dad was, but he was different. He worked away from home, but, I never got the sense that he absolutely had to. I got the sense, at least, that he liked being away from home. That’s the only time I really felt safe, when he was away. He scared the absolute shit out of me. But still, if we’re talking about emotional neglect, I mean, I never had a relationship with this man. I never felt connected to him, or loved by him, or like he even cared about me in the slightest. Sometimes he’d pay attention if I was doing well in sports or school, but I pretty adamantly stopped participating in both as I got older, partially to avoid him and partially out of just the exhaustion of my life. And honestly, I know, logically, that this counts as emotional neglect in a textbook way, but to be honest, I did not feel like I had a father. I did not grow up thinking of this man as ‘Dad;’ literally the only reason I called him Dad was because he’d get so pissed if I didn’t. But I didn’t think of him as ‘Dad.’ He was gone all the time, I really feel more like I had an absent father than a neglectful one.
      But I’ve never thought of him as neglectful, not like I have with my mom. With him, I think ‘absent.’ ‘Gone.’ And, like I said, when he was physically gone, that’s the only time I felt at ease. He was awful.
      About both of them, I can say that I never felt supported by either of them. About both of them, I’ll say I felt such an immense pressure to perform exceptionally and that it didn’t matter that I was drowning in my life, all that mattered was how things looked (my dad felt that way more), and how my needs were irritating and obtrusive (my mom was more like that).
      I was alone a lot. Through all the big things. I had to navigate on my own a lot, had to figure out a lot of difficult things on my own. My relationship with them really began shifting in high school, when I began realizing that I absolutely couldn’t rely on them for support. I was able to rely on myself a little bit, as my mind was maturing and as I was gaining independence.
      It’s been that way for so long, I honestly don’t remember what it was like to expect things from them, to expect love or warmth or compassion or interest or anything.
      It’s strange to think about it.

  2. How did the emotional neglect play out across family dynamics?

    1. Oh boy, well, I’m not totally sure, honestly, because I got wrapped up in my own pain pretty early on. My older sisters, to me anyway, they seemed to just fall over themselves for our parents approval. They were perfect babysitters, they’d make dinner at home and lunches for all of the younger kids. They competed in sports and broke bones and tore muscles over my dad’s approval. That’s what it looked like to me, anyway, from the outside.
      I wonder how they felt about me, from the outside. Sometimes they acted like they liked me and sometimes they didn’t want anything to do with me. I guess that’s pretty normal for siblings, but they were my anchors, especially Lizy. They were my parents, really.
      I was beastly to my younger brother. God, it embarrasses me and it hurts me to think about it. I’m just, I just am in horror over my own mistreatment of him. I made a promise to myself, as an adult. I’m never going to fight with him ever again.
      I felt really protective of my youngest brother and my two little sisters. I don’t think I ever did a good job at that, but I felt it. I felt responsible for them. I hurt when they hurt. I was happy for their successes.
      But I was mean, too. I was just so mean sometimes. That’s how I coped, I think, by just being a dick. And sometimes, I was really sweet. I was really good and present. And I don’t know exactly what it was that caused the difference. I still don’t, honestly. It’s always felt like something that has to do with the weather or the alignment of the planets, not something I could control.

  3. How well do you feel your emotional needs were met?

    1. I can’t overstate that I did not feel supported at all. Any problem I had was met with contempt and resistance. I do not ever remember going to them with a problem and feeling supported or loved afterwards. I remember they would just yell at me for hours, huddled in a ball on the floor at the end of their bed, and they would just yell for hours. God, I don’t know how I survived. And maybe that’s really the core of how I felt as a kid; they did not feel like passive agents in my life, I conceptualized them as antagonistic and to be avoided. Both of them seemed to genuinely delight in causing me harm at times. Both of them said just awful, cruel things to me, both because they (apparently) thought they were true and because they wanted to say it. I would see that not only were my emotional needs not met, but that my emotions in general were fair game. I never said it or thought it this way, but I was prey in that home. I hid in shadows, I avoided places where I knew they were, I absolutely just did not fuck with them. They both scared me, but, as a kid, I was much more forgiving of my mom. I mean it’s a fucking mess, the amount of untangling that needs to go on here. I felt like she was my dad’s victim, too, and she encouraged all of her kids to see her as a victim. She was bedridden for a lot of my childhood, just laid in bed with an illness that was entirely self-diagnosed. And then, when it was gone, she brought it up for years afterward, all the pain she had been in, all the suffering she endured. Whenever she talked about suffering, I always got the distinct feeling she was talking about me. And she’s said it to me, point blank, that she regrets being a mom. She told me she feels like she wasted her life. At that point, I was old enough to tell her to shut up, but still. God in heaven. Imagine saying that to your kid, even if it is true. And she said it to like four of my siblings, told five of her kids that she regretted being a mom and it’s like, shit, Sandy, kind of late in the game don’t you think? You could’ve run off to Vegas or some shit and joined the circus, you’re the one who chose to stay and be miserable. And how is that my problem? How am I supposed to react to that? And that’s fucking obvious, the way I’m supposed to react is, ‘No, you were a great mom! All your other kids are little bitches,’ but I’m over here like, I also regret you becoming a mother! I also wish you had put all of us little bastards up for adoption and fucked off to Key Largo or something. God, at least then I would have a tangible event to blame all my shit on, plus, what a lesson in finding your bliss.
      Sorry, I’m ranting.
      My emotional needs were not met at all, and they were often used as leverage against me so that those two crazy people could get what they want.

  4. How has your CEN (Childhood Emotional Neglect) affected adult relationships?

    1. I mean, negatively. I avoid intimate relationships, mostly. I get immoderate, really, in love. I heard someone turn that phrase a while back and I love it! Immoderate is such a polite word but here it’s practically a euphemism. I get clingy and weird. I mean, just bananas. And it happens like instantly, where I’ll meet someone who’s kind and good looking and they’ll be nice to me and I’ll be like, oh my god, where have you been all my life?
      I’m sensitive to not being wanted. It triggers me. Rejection is such a horrible feeling, for anyone, it almost feels self-absorbed to lament on it, but I mean it sucks. Nothing else feels so lonely. Nothing else makes you want to disappear into the void faster than someone’s contemptuous ‘no.’
      God, and pity? Forget about it. i feel pitied by everyone, acquaintances, friends, strangers. I just feel so despised and unwanted by the world at large. And nothing seems to fix that. It makes me uptight to talk about it, like, it’s having a physical reaction. Like, up to this point, I could relax a little, ponder out my answers some and sort of feel clean in the process of unwinding but this? I feel panicked. Even just thinking about it is terrifying. Isn’t that weird? That’s a thing people say, but it’s true! It terrifies me to think about it. The mere act of thinking of rejection causes me to be afraid. And I mean, god knows how that’s played out. God knows what my ex’s and former friends say about me. Probably nothing even mean, just ‘jesus christ that boy was fucked up, poor dude.’
      I sort of do that on purpose, actually. Well, in a roundabout sort of way. I’ve become chronically dependent on people, to take care of my basic needs even. And I do this like game where I perform this really meek, humble, grateful down on his luck type guy. And I buy into it a lot, too, when I need something. But there’s always a moment where I take it too far and someone glimpses the real thing, the sort of predatory way I use pity. Like, no matter how good you are at concealing yourself, people who watch are gonna see the slips.
      Relationships are a major pain point for me. I can’t really even engage in the thought that I’m lonely or miserable because it scares me so bad I can’t keep thinking straight. I just-

    2. Well, let me explain it like this. I’ve become aware of this thing that we do, as people, and we engage in narratives. We all tell ourselves stories. And when you’re tired or stressed or scared, telling yourself a story is the path of least resistance. It’s the easiest thing to do. And the stories I’ve been telling myself are stories about victimhood and despair and hopelessness. But even all this nihilism can’t block out what I really feel, that I should be doing good, that I should be striving to be better than I was yesterday, that self-work and self-awareness are worthy of struggle. When I’m scared, at the end of my rope, whatever, I tell myself stories, like everyone does. It’s only now that I’m beginning to wonder why I tell myself some of these stories, because the fear has made it unapproachable. I’m still not sure I can even get close enough to see what stories I tell myself when I’m stressed and scared because, I don’t know how to approach that.

  5. How did you CEN affect your relationships growing up?

    1. I got left behind a lot. No friends. No after-school hang outs. I was alone a lot. I was alone almost all the time. I remember the quiet, the profound silence of looking around and being utterly alone. No one speaking or crying out. It felt thrilling, it still does sometimes. Quiet. It’s very close to peace, honestly. But it wasn’t happy, not really. It was the absence of fear and pain, but it wasn’t euphoric. Mostly, the thrill came from wondering what would happen if I never went back, if there were never another peep in all the world for as long as I lived. I felt like I was looking over a subtle cliff, and I was never sure if I’d fallen off of it, but I knew something was bad about being so alone. My heart craved for someone and starving it in that way, self-isolating, it made me feel stronger, but I knew, in that rush of fear and excitement I got looking over empty parks and quiet streets and silent rooms, I knew from how I reacted to it physically that it was a bad thing somehow. I think I get that better now; I was training myself to be alone. I only had a few close friends growing up and I lost those when my family moved towns when I was seventeen.

  6. What do you think is the biggest obstacle that your CEN presents to you now?

    1. I self-isolate, still. I have trouble regulating my emotions. I feel disconnected from myself in a really profound way, like I’m never really inhabiting my body. I know that’s a thing a lot of trans women talk about, but still, I don’t, a lot of the time. I just feel like I’m near it or puppetting it, but not often do I feel that oneness with it. I want to reconnect to myself, or connect for the first time. I don’t want to keep living in these conditions, and I want to be better.

  7. It’s late, we’ll go ahead and wrap up on this one:
    Rachel, how do you feel about being emotionally neglected?

    1. Well, like every other answer I’ve given, I can feel resistance first. Like, I’ll hear the question in my head and then I resist it, freeze up inside. Like, no, I’m not answering that. I’m worried, on one hand, that something will start pouring out of me, sadness or anger or desperation or something, and that I won’t be able to stop it. That it will just keep pouring out of me. I’m worried that I’ll sound foolish or whiny or like I’m copying other people’s answers to sound deep and tormented. I’ve always felt like a faker, like I wasn’t really all that hurt and that I was doing it to myself.
      It makes me feel worthless. I want to hide in shame so no one can see me, see what I really am. It makes me feel unloved. It makes me feel scared. It makes me angry, like ‘how could you!?’ but that dies pretty quickly, retreats into this seething, simmering resentment. It’s unfair. It’s so unfair. And I can’t make it right, I can’t even escape the people who did this to me. It’s infuriating. It makes me feel embarrassed, like, I’m an annoying child again, demanding attention and effort. I can just feel this annoyed sigh inside of me every time I think about it, like, get over it already. Nobody else is hurting from this anymore. I missed out on so much. I never had friends or a normal life. I was just living to keep everyone at arm’s length because that’s all that was safe, and I was so surrounded by people that I just had to fight and fight and fight for some fucking breathing room. I really got screwed over and nobody cares. I feel like garbage. I feel like trash. I hate myself. Blah-blah-blah. All of it.
      I wish someone had saved me. I used to dream about that, about another family, or a handsome boyfriend, or a good friend, finally realizing how bad it was and just reaching out a hand to me and I would be yanked out to safety in the nick of time.
      And now, horror of horrors, nobody has. Nobody wanted me.
      I sometimes think the exact phrase, “I am unloved.” I don’t mean in that ‘nobody loves me’ way, I just mean it like “Wow. I am alone. I am tolerated and put up with and allowed, but I am not loved.”
      Part of me still hopes, isn’t that dreadful, part of me still hopes for a knight in shining armor. Someone who will finally see how bad it is here and pull me to safety in the nick of time. “My hero,” I’ll cry, and bury my face into their chest. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” they’d plead. “I would’ve been here ages ago.”
      That’s enough, sometimes. Just to imagine it.
      It’s really the last thing that gives me hope anymore.

    2. Well, except that I hope to change that.

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Starward's picture

I believe . . . I most truly

I believe . . . I most truly and sincerely believe . . . that this is the profoundest act of personal courage and bravery that I have ever seen during my membership at postpoems.  For you to disclose this so candidly must have been a gut-wrenching experience; and your disclosure is destined (I am convinced of this) to help many, many others who have endured the same, or a similar, situation.

Although my parents adopted me when I was five months old, and apparently were glad to do so (as they were unable to produce children biologically), I began---by the time of kindergarten---to sense an adversarial relationship beginning to interfere.  By the time I entered adolescence, it was openly present (nothing I did pleased them, and every ambition I expressed was met with an assertion that I would fail).  In the autumn of my senior year, when I first admitted a passion for poetry, their disappointment in me was sealed, and they treated me like an alien in my own home.  I dared not tell them who I loved, and that this love was not a choice but an aspect of my nature.

Names are powerful terms, and in school my name was often abused as "Fairy Jerry," while, at home, my name was only used directly in criticism or discipline if I had committed one of the innumerable infractions against the multitude of rules in my home.  However, on July 10th of 1976, my First Beloved (during the c.b. craze of that time, when I was searching for a handle to use on the c.b. we had purchased the previous night) helped me to find the handle, or appellation, Starwatcher (which, of course, eventually evolved to Starward).  In a flash---a flash I could almost see and definitely felt---I knew I was free of my mundane name, and of the memories of the abuse in school, and, most importantly, free from the shadow of Lloyd and Betty.  Starwatcher became a voice on the c.b.; and because of a factory defect that allowed us to broadcast at a much higher wattage than allowed by the FCC, my voice was distorted to sound very deep and resonant, not the pipsqueak voice of the gangly, awkward, and clumsy kid who actually possessed it.  At face to face meetings, people always doubted, at first, that I was "the Starwatcher," but my Beloved, Cerulean, was always quick to vouch for this.

This is how I escaped the garden well that had confined me for nearly eighteen years.  If I have trespassed by responding too elaborately to your own words, please feel free to delete the comment.  I am only responding as I feel like a kindred spirit to some extent.

Enjoy effulgent days, and exquisite nights,

unto the exultations of Heaven.


rachel's picture

It is an exquisite sensation

It is an exquisite sensation to learn something new about someone who matters to you, more so when their experiences resonate with your own. 


I'm sorry that you were troubled by those who could not appreciate you. I am glad in that smug way that you found yourself regardless