General Non-Fiction posted May 4, 2021

This work has reached the exceptional level
abusing a child emotionally


by Mary Vigasin

Looking back, I think the only reason Carol, and I became friends is that neither one of us had ever had a close friend.
We were both 18 and had just started our first job working in a car radio factory assembly line.
Carol was a petite, attractive woman with very thin overly teased brown hair. What took away from her appeal was her heavy-handed makeup. She drew her eyebrows with a severe line, and her dark blue eye shadow and rosy cheeks looked plastered to her delicate features.

She was an introvert, so I think our personalities meshed well. She told me that as a child, she spent six months in a body cast due to scoliosis. Over the years, as I got to know her well, it was an unseen cast that kept her bound up emotionally.

One of her deep concerns is what other people would think of her. The opinion of these unknown people is what she valued the most. At times, it nearly immobilized her from leaving the house or participating in any outside activities.

She deeply resented her brother and sister as they, in her mind, seemed to be more loved and favored by her parents.
Her dad was a recovering alcoholic. Her mother was a practical woman involved heavily in Al-Anon. She easily dismissed every complaint or problem that Carol brought to her as irrelevant and would hand her an Al-Anon pamphlet for a solution.

I do not remember ever seeing the family sitting together in the living room watching TV or sharing a meal together. Instead of interacting with his family, her dad would have his portable radio tuned all day to a ballgame or a talk radio show. Every night after dinner, he would disappear to go to a meeting or listen to the radio in his room.
I did not feel a great deal of affection generating from that apartment.

She met Carl through her mother's friend, and her engagement with him came quickly. I have no doubt that she loved him, but at the same time, she confessed to me that he was the only man she dated. Her reasoning was that with his disability, she had to settle for him, as no one else would be attracted to her. Carl had a birth defect, in which his body and bone structure were weak and uneven. He needed to sit on a pillow to be at table height.

A year after their marriage, Baby Sarah arrived,

Sarah was not only a cute baby, but she was really beautiful with curly black hair, long eyelashes, and rosy cheeks.
Being the first grandchild on both sides of the family, she quickly became the center of the universe for her Nana, Grampa, Nonni, and Papa.

Carol became angry that so much attention was being paid to the baby. She complained to me that the only reason they came over was to see the baby, and she felt ignored. I tried to explain that it was normal for them to be attracted to Sarah. It was then, I saw the first flash of anger directed at me. "Don't tell me that. She is not that special!" I chalked it up to post-partum.

Then little Sarah made a big mistake; She became a person. She was walking and talking and was now able to express her likes and dislikes either by voice or gesture.
This was the beginning of the disintegration not only of our friendship but in Carol's relationship with her daughter.

Sarah did not like her milk-soaked cereal and would either make a face or would push away her bowl, Carol would put the cereal aside, and try to make Sarah eat it for lunch. Sarah was as stubborn as her mother and refused to eat it. The same bowl and cereal would be on her highchair the next morning. Sarah still refused to eat the cereal, and it infuriated her mother. No matter how many cereal bowls were placed in front of her, Sarah refused to finish the entire bowl, and so the punishment cycle would begin.

For punishment, Carol stripped Sarah's bed and made her sleep on the bare mattress. Sarah would not give in to her mother and never would finish her cereal bowl. Making a face or even Carol thinking she made a face would result in further punishment.
All of Sarah's toys would be given away. Going into her room, I found that only a bare mattress was left. I tried talking to Carol about being so tough on a little girl, Carol's response was "When I got a little girl, I was expecting someone sweet and precious, and look what I got - a real devil."
When I defended Sarah, Carol would accuse me of liking her daughter more than her.

I approached Carol's mother to talk about Sarah's treatment, she walked away from me. But her mannerism gave me the impression, she understood the situation but did not want to get involved.
Her husband Carl was not any help. He got angry at me for interfering with his family.

It was then I realized that Carol's temperament was more controlling and angrier within the family than I realized. The flash of anger she showed me were in fact, full-grown hurricanes with Carl and the family.

Admittedly, our friendship was fraying, but I tried to keep it intact for Sarah's sake. To give them both a breather from each other, I would take Sarah every Saturday for trips or just to visit my house to play. It worked only for three months, as our Saturday trips then became a new way to punish Sarah. I think the reason the visits stopped is that Carol saw that Sarah seemed to be enjoying herself, and it infuriated her.

Carol once hired a therapist to straighten Sarah out. The therapist soon realized that the problem was with the mother and not the daughter. When he requested that Carol should join the sessions, she immediately fired him and did not seek additional help.

Then Jimmy was born. He was a handsome little boy, but was not as stubborn as Sarah, and neither did he have an understanding of his mother's temperament. Jimmy cried out repeatedly from his own bare mattress: "What did I do? Tell me what I did?" He was terrified of his mom and was a kid constantly trying to please her. He never really did anything wrong, nor did he ever find the secret to satisfying his mom.

When he was five, I came to the house. I was sitting in the kitchen, and Jimmy, like any kid his age, came running up to greet me. She slammed the door on him, Carol yelled out to Jimmy. "This is my company, not yours!" I could hear him crying from behind the door.

My sister Rose rented a trailer for a week in Disneyworld. Rose had an eight-year-old boy, Tony, and since Sarah was the same age, she invited Sarah and me along for the trip. Rose figured that one child would not enjoy the rides alone. Carol allowed Sarah to go, as she put it: "At least, I will have a week of peace with Sarah gone."

Looking at the pictures of the trip, the first-day pictures show an unsmiling, somber Sarah posing a foot away from Tony. But by day three, there are images of a smiling and happy little girl with an arm around Tony's shoulder. After that trip, Tony and Sarah developed a lifelong friendship.

At the end of our trip, I dropped Sarah home, and her mother warned her: "Just because you got your way all week, don't think you are getting away with anything at home."

Over the years, I tried to keep my friendship with Carol intact, so that I could at least see the kids, but I only was really allowed to come over once a month, my conversations between me and Carol seemed forced.

After my marriage, I moved to the same town as Carol and Carl. Admittedly, trying to protect the kids from Carol had taken a toll on our friendship. While I invited her to the house, she declined every invitation, but she did allow Jimmy and Sarah to come over once, and to report back to her.

When Sarah was sixteen, she left her house and asked to live with me. I called Carol to tell her where Sarah was and she does not want to go home. "Good riddance to her." Carol then hung up the phone. Years later, I found out the real reason Sarah wanted to leave. One of her new punishments from Carol was hurting the dog.

Carol got a dog and kept the unfortunate animal tied to the back door all day on a leash. When she wanted something from Sarah or became angry with her, Carol would tighten the leash on the dog, even to the point of lifting it off the floor.

Sarah stayed with me for two years until she turned 18. She never gave me cause to punish or be angry with her. Well, she was not perfect. I would need a backhoe to get through the mess in her bedroom! She was getting good grades in school and would spend her weekends hanging out with Tony.

I found Sarah to be insecure and always questioning what people would say or think about her.
There is one thing about her living with us that I wonder now if I was unfair to Sarah. I got a job that was about 10 miles away, and I would hit heavy traffic every day. We also were unhappy with the neighborhood we lived in, so we moved. It would mean for Sarah, a daily long trip by subway and bus to school. If I had taken responsibility for her, I should have thought of her having to commute to school.

Once she graduated, she got a job in a deli to earn money to further her education. She always sought my or Tony's advice, except this one time. She fell "in love" with her boss. Joe was 10 years her senior, and she thought he was the most caring man on the planet. Of course, I tried to warn her and told her he was not good for her, and he was taking advantage of a young inexperienced girl. I did let him know of my disapproval and that he was doing harm to her. But, as with any young woman looking for love, she left with him and later gave birth to a son.

Sarah turned out to be a great mom. When Joe started drinking and treating her badly, she left him. At least, Joe did contribute financially to his son's welfare, and she worked to support herself and her son.

Sarah did find another man who treats her like a queen and is very involved in raising her son with her. Ironically, it was Joe's twin brother.

There is an image of Sarah and her son that I will always keep with me. He was six years old, and they visited with me at my sister's summer trailer. She and her son were lying in a hammock while she was reading or helping him read a story.

Now I only see or hear from Sarah every three or four years or so. I did not know she even got married until her last visit three years ago. It was their first wedding anniversary, and she wanted to show me her wedding pictures. Truthfully, I was hurt that I did not receive an invitation to the wedding, or at least have been told about the happy event. Carol had passed away by then, but I wonder though if I remind Sarah too much of the rough times and memories. She told me she wanted to keep her childhood secret from her husband.

But one thing I do know, that when first living with us, I found Sarah to be insecure and fearful. She is now a happy, strong, and confident woman. When she feels insecure or vulnerable and needs advice, she will reach out to me and Tony. Since we both only hear from her occasionally, and that is only when she is bubbling with good news. We both know that she now has her feet planted firmly on the ground.

I sometimes wonder if I could have been more encouraging to Carol and help boost her confidence.

At least, Carl and I exchange Christmas Cards each year.

Child Abuse contest entry


Nonni is the Italian word for grandmother. I changed the names of Carol and her family. Rose and Tony are real, as is Priscella since she is now deceased.
Child abuse does not always mean hitting or starving. Emotional and psychological abuse can be just as damaging to a child.
Some of you have inquired about Jimmy. I had not seen him since we left the town, however, I do ask Sarah about him. He and his girlfriend have a young daughter and live in Carl's house so Carl would not be alone.
Pays one point and 2 member cents.

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