The Birth of My Inner Child — The One Who Could Not Cry: Part 2
Who is your inner child? Is he or she born with you, or does your mind give birth to them out of the womb of your consciousness? Out of the subconscious imagination which absorbs all your fears and trauma of childhood?
My grandmother’s house had a very different feel from our home. It was not very warm or welcoming like other grandparents homes I had been in.
The house seemed cold and damp. The hardwood floors were older and creakier. The walls were covered by oddly colored wallpaper with unusual designs instead of paint.
The rooms were decorated with porcelain vases and figurines. Every vase was placed on white doilies. Every vase and every figurine had a specific place on a specific table. They were not to be touched.
There was no place for children to run and play. You had to be extra careful not to bump into a table and knock over a vase.
When we got to my grandmother’s house, I was angry but quiet. My grandmother asked if we were hungry. I respectfully replied, ‘No.’
I didn’t want to eat dinner and I didn’t want to talk to anyone, especially my father. I just wanted to go to bed. And so, I did.
The next morning, I woke both anxious and hungry. I wasn’t used to going to bed without eating. I hadn’t even remembered going to sleep. I was disoriented waking up at my grandmother’s house, in a strange room, with a porcelain doll staring at me.
On this morning, however, I did awake to the smell of breakfast and coffee. I jumped up and ran downstairs expecting to see my mother sitting at the table eating breakfast and drinking a cup of coffee, but she was nowhere to be found.
Instead, it was my grandmother who had fixed breakfast and coffee. She informed me that my father was gone to work, and my sister and I would be staying home with her today.
After eating breakfast and putting away the dishes, I asked my grandmother if she knew what was wrong with my mother. She looked at me and turned away saying, I would have to speak with my father regarding that question.
I asked her if she would take me to see my mother. She told me she would not be able to do that, and again I would have to talk to my father.
After breakfasting my sister and I were given very explicit instructions regarding what we could do and what we could not do. Where we could sit and where we could not sit. There was to be no running and playing inside the house. And if we behaved, we might be able to go outside after my father returned.
By late evening, my father had still not arrived at my grandmother’s house. I was getting more anxious by the minute. Up to this point in my life, I had never remembered going a whole day without seeing my mother. I started thinking she was going to be worried about us. She hadn’t even called. I began to feel she was in trouble, and she needed me.
I was sitting in the living room gazing out of the front window. Watching the cars coming down the street. Hoping to see my dad drive up with my mother in the car. My sister was sitting across from me, on the floor, drawing in a coloring book.
My grandmother was in the kitchen, in the back of the house, making dinner. I could see her busily passing by the kitchen doorway, moving pots and pans on the stove, and opening and closing the oven. I could smell the beefy flavor of a pot roast cooking. And I caught a subtle whiff of cornbread baking in the oven.
The phone rang. I heard my grandmother answer. I ran to ask her if that was my mother on the phone? “No!”, she said, and returned to her conversation.
I went back to my seat in the living room by the window.
From my seat in the living room, I could see my grandmother in the kitchen. She was cooking and talking on the phone. She wasn’t paying much attention to us in the living room. She seemed to have forgotten we were even there.
Just then my 5-year-old brain clicked.
The Great Escape
Now was my opportunity.
I motioned to my sister sitting across the room to follow me.
“Let’s go”, I said. She looked perplexed.
“Go where?”, she asked.
“To see Momma”, I responded.
I assured her that I knew how to get there and that she would be okay, but that we were going to have to walk. She looked worried as I put her coat on over her.
Despite her reluctance, my sister trusted me, as she always did. So, she took my hand and followed me out of the front door.
I had to open the heavy front door quietly and close it ever so slowly to prevent from being heard.
We slipped quietly down the stairs of the front porch and across the yard, seemingly undetected. I remember worrying that the crunching sound of dead leaves on the ground would give us away.
Off we scurried onto the sidewalk. I headed down the street to the first stop sign. Turn here, I remembered. This way would lead us straight to the interstate.
I thought that if I just went a few miles down this stretch of interstate, I would reach the exit that would lead to the hospital my mother was in.
I was certain that if I walked this way and travelled down the opposite direction from which we came, I would run right into the hospital in no time at all.
So off we went. I was tightly holding my sister’s hand the whole way, protecting her.
After we had gotten about four or five blocks away from the house and maybe just a quarter of a mile from the interstate, I noticed a strange car pull up beside us and slow down.
I didn’t recognize the car, nor did I recognize the figure sitting in the driver seat.
The driver of the car appeared to be an older gentleman, but I wasn’t sure because I didn’t want to make eye contact with him.
His passenger side window was rolled down. He slowed the car and leaned towards the window and spoke to me, “Where are you headed son?”
I didn’t look at him and I didn’t answer him. I just kept walking, instinctively pulling my sister even closer towards me. He said again, in a slightly more urgent voice, “Hey guys. Where are you headed?”
I ignored the question and kept moving. He stopped the car ahead of us blocking our path to the interstate.
He got out of the car and walked towards us. He was a tall, thin man, dressed in a long grey trench coat. He had a kind face but nonetheless looked very authoritative. “Aren’t you guys the Neal kids?”, he asked.
I was shocked for moment. How did he know that? I didn’t remember having ever met this man. How did he know who we were? My sister held my hand even more tightly.
He asked me if I could stop for a moment, so out if respect I did. He asked again, “Where are you going, maybe I can help you get there?”
I said, “I’m going to visit my mother in the hospital.”
He then asked me if I knew how to get there, and I replied, “Yes.”
Finally, he asked the question that I didn’t want him to ask. He asked if my grandmother knew that we had left her house.
I didn’t say anything, but I’m certain my silence revealed the answer.
A few moments later a second car pulled up behind his car.
Unfortunately, I did recognize this car. It was my grandmother.
She jumped out of her car and was hysterical. She begins screaming at me for leaving the house.
She thanked the man, who was apparently a neighbor. He had seen us leaving the house. He had phoned my grandmother to tell her he saw two little kids just sneak out the front door and head off down the road.
After speaking to my grandmother, he had gotten in his car and followed us until my grandmother could catch up.
Of course, when my father arrived at my grandmothers, he was furious. He began yelling at me saying I could have gotten myself killed. And my sister too.
I just sat there looking at him. I didn’t say a word. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. I wanted to tell him how worried I was about Momma, but instead I just shut down and remained silent.
I had assumed that I was in for a spanking but for some reason that didn’t happen. Maybe my father realized that I was worried about my mother and empathized with me… maybe?
We stayed with my grandmother for another three or four days but this time I was under strict orders not to leave the house. I barely spoke to anyone, other than my sister, except in response to questions or commands.
I was angry with my father and wanted him to know it.
When the weekend finally came, my father said we were leaving and going to pick up Momma from the hospital. I felt my heart skip a beat.
I ran straight to the car and buckled myself in. I wasn’t going to get out of the car until I got to my mother.
When we arrived at the hospital my father told us to stay in the car and he would go get Momma.
When I saw her come out of the hospital door, I couldn’t contain myself. I jumped out of the car and ran to her. She appeared to be tired and noticeably thinner than what I remembered a week ago.
I grabbed her and hugged her as tight as I could. I remember her saying, “Boy. You’re going to knock me down.”
I wasn’t trying to knock her down, but I wasn’t letting go either. I wanted to hold on to her forever.
I think it was my fear of never wanting this to happen again. Never wanted to lose her like that again.
But it would happen again. Over and over again. And I would be helpless to stop it.
Soon thereafter this incident my mother and father separated.
As a child, I only saw my father two times after he left. Once when I was six years old and again when I was 11. After the last time, I would not see, or speak to him again, until I was 22 years old and about to become a father myself.
My mother would be hospitalized multiple times for her dreaded mental disease known as bipolar or manic-depressive disorder.
I had to grow up fast, particularly as a ‘fatherless’ child. I had to learn to navigate these ever-changing and uncertain waters of living with a parent who has mental disease.
My Inner Child- Closure
Despite all this, I somehow fooled myself into believing I had lived out a normal childhood. It wasn’t until I was 50 years old that my own adult children made me aware that I had never truly embraced my wounded inner child.
No doubt this undetected emotional escape crafted my life and the person I became, as much as the person I did not become.
Was I even aware that this inner child existed before now? Had I subconsciously always known he was there? Had I been protecting my inner child, or had I abandoned him?
Maybe I had just never wanted the inner child to be affected by any of this? Or so I thought.
If so, had my over-protection prevented him from emotionally maturing.
Or had this evasion of emotions caused him to accelerate his maturation process prematurely.
I’m not certain I can ever really know the answer to many of these questions.
But finally, after a half a century, and faced with my mirrored reflection from my own children, I learn to embrace the presence of the ‘other me’.
My inner child. The one who never cried. And so, he did.