Retrospective 18: 1980 — Adah Did It

“Adah did it!”

I stood frozen in shock. I can recall the moment perfectly, the tableau in the kitchen, my mother by the Aga, holding the broken kettle, my father in the doorway, my sister sitting at the table. And I stood by the sink, far from the stove. Far from the kettle.

My father had just walked in. “What happened to the kettle?” he asked, when he saw my mother holding the handle in one hand and the dented body in the other. And my mother said, “Adah did it.”

Leah looked up in surprise. “Mummy,” she said. “Adah wasn’t anywhere near the kettle.”

My mother had turned, not paying attention, and knocked the kettle off the stove. It had hit the hard tile floor and the handle had split off. My mother had bent and picked it up. She was examining it when my father entered and asked his question.

“Adah did it.” I was used to those words. The dynamic in my family had been set for years now. Rachel was the responsible one, in a way. She was more developed than me, and beautiful in a taunting, sexy kind of way even though she was barely in her teens. She was also directive and strong. She and Leah, only a year apart, were the closest. When we fought, she and Leah always sided together, usually against little Ruth May who was the constant butt of Leah’s disdain. I almost always stood up for Ruth May, having a thing for underdogs, but invariably Leah’s and Rachel’s concentrated venom would wear Ruth May and me down. Then Ruth May, who had a strong instinct for self-preservation, would switch sides abruptly to the winning team, and it would be the three of them against me. When Mum or Dad came to investigate, the chorus would begin: “It’s Adah’s fault.” “Adah did it.” “Don’t look at us. It was Adah.”

And then I’d storm out to my pony, usually crying, which earned me the name “Crybaby” in my family. Mum called me melodramatic and over-reactive. I grew more and more morose and sullen, withdrawing into myself and turning more and more to my pony, who didn’t judge or blame me.

Finally, that day with the kettle, even Mum blamed me for something that wasn’t my fault. For a long moment I stood, unsure of how to react. And then I just walked out, past Dad and Leah, and went to my room. Even now something freezes in me when I think of that day.

It is a small thing, really, compared to what others endure. I was not beaten. Dad hit me once, and grabbed me roughly enough to leave a bruise on my arm another time. The time he hit me he threw me into the wall, and somehow I ended up with a black eye. It was actually an advantage at school, but I am talking ahead of myself. My point is that I didn’t endure physical violence time after time, as others do. I was not s*xually abused. I had a good life, with ponies and later a horse, with four meals a day laid on, and my own bedroom. With four acres on a lovely little river, and apple trees and gooseberry bushes and bushels of fresh fruit and vegetables in the summer, and canned and frozen ones in the winter, all from our garden. We had donkeys and chicken and geese and goats, dogs and cats, guinea pigs and my ponies. We had fresh honey and golden dripping honeycomb from our own bee hives. When Dad wasn’t home, Mum would sit with us in the kitchen and we’d drink tea and eat biscuits and talk with her best friend and her best friend’s kids, a pack of us, laughing for hours. We had wonderful lavish sit-down Sunday dinners with my grandparents and my aunt and my two cousins, and we played hide-n-go-seek in the garden at dusk, and the midges chased us, and the smell of fresh-mowed grass followed us to sleep at night.

Beautiful, all of it. Just — here and there — the odd dark moment. And that day was one of them.

Mum came after me. I don’t know what she said. “Adah broke it,” she said to Dad as she walked out of the kitchen. Why was she so afraid of him, that she had to blame me for what she had done? That she had to insist, despite Leah’s assertion of the truth, that I had broken the kettle? I heard her, and something boiled in me. I turned, there in the long hallway, at the door to my room.

“Why is everything always my fault?” I yelled. Is that is? Is that what I said? I was blind with rage, blind with the injustice of it all, and strengthened because Leah — at least — had spoken the truth. Mum screamed back. We were like that, short-fused and fiery in our rage — all of it useless and wearing.

I don’t remember resolution. I want to say she apologized, that we hugged. But we never hugged. Years later, she did explain it — that her anger at me always calmed Dad down in some way, pleased him. She could change his moods by punishing me. But I don’t think she thought it through back then. I don’t think she could. She just acted out of her own fear — that Dad would leave her, that he would disapprove of her, and grow ice-cold for weeks, and fill the house with silence. Over the years, the pattern was established. Leah was brutal to Ruth May. Rachel ordered people around. Ruth May played the clown, and when that didn’t work, she turned on me. And I was the sullen, angry scapegoat who carried the sins of the family.

“Adah did it.”

Why not? If it made it better for everyone else — why not?

9 responses to “Retrospective 18: 1980 — Adah Did It

  1. Oh sweetheart. I am so sorry.

  2. What Dale said.

    At least the writing style in this entry doesn’t seem too flowery đŸ™‚

  3. Oh, what everyone said.

  4. Is that not one of the strangest feelings…? That feeling of being turned on, lied about, to your face when the guilty party is in full knowledge of what he or she is doing…and how much stranger when it is a parent. I remember that fear that froze you…I think I lived frozen for years…to quote a favorite lyrics, “It takes a lot of love to keep your heart from freezing.” It takes a lot of time and understanding to move past even the smallest moments like these, doesn’t it?

    As always, your writing is lovely.

    Why were you called “Adah”?

  5. Hi Bethany,
    My mum went through a very difficult stage when I was younger. She had terrible health problems, that the doctors pronounced all in her head. Eventually she figured out what was wrong, but in the meantime she had a couple of mini strokes that she never got treated, and she was quite seriously challenged in her day-to-day life. In that sense, I don’t think she was fully aware of what she was doing. It was a reaction, born of fear and pain. At the time, I had no perspective on it, and was just horrified and hurt and furious. With time, I have come to recognize how helpless she was in her situation, and how she was doing her best to cope with the few resources she had at the time.

    I took the name Adah for the blog because it is an anonymous blog and I didn’t want to use my real name. My mother’s favorite book was The Poisonwood Bible. It is told from the vantage point of four sisters (and occasionally the mother) in a missionary family. Mum told me that she felt the four girls were us, in a way. She died before I read the book and found out which girl was which, in her mind, but when I read it, it was obvious to me who was who. I have named my three sisters after three of the sisters in the story, and I call myself Adah. If you read it, you will probably see why! I told my friend R.C. about it and he knew right away who I was, since he has known me for about 20 years, and known some of my family a little too.

  6. I’m slowly catching up with your story.

    The scapegoat. The odd dark moments in the midst of an apparent paradise. That you survived and are writing this story down. Thank you so much.

  7. am: What boggles me is how easily I simply fall back into the role of scapegoat when we are all together. I try to avoid being with my family as a whole for that reason. I find myself seeking situations in which I always have a way out. I run away, rather than face the anger and hostility. Not functional, but I’m working on it. I do find it helps, to write it down, and think of ways to let it all go.

  8. Writing does help. Kindred spirits help. We are not alone as we heal and let it all go.

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