I Grew up in a Gaslighting Family. During this Pandemic, I Refuse to be Gaslit by Donald Trump
One day, when I was a little girl, I learned the chemical symbol of water: H2O. Since I liked to draw, I excitedly grabbed a sheet of construction paper and wrote “HOT H2O,” framing these words with a border of half-moon scallops, much like the moulding at the top of the cabinets in our 60s kitchen. Proudly, I presented it to my father, who was lounging on the couch, watching TV.
“That don’t say hot water,” he told me, shoving the picture back onto my face.
Crestfallen, I ran to my bedroom and buried my face in my pillow, crying. I was sure that what I had written was correct. But he was my father and a grown-up, so he must be right.
Fast-forward seven years. My attractive, self-important mother, darling of the nuns at her (and later my) Catholic high school, who had had the lead in most of the school plays, was engaged. This man was evil, manipulative, and abusive. As the eldest child, I had begged my mom not to marry him, since I had witnessed him already yell at and slap around my brother, sister and me. But she dismissed me haughtily, in that sing-songy voice she used when threatened:
“You don’t know what you are talking about.”
Could be I didn’t. After all, I was only 12. Maybe this man would become less violent after they actually got married, and begin to treat us kids better. Maybe my mother getting married to this man would allow him to stop being mean to us and to treat us kindly, like a real father. Perhaps that’s how it worked. After all, my mother told me at the time, this poor man was taking on A LOT to marry a woman with three kids like all of you. Not many men would — you are lucky. I hung my head, resolving to be a be a more responsible oldest child and make sure my sister and brother were quieter and better behaved.
They got married on Groundhog Day in the early 1970s. We had a small family reception in our home. The cake was a frosted almond confection despite the fact that my brother, B, was allergic to nuts. “You should have a piece,” my new stepfather urged my brother. He said he couldn’t. My mother murmured some kind of halfhearted protest.
“You have to eat a piece. It’s your mother’s and my wedding,” he said. “And I’ll bet you aren’t even really allergic. You are just a mouse. Be brave, you little idiot!” My mother said nothing more. She simply stood there in her pale green dress with the keyhole neckline and watched.
With that, B forced down a piece of the cake, and promptly got sick. The nightmare was beginning, much like Groundhog day, nearly every day to come.
Six years of sexual and physical and emotional abuse followed, until I left for college and my mother kicked him out. She then began seeing a third man, who promptly tried to French kiss me, tell me he would have loved to date me out if he hadn’t already been dating my mother, and called me in my apartment to engage in phone sex. He knew what had befallen all of us children during my mother’s prior marriage from hell. But he is a sexual predator, and sexual predators pounce on naive and vulnerable women and girls.
As I later reminded my mother: perhaps the fact that he walked around his house naked in front of his daughters, and encouraged them to be naked themselves in his presence, should have been a huge red flag.
To this day, my mother tells me that I came on to those men, that I acted inappropriately, that I have ruined the family, and “what should she have done??”
On an evening 15 years ago, following over a decade of psychotherapy, I told her I refused to have any more contact with her unless she could discuss her callous and enabling behavior during my abuse all those years ago. How she did nothing when she observed me cutting myself (except to say, “why on EARTH would you do that to yourself?) Why indeed, mom? How she said nothing while her second husband, like a jailer, forced us to wash his car, polish his shoes, and not play with our friends all weekend long. How she protested she didn’t know a thing about all those evenings when the stepfather was fondling me while listening to music in his living room Eames chair.
I told my mother that my door was always open to talk about the abuse, and that she should feel free in the meantime to continue to have, as his grandmother, a phone, email and greeting-card relationship with our son.
Neither happened. The fact that our son was her first grandchild didn’t matter. The fact that she was no longer in that abusive relationship didn’t matter. And the fact that I was the only one of her children who didn’t routinely lie to her didn’t matter.
My mother was gaslighting me to cover up her insecurities, as she always had. As her husbands had. And now as my siblings do, since she convinced them I am the enemy of the family.
Society is now familiar with this painful, eerie word:
Gaslighting: “Manipulating someone by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.”
In 2016 my repeatedly gaslit psyche endured another hit: the election of Donald Trump, the now gaslighter-in-chief.
Growing up in New Jersey, I knew this man’s reputation, and was mortified that he had won the presidency.
In 1989, a store in our county, Freehold Music Center, sold Trump grand pianos for his new casinos in Atlantic City. They figured, it’s Donald Trump, so there wouldn’t be a problem getting paid. As many other contractors and businesses soon discovered, The Trump Organization didn’t pay its bills. They would always refuse to pay, making up reasons why, complaining, lying, cheating and suing. No small business, like Freehold Music Center, could afford to sue Trump to obtain what was rightfully theirs. Trump eventually paid them 70% of what he owed, but the business was severely hobbled.
As president, basking in his lies and spewing mantras at his ugly Hitler-esque rallies, after three years in office this sprayed-orange leathery-skinned, flabby beady-eyed narcissistic and sociopathic cretin has repeatedly gaslit our nation.
And what we’ve observed during the months that this horrifying Coronavirus pandemic has bloomed and taken hold of the world has been that Trump reacts no differently with regard to a deadly spreading virus than to anything else deemed negative in his milieu.
First he denies. Then he lies. Then he blames.
According to the Washington Post, The Trump Administration first received formal notification that COVID — 19 was spreading in China on January 3 in his President’s Daily Brief. It was the first of many.
initially he named it a “Democrat (sic) hoax,” intended to damage him since his impeachment did not. He then called it “Only a few people from China. It will disappear very soon, like a miracle.”
He compared the Coronavirus to the “flu,” saying we should have a vaccine for it “very soon.”
As late as March 9, a little over a month ago, Trump tweeted, “ The Fake News Media and their partner, the Democrat (sic) party, is doing everything within its semi-considerable power (it used to be greater!) to inflame the CoronaVirus (sic) situation, far beyond what the facts would warrant. Surgeon General,”The risk is low to the average American.”
The dysfunction in this man and his inept White House runs deep: the initial failures of virus testing development, failures to halt the virus’ spread, his failure to take command of the distribution of masks and gloves and ventilators to hospitals, especially in the brutally-affected New York City area.
The United States now has more Coronavirus deaths than deaths on September 11, 2001.
As of yesterday, we have more cases of Coronavirus than any other country on the planet.
And Donald Trump is responsible. Fish rots from the head.
— — — —
I am now 60 years old. For decades, I’ve endured my own family’s gaslighting of me. I sit here now in my home, physically isolated from friends and our beloved son on the West Coast. I’m tired. I’m fearful. I’ve lived with many wounds from my family, and lament that I couldn’t as a young girl in a dysfunctional home have been braver.
But the opportunity to be brave occurs at many points in one’s life. Perhaps my bravery is writing: to call out this madman Trump, to speak my truth about abuse, and to attempt to silence Trump’s sycophants.
The pen is mightier than the gas flame (something like that).
The people on social media who unfriend me or dismiss me or ridicule me in this task often resort to the very thing I’ve been used to: They try and gaslight me through their lies and “whataboutisms.”
I vow to never again be gaslit. By anyone. And I hope that after this pandemic wanes, I will survive and will witness the November demise of the gaslighter-in-chief.