You know, I’m not even sure how to introduce this one, except to say that my Mum had a few issues.
Many of them were genetic. Really, deeply, scarily genetic. As ingrained as our height and our love for Sousa marches.
Alan and I were visited once, back when we still had the B&B, by a distant cousin from the branch of the family that had emigrated to New Zealand in the early part of the 1900’s and that we had thought lost to us forever. We were reckoning without the internet. She tracked us down and introduced herself.
I asked about the quirks. The fears. The irrationality.
“Why d’you think I left New Zealand?” she asked darkly.
One of Mum’s quirks was door-to-door salesmen. Before the advent of spam, they were a scourge. And, as she later explained to me, they were a three-a-week waste of a morning that, with a passel of small children at home, she could ill-afford to allow to waste her time.
So, instead of trying to say no, when they came knocking on her door, she hid. And so did we. Somehow she found keeping upwards of half a dozen small people still and silent for the half hour or so it took for the salesman to give up and go away easier than opening the damn door and saying no. Or just refusing to open the damn door and letting them realize we weren’t interested.
When we started taking part in these drills, I was really little. And not very bright. I had no idea why we were hiding or what would happen if we were caught. Death was the most obvious outcome I could imagine. So I froze wherever I was, in fear for my life and needing desperately to pee. I was one of those kids who always needed to pee. The nightmares get me to this day.
I don’t know if it was fear of salesman or fears of another kind, but Mum couldn’t abide an uncovered window at night. I think she would have liked sheers on all the windows during the day, too, but my Dad drew the line. He liked to breathe.
But all curtains had to be closed before we could put on the lights in the evening. Windows in front doors were a travesty. Anyone could come up on the porch and look in, we were told, if ever a neighbour was unwise enough to get a door with a window in it. “Who does that?” was not an acceptable response. Nor did we ever ascertain what would actually happen to us once we were seen.
When Alan and I were living with Mum, just before she broke her hip and moved into the nursing home, she was lowering the blinds in her bedroom one evening and one got away from her, snapping up to the top of the window.
We were out for the evening and a little surprised that she was still awake and dressed when we returned.
“I couldn’t get the blind down,” she explained, “so I couldn’t go to bed.” She was exhausted the next day.
I asked her later why it bothered her so much. What was she so afraid of? Anyone wanting to look in that particular window would need a ladder to be able to do so.
“Well,” she said,”when I was in high-school, I was up in my room one night with my curtains open and my Dad crept up the stairs and whispered that there was a man out on the lawn across the street looking up at my window. ‘Throw me the phone! Throw me the phone!’ he whispered to me.”
“So he called the police and they took him away and ever since then I’ve kept my curtains closed.”
No matter how hard you squint, it makes no objective sense. Her fears were very, very real. I just had no idea where they came from.
It took me a long time to get over those fears. To learn that I don’t need to tiptoe when the phone is ringing and I don’t want to answer it. That if I don’t want to answer the door, I don’t have to answer the door (though I’ll admit, I still hide when that happens – more work is needed). I still can’t walk through my own house naked if there is a curtain open.
I am overcoming my need to hide. I just wish my mother had been able to.