For a child, living in fear has to be one of the worst emotional states to find in one’s environment. Living isn’t living when it’s done in fear of something or someone. And that’s how life was in my childhood home.

Fear was an everyday occurrence. Not the fear of physical harm. But the fear of words, another’s emotions gone wild, punishment, the unexpected. A child is supposed to be happy, carefree. This is impossible under a cloud of fear. Like waiting for the thunder to roll, the clouds to burst open, then drenching, chilling rain falling on you.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines “fear” as:

  • a : an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger
  • b (1) : an instance of this emotion (2) : a state marked by this emotion.”

Imagine living with these feelings day in, day out. Never knowing what to expect. Always on guard for that moment when tensions rise, tempers flare and you become the focus of anger and temperament.

Amazing, how often an adult can lose their temper or react badly to a situation. Even more amazing is that they take whatever they are angry about out on a child.

I remember the day my innocent, toddling brother witnessed Mama making his favorite, Jell-o. Must have been his favorite. It was red in color. He had just learned to open the refrigerator and managed to do that very thing. When he spied the dish of Jell-o, not quite congealed, he pulled for all he was worth.

Crashing onto the floor came the dish of red Jell-o! Mama heard the noise and came running. As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she screamed, startling Brad and he fell into the messy red liquid. “What do you think you’re doing, young man? Look at the mess you’ve caused. And you know better! Just wait until I get you cleaned up.”

With that she reached for a mop and began mopping up the red, partially gelled mess. Her temper having gotten the better of her, Mama swung her mop for all she was worth. Every sweeping stroke fueld by fury! Enter me. I took one look at what was happening — with each swing of the mop, the red liquid was splattering the white walls and ceiling. Despite myself, I giggled out loud.

“And what do you think is so funny, missy? If you don’t stop laughing, you’ll be mopping up this mess and cleaning up that brat! Neither of you has the respect a child should have for its mother. And I won’t forget it. When I’m finished here, I’m going to take care of both of you. And you know what that means!”

I knew. I dreaded. What it meant was that we’d each be punished by a licking, either with Daddy’s belt or the yardstick. I panicked and picked up my little brother and ran from the room.

“Not so fast, young lady! Don’t think you can run outside and hide the two of you. I’ll find you no matter what!”

With that declaration, I stopped in my tracks. Might as well stay and pay the piper. And for what? Poor Brad saw Jell-o and went after it. His efforts were an innocent accident. And my sin? Laughing at what was actually very funny at the time. I never knew when Mama realized the Jell-o was going all over the room and she was making bad matters worse. I didn’t want to stick nearby for too long.

Eventually, she came to us in my bedroom with Daddy’s belt in hand. I was accustomed to the thrashings with the belt, but poor Brad was so young. I cried more for him than I did for me. And because I cried, I was punished with a second round of licks with the belt. No wonder we feared Mama. She left us little choice.

Worse than this example were the threats of suicide. These came when her ability to get her way had fallen short. In an attempt to manipulate, Mama would withdraw the largest knife in the kitchen drawer and pointing it at her chest announce loudly, “If you don’t do as I say, I’m going to kill myself. You’ll have to watch me die, and then how will you feel?”

These episodes left us fearing for her safety and life and they continued throughout our young adult lives. Her efforts at manipulation were extraordinary.

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[Copyright 2013 by Sherrey Meyer.  All rights reserved.]